Monday 20 May 2019

My favourite room: On Neutral Ground

Bridal-gown designer Sharon Hoey and her family moved into a brand-new, three-storey house two decades ago, then set about transforming it into the home of their dreams.

Sharon in her kitchen. The floor is cream porcelain and the units are an oaty shade, with a mix of wooden and granite worktops
Sharon in her kitchen. The floor is cream porcelain and the units are an oaty shade, with a mix of wooden and granite worktops
When renovating their house 10 years ago, Sharon Hoey and her husband, Richard Tate, opted to drop the level of the sitting area. The blinds are fixed some way above the windows to add an illusion of height. The throw on the sofa is from Sharon’s collection of cashmere
A detail of the landing
Despite being the only female in the house, Sharon has created a feminine oasis. She got the bath and the rest of the bathware from Aston Matthews in the UK. The bath is extra-deep and is set into the limestone. The colonial shutters were provided by Charisma Blinds
This room is the domain of the couple's three sons, James Edward and Louis, and is painted in forest green mixed with grey. The portrait of the girl was a gift to Sharon after Edward’s birth

Mary O'Sullivan

'Marriage is a wonderful institution," said comedian and actor Groucho Marx, "but who wants to live in an institution?" Those who think they're funny often answer, "Crazy people."

Whatever about marriage driving people crazy, weddings certainly do. Brides-to-be, at least, seem to go bonkers and, over the years, they've proved a rich subject for comedy and satire for film-makers and novelists. Bridemaids, the movie, might be funny, they say, but it's also real.

Surprisingly, then, top wedding-gown designer, Sharon Hoey, who has dressed many of the most beautiful brides in Ireland for the last 20 years, insists that the image of the crazy bride is fiction.

"It's a myth. You don't get bridezillas. What you get is nervous girls starting on a journey. Back in the Noughties, during the crazy Celtic Tiger days, we did have a few who came in and threw their clothes all over the floor and were extremely demanding, but not any more," Sharon recalls, adding, "They're unsure, yes, and our job is to focus and help to find what suits them."

Sharon radiates calmness and confidence – attractive qualities in someone to whom you are entrusting the design and make of the most important dress of your life. Her shops – Sharon Hoey Bridal Couture, Upper Mount Street, and the sister shop, Anabel Rose on Lower Merrion Street – are gorgeous oases of tranquillity, but, of course, what's most important are the designs themselves, and both shops stock many of the top wedding-dress labels, including Jenny Packham, Suzanne Neville and Sassi Holford. And, of course, there's her own Sharon Hoey designer collection.

The creative fiftysomething has won many awards since she started her own label, designing evening wear almost immediately after graduating from the Grafton Academy in the early Eighties.

"I come from an entrepreneurial family. My father, an engineer, was one of the first to bring mobile phones and wind farms into the country. Remember those mobile phones? They were like bricks," Sharon recalls with a laugh.

Just like the mobile phones, Sharon's business evolved and she decided to specialise in wedding dresses. She set up Sharon Hoey Bridal Couture first and, 10 years ago, opened its sister shop, Anabel Rose, which has a greater variety of price points.

In all her evolutions and innovations, her husband, Richard Tate, has been at her side. They met when she was 21 and still at the Grafton Academy, and he was in Trinity. They didn't marry until she was 27 because, she jokes, "He wouldn't ask me," but they've been almost inseparable since. Richard is a management consultant with a portfolio of clients, but he also does the finance, management and marketing for Sharon, while she does the buying and designing.

While certain classic styles will forever be in demand, there are trends, too, in wedding dresses. "We're still seduced by vintage. It is lovely. As a designer, you get a bit bored, but, if that's what the clientele want, that's what you do," Sharon says.

"There is a trend back to the clean lines, which is what I love; very contemporary looking, with the emphasis on cutting and, at the same time, quite fluid shapes. That's one side of it, but a lot still want the pretty, dreamy, ball-gown look. I wonder is that because of the times we live in now? They want fantasy, but they don't want it over the top. They want elegant, restrained."

Despite more than 20 years in this most ultra-feminine of worlds, working with luxurious silks, satins and organzas, Sharon hasn't ever got tired of it, but, recently, she has seen the need to diversify. "There are a few reasons. You must remember, we've lost a lot of the age group who would be buying wedding dresses to emigration. They're leaving the country. The other thing is the birth rate. The birth rate in 1980 was huge – something like 85,000 babies were born – now it's less than half that," she says.

Sharon also likes a challenge. "I have to have a project on the go. I have the attention span of a fly. I think that's why fashion suits me. It changes all the time."

Her new business, Hoey & Co, is all about another luxury fabric – cashmere. And she's bringing out a collection of cashmere wraps, scarves and throws – some woven, some knitted.

"The collection is all made in Nepal, to my design and measurements," Sharon explains, adding that she will have two collections – one that will be seasonal in colour and will change every year, and one that will be classic, available year round. "So, for that, what I've done is picked a palette of colours and these are my core colours – mushroom, mocha, duck egg, stone."

Similar muted shades form the basis of the colour scheme in her three-storey home in Dublin 6. She and Richard bought it in 1994. It was newly built at the time, but they've since changed it completely. It had six bedrooms when they bought the house, but, in the renovations that were carried out 10 years ago, they made one of them en suite and turned another into an office. On the ground floor, the main living space is a large kitchen, which leads to a dining area and, from there, to the sitting room.

Most of the living areas are painted in Colortrend's Oat Flats. "It's an oaty grey. It's a great neutral – you can add things like the plum orchid or something lime and it'll work well. Up the stairs is two shades down. I like a house all the same colour, but one or two rooms as surprises," Sharon explains.

The kitchen units are painted in the same oaty shade, and these are teamed with porcelain tiles from Tilestyle, and both granite and wooden counter tops. There are steps down to the sitting room; when they were doing the redesign 10 years ago, they decided to drop the steps in the living area.

They used the same colour tones on the walls – Sharon says it's something visitors to the house have emulated.

"The designer, Sassi Holford, came to the house and, afterwards, she did her whole house in the same colour," Sharon says. Combined with lots of coordinating fabrics and soft textures, the overall effect is elegant, yet enveloping comfort.

"In my heart, I'm a minimalist, but, in reality, I don't think I am," she explains.

The bookshelves, based on a design Sharon saw in France, are painted in the same shade. "When you have open plan, you can't have a mix. For things to work seamlessly, you need the same colour," she explains.

The living room has windows on two sides – one side opens onto the garden, while the other opens onto a tiny deck.

"It gets the sun for about two hours in the afternoon. I had it all decked, and decided this was going to be my Zen place and, in the 10 years since we've done it, I've never been here during the two hours the sun actually shines, to have a Zen moment. So, I've given it over to the bikes," she says with a dry laugh.

The room on the other side of the hall is a sharp contrast to the other living spaces. For a start, it's painted forest green mixed with grey, and features a large TV. And it soon becomes clear why – this is where her three sons, Edward, James and Louis, hang out. "We've given them this room," she says. Obviously, the apples of her eye, despite the amount of food they consume – at one point, Sharon mentions that they eat 64 eggs per week – the boys are a welcome contrast to the daily doses of female hormones that Sharon encounters.

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