Everyone has their Covid-19 moment - the instant when they realised that life was about to take a dramatically different turn. For Sinead Gunnigle, it was two days before she was due to launch her own interiors shop, Nest, in the Viking Triangle in Waterford city. She was in a state of high excitement as this was the fulfilment of a long-cherished dream. She had purchased all her stock, she had dressed the shop and was preparing for her grand opening.
And then it wasn't possible.
"I had had a 40th birthday for my husband, Guy, a few weeks earlier and I rang my friend and asked her could I keep the glasses she had lent me for the birthday to use at the opening party," Sinead recalls. "My friend said, 'Sinead! What planet are you on? Everything is shutting down'. Then the schools closed and I realised I was going nowhere with the shop."
Fortunately, she has a beautiful, highly individual home where she was able to go and nurse her wounds. And it wasn't as if she had nothing to do - she and Guy have three gorgeous and extremely active kids, Meryl (six), Enid (four) and Redmond (two).
Houses have always played a big part in the couple's life. Indeed, it could be said that the pretty 30-something from Castleknock in Dublin, and Waterford-native Guy, who is an estate agent, initially met because of Sinead's love of houses and interiors.
The youngest of three, Sinead says that while growing up she was always painting her bedroom different colours, was into upcycling before the rest of us had heard the word, and after her Leaving she opted to study building and property maintenance in Bolton Street.
"I always wanted to work in property. Why? I can't answer that question," the vivacious blonde says, adding: "I think what I really wanted was interiors architecture but I'd gone the wrong way about it. I think it's only as you grow up you realise what you really want."
However, while she didn't love the course, she did go on to work in property management, managing apartment blocks, and gradually getting to do fit-outs, which honed her flair for interiors. It was while she was looking to buy an apartment for herself that she met Guy, who, it turned out, had been in Sinead's class in college.
"When the estate agent showing me the apartment introduced himself as Guy, it rang a bell, as it's such an unusual name. I remembered it from lectures and the like, and made the connection," she says.
Sinead did go on to buy an apartment from Guy, who worked at the time for Hooke & MacDonald, but as they were both in relationships, that seemed to be the end of it.
Until he rang her three months later, by which time, happily, both were single again. "The rest is history," she says with a laugh, adding they moved in together shortly after.
In 2008, they got engaged and because the property market collapsed in Dublin, they decided to move to London, where both got work again in the property business - Guy with Ballymore and then Barratt and Sinead with Currell (now Savills).
They got married in 2012 and their eldest, Meryl, was born in England. "We loved London, had a blast, but when Meryl arrived, it was a different ball game. It was hard. We had tried to buy a house there but every time we found one, we were gazumped," Sinead explains. She adds: "Finally, I said to Guy, 'Do you know what, let's go and live in Waterford'. He was amazed. He never thought I'd want to live here. But while I loved the bright lights, I wanted to slow down and Waterford was perfect."
Guy was thrilled with Sinead's wish to live in Waterford as it meant he could join the family business, Palmer Auctioneers - Guy and his two brothers are the fourth generation to run the business since his great-grandfather, an undertaker at the time, moved into auctioneering in 1923.
The couple moved back in 2015 and for the first six months, they lived in the scenic seaside village of Dunmore East. "It was great to get away from the rat race of London, but it was off-season in Dunmore East. I was stranded there with a baby while Guy went to work in Waterford city, and I thought, 'This is quiet'," Sinead says. "I was mad for a bit of hustle and bustle, so we moved into town."
Soon she began to make lots of friends and create a life for herself, and then, after the birth of Enid, they bought their gorgeous period house, which is a short walk from the centre of town. A three-storey, double-fronted home dating from 1830, it had been lived in by the same family since it was built and little had been done to modernise it.
This appealed to Sinead as she loved the period details - the high ceilings, the sash windows, the mouldings, as well as its many quirky elements - and wanted to put her own stamp on it. Initially, though, Guy wasn't so keen on buying it. "I loved it, I felt it was a happy house; my heart was set on it. But Guy walked in and said, 'No way'," Sinead volunteers. "It took three or four months for me to convince him. He thought it was too big of a project both in terms of time and money - we were two kids in at that stage."
The couple even went sale-agreed on another house, but when that fell through Sinead used her powers of persuasion and finally got Guy on board.
They moved in without touching the house and initially just pulled up the carpets and painted the walls. "We didn't have a bob, I did it myself with a friend," she says.
They knew it would need renovation but wanted to get a feel first for the light and space. It had six bedrooms, and a drawing room on the top two floors, with a large living room and a warren of small rooms, including a small kitchen, on the ground floor. "The kitchen wasn't the heart of the home and we needed that," Sinead says. "Our friend Eddie Phelan, an architect, suggested we turn three of the small rooms into a large kitchen/living room with a playroom off it."
They also refurbished the windows and repaired the floors. At the beginning, they stayed in the house while they were doing the work. "We lived upstairs, we did the dishes in the bath," Sinead recalls with a laugh. However, eventually they realised they'd have to move out and let the builders get on with it. There were hitches - "we didn't realise we'd have to underpin the new kitchen and we hadn't budgeted for that" - but it worked out in the end.
Once the kitchen - now a light-filled space with huge sash windows, front and back - and refurbishment were complete, Sinead went to town on the rest of the house, and applied her highly individual flair to its decor. Sinead calls her personal style maximalism - she loves dark paint colours, wild wallpapers, distressed mirrors, and mixing and matching periods and styles.
Her philosophy, however, is underpinned by a deep respect for the age of the house. "When we bought the house, there was all this stuff we thought we'd do, all sorts of things I felt I'd change, but we didn't - like if a door architrave is crooked. If I were 200 years old, I'd be crooked," she says, adding, "I used to lie in bed thinking, 'What if a floor falls through?' Now I feel you just have to live with the house the way it is, and I feel if you do a little bit, the house is happy."
Throughout her five years in Waterford, Sinead continued working regularly on apartment fit-outs, and to hone her knowledge of interiors she went back and did an interiors course. So when the owner of a little interiors shop in the Viking Triangle decided to retire, Sinead decided to take it on - thus Nest was born.
She spent the early part of this year researching her possible client base and stockists and gathering stock - the mirrors and wallpapers, footstools and furnishings you see in Sinead's house are typical of the kind of pieces you can find in the shop - and she was heartbroken when she couldn't open on schedule.
In fact, there were times when she thought she would never open.
However, she was able to unlock the doors in mid-June and is thrilled by the warm and generous response of the Waterford people.
"I love Dublin, but I honestly don't think the community spirit is as strong. Here, everyone is so supportive. When I finally opened up, people came in and even if they didn't see anything they wanted, they bought a candle. They are so lovely," Sinead says warmly. "I love Waterford. The first year, when I had no friends, I wasn't sure. Now you'd have to drag me from it kicking and screaming. Everything about it is great - the people, the city, the gorgeous beaches on our doorstep."
And not forgetting the wonderful home she and Guy have created.
Nest, 127 The Quay, Waterford Instagram @nestwaterford
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine