It is not unusual for couples to have different aesthetics, or even agendas, when it comes to decorating their home. On paper, Leinster and Irish prop Mike Ross's passion for technology and connectivity shouldn't be a good fit with wife Kimberlee's love of the shabby-chic, New England style. In reality, however, the two coexist together beautifully in their Dublin 16 home.
Airy and bathed in light, thanks to its high ceilings and large windows, the bungalow is filled with treasured items and vintage finds that sit seamlessly beside more modern features, like the ginormous 105-inch projector in the den. Evidence of their two children, Kevin (six) and Chloe (two), as well as Mike's sporting achievements and Kim's talent for antiquing, are everywhere.
Kim, who is originally from Connecticut, describes the look as American shabby chic with a twist. "Everyone's idea of home is different. They say foreign people who live in a new country generally surround themselves by people they love who they can't see, so I have photos everywhere and various mementos that mean a lot," she says. "It's what I grew up with, and this type of décor is very similar to what my grandparents, my mom, my aunts and everyone from New England - where I'm from - had. It's all about what you want to create and what makes you happy. Some people might think it's too much stuff, but it all means something."
The couple - who first met in 2001 when Kim spent a semester at UCC, where Mike was also studying and playing rugby - were smitten with the house from their very first viewing. "I loved the volume of the place. It's 2,000 square feet, which isn't massive but in volume it's big," says Mike. They fought hard to get it and lost it twice, before Kim received a call from her husband - who was away at the time at camp before a New Zealand game in Dublin - to tell her the good news.
Because six months had elapsed between the initial viewing and the purchase, they'd had plenty of time to think about what they wanted to do to it and the changes they needed to implement. This involved gutting the house - a former gate lodge - which sits on a third of an acre and dates from 1890, and completely refurbishing it before eventually moving in, in July 2014. Kim was six months pregnant at the time, but the task at hand didn't daunt her. "I loved it. Everyone stresses about getting married or moving country and doing up a house, and it is stressful, absolutely. But you have to enjoy it too, otherwise you lose out on that part of your life because it is an experience. It is hard but you have to take it as an amazing opportunity," she says.
While her profession is in science (she's also an Irish dancer who danced competitively up until university and assists at the Chaney Farrell Academy of Irish Dance), the house allowed her to tap into her flair for interior design. Magazines, Pinterest and the showrooms of Laura Ashley and Helen Turkington Interiors all provided rich sources of inspiration and Kim says she's not afraid to try her hand at anything. While they were renovating the house and hadn't even agreed on a builder at that point, she went through it, room by room, to try and pick out colours.
Instead of painting the walls of what then looked like a bomb site, she bought white vinyl tiles in Homebase plus all the paint samples she was considering and painted the vinyls, laying them out on the kitchen table. "Mike came home from an away game, walked in the door and I asked him, 'What do you think of all this?' she recalls. "He said, 'Oh my God,' grabbed a bottle of wine and went upstairs. I think he was thinking, 'Has she lost her mind? I'm not getting involved - whatever you want.'" Eventually they settled on their favourite shades of blue and green, which run throughout the house, while the bedroom sets they had accrued over the years formed the basis of the colour schemes there.
The L-shaped house originally had two living rooms. One of these is now their master bedroom, and what was the bedroom is now the den, which also holds Mike's whiskey collection. This reshuffle made more sense to them, especially as the original master suite would have been at the opposite end of the house to where Kevin and Chloe now sleep. "You don't want to be that far away from your kids," Mike says.
Also, in terms of functionality, it wasn't ideal to have a kitchen leading off into a bedroom. What was also important for them was that all space in the house was utilised and there were no 'good' rooms kept only for special occasions. A central feature in the living room is a unit designed by furniture maker Darren Langrell to match the original fireplace. "He worked with me to copy the features of the fireplace with the design of the unit, so it looks like it had already been here," says Kim. "With old houses, I think it's nice to put in features that are new but to keep the features that were here all along and get the two of them to work." This room is also home to their wedding wall, with photos from their own big day (they got married in the States in 2006) as well the nuptials of family, including their grandparents, and friends as well.
If it's not already apparent, family is hugely important in the Ross household, and heirlooms abound. A beautiful grandfather clock in the guest room was a wedding gift, given by Kim's great-grandmother to her parents, and a rocking chair perched in the corner of this room is also her great grandmother's. The wardrobe unit in original flame mahogany, and recently refurbished, was Mike grandparents', while in the master bedroom the suite of furniture was picked up a basement sale in the States and shipped over. They bought the bedside lockers from The Shelbourne in an online sale when the hotel was being redecorated. The kitchen chairs were made by Dave Walkden in Cork with felled wood from Mike's farm in Ballyhooly.
One piece of furniture, a Hoosier table, has followed Kim from the States - to their first home in Twickenham, London, where Mike played for Harlequins, and finally to Dublin. A vintage piece of Americana, this dates from the early 1900s. Kim adores the table, which sits in their main entryway. It has an enamel yellow top with teal edges, and retractable sides which fold out to seat eight people.
Youngest daughter Chloe's room is a little girl's haven, while next door her brother Kevin's bedroom is an homage to his love of sport - the rugby gene is clearly strong because he's already scored almost 60 tries so far this season for Bective Rangers in Donnybrook. Johnny Sexton, Isa Nacewa and, of course, his father are his heroes, but Brian O'Driscoll is Kevin's current obsession.
Adjacent to the children's rooms is Mike's office, which was handmade to fit the space, again by Darren Langrell. This is home to the latest computer Mike has built - referred to as "the beast" - and where he plays computer games, one of his favourite downtime hobbies.
One of the most notable things about their home is the way technology enhances everything - for instance, music is piped throughout the house - but doesn't take over, thanks to Mike's tech savvy. "We have a media server at the back, which serves up a program called Plex for media for the whole house, so if you're here in the den, Kevin can watch Minions in the other room," he explains. He uses a Cat 6 Ethernet cable, and there are network points in every room, while wires are tidied away into an area behind the projector wall. "At all the other houses that we've lived in, he was big into having every-thing from stereo systems to computers - there's a lot going on and a lot of wiring," Kim says. "So this is a hub for that and you can close the door and not look at it, which is great. When we moved in, the first thing that went up was the speakers and the projector. We couldn't eat off anything but you could listen and watch TV!"
Other high-tech additions include a Nest smart thermostat and Nest cameras, which provide good security and are also handy for checking on the kids. Mike admits not being terribly happy with the house's Wi-Fi coverage. "These are granite walls and the coverage can be hit and miss, but Google have a new product called Google Wifi -a home mesh Wi-Fi system - and hopefully that will sort it out."
Like with many families, the kitchen (by Des Coppins of Blackrock Kitchens & Country Kitchens) is at the heart of their home. They have opened out the original room here, using what was previously a hallway as a pantry/rugby/laundry room. With windows on both sides, the kitchen, in shades of blue and white, is bathed in light, with dramatic lamps from Avoca hanging from the ceiling and vintage-style crockery adorning the walls. Dining options here are either the kitchen island or a large wooden table when they have guests over. During the summer months, there's also the choice to dine al fresco on their outdoor kitchen and patio area, which gets the evening sunlight and boasts a gas grill, charcoal grill and three smokers.
"We did the driveway and the garden last year and that completely transformed it," says Kim. "That was all Mike - he was so upset with the way it looked outside, and he felt we had done so much with the house and that the garden had nothing done since we moved in, so he was delighted when that was finished."
After all their labour, they are incredibly happy with their home, but there are still add-ons that they'd like to make further down the line. "Our builder, Brendan Whyte of Kiwi Construction, is amazing," says Kim. "When he's over for a cup of tea, he'll ask, 'What have you thought of now?'" The couple are considering adding a small conservatory out the front and, potentially, a patio on their bedroom roof.
Another idea is to build a granny flat, which would come in handy for when the children go to college - or when Kim's parents, who are still based in Connecticut, retire. What they'd also like to do is to put in a basement and relocate the den there, turning the space into a cinema room with an area for Mike's extensive whiskey collection and barware.
"If we do the basement thing, we'll also have a place to display his jerseys, which we don't have at the moment," says Kim. "We have a lot of rugby paraphernalia. He's very fortunate - they've won so much."