Saturday 24 February 2018

Revamping your home for less

Thanks to some enterprising businesses, homeowners can now indulge their champagne tastes on a lemonade budget. June Edwards reports

Bernie Walsh, with one of her refurbished bespoke handpainted sideboards at Busy Bees on Bridgefoot Street, Dublin.
Bernie Walsh, with one of her refurbished bespoke handpainted sideboards at Busy Bees on Bridgefoot Street, Dublin.
Niall McCarthy of Niall Mccarthy Modern Interior Design and Thrifty Custom Design, pictured at home with some of the pieces of furniture he has up-cycled, Crosshaven, Co Cork.
Interior architects Lisa Burke and Ciara Finn in the Churchtown house which they revamped.
Interior architects Ciara Finn and Lisa Burke in the Churchtown house which they revamped on a tight budget.

Some house hunters are still buying with a view to putting their own stamp on a property with fashionable makeovers. But unlike during the boom, both buyers and service providers are more cost-conscious and recession-busting entrepreneurs are showing homeowners how to turn over a new 'green' leaf.

"Now it's all about up-cycling, which is revamping with an eco-twist," says Cork designer Niall McCarthy.

"People still love their homes despite not having the huge budgets we once had to redesign or redecorate them," says McCarthy, who last year set up Niall McCarthy Interior Design,

Unlike recycling, 'up-cycling' is about redesigning your existing items to turn them into something new.

Building on a lifelong hobby of making furniture and using specialist paint techniques, McCarthy decided to see redundancy from a career in the retail sector as an opportunity to retrain in interior design. Now he does everything from restoring old houses to kitchen and bedroom makeovers, using paint techniques and other decorative skills to completely transform the look for less.

"Redundancy gave me the opportunity to do what I had always wanted to do, but was afraid to try," he adds.

With the focus very much on affordability, thinking outside the box is important.

"Custom-made furniture can be expensive, but it's still possible to get something very different with some really cheap furniture from Argos or Ikea, or something old that can be transformed and made completely unique for your home."

"Apart from affordability, increased awareness of the negative impact of consigning perfectly functional furniture to the landfill is changing attitudes," says McCarthy.

"The days of ripping out a good kitchen simply because you don't like it are gone, but that doesn't mean you can't achieve a whole new look," he explains.

Depending on the style clients want, and their budget, McCarthy offers a range of services from the basic painting your kitchen units cream, to a complete face-lift using colour and specialist techniques. He also offers a complete house redesign, along with a consultancy service.

Enterprising graduates Ciara Finn and Lisa Burke took self-made millionaire Bill Cullen's advice to trainee tycoons to heart. "If you can't get a job, go out there and work for nothing." Which is exactly what the pair, who graduated in Interior Architecture in 2009 from Dublin's Griffith College, did.

"We sent out CVs every week, but heard nothing back," says Ciara. "Sitting around waiting for a job was getting us nowhere, so we decided to take the initiative and create our own work."

Hearing of a friend who was looking to redecorate her home in South Dublin, they offered their services for free. The result, they hoped, would be their calling card for future clients.

With money tight, Ciara and Lisa did as much of the work themselves as possible, including stripping wallpaper, sanding and varnishing the old floorboards, along with polishing and painting furniture. In addition they removed 20-year-old units from the kitchen, and peeled back layers of lino.

"Although we were on a tight budget, we kept our standards high. Our builder Noel Walsh hit the nail on the head when he said we had 'champagne taste with a lemonade budget'."

Fans of up-cycling themselves, the young women got

wind of a neighbour who was changing their kitchen, and they were able to use the old units, which they sanded and painted until they looked brand new. Another neighbour was getting rid of a kitchen table which they also got their hands on before giving it a new lease of life.

"The colours we chose were pale blues and light greys, combined with white kitchen units and a white dining table. We used dashes of maroon and turquoise in the soft furnishings and accessories to add warmth and a splash of colour."

As luck would have it another neighbour was getting rid of an old sofa, which they dyed in a bath to fit in with their colour scheme.

"The packet of dye was grey, and the couch turned out green and our hands were blue for three days. After three more packets of dye and three more days of blue hands, we got there in the end!" recalls Lisa.

"Trying to make the most of what you already have and making your money stretch that little bit further by being creative is what it's all about," adds Ciara, who with Lisa can be contacted at

'Saving the planet one sofa at a time' is the motto of Busy Bees, a social economy business in Dublin, with shops in Bridgefoot Street and Crumlin.

"We collect, recycle, restore and resell 'pre-loved' furniture while providing training and local employment for communities in Dublin, and any profit we make goes back into the business," explains manager Bernie Walsh, adding that the Busy Bees shops are an initiative of Sunflower Recycling, (

"Initially it was just about collecting and reselling the furniture, but when we started to restore and decorate the furniture, the business started to develop in a different direction, and we found there was a huge demand for custom-ordered painted furniture," adds Walsh.

"Our custom-designed service is fantastic, because it adds a new dimension to our training programme.

"One lady brought in her own fabric and paint, and we are reupholstering the seats and painting the furniture, and she will have a very unique dining set when it's finished," adds Walsh.

"We get some fabulous furniture. Often when families are clearing out the house of a deceased relative, they call us because the furniture is too good to be skipped, but at the same time they don't have the space for it.

'At the moment we're working on a beautiful solid wood headboard which came from the US in the 1950s.

"The owner was getting older and needed a new electric bed but wanted someone else to have this lovely headboard."

A basic set of table and chairs start from around €60, going up to €150 for a mahogany set with carvers.

And with a great collection ranging from art deco and retro up to cheap and cheerful modern pieces, Busy Bees don't just supply furniture for domestic settings.

"We've supplied all kinds of amazing pieces for stage, screen, festivals and even a gastro lounge."

Oxfam Home in Dublin's Francis Street, (, is also seeing an upsurge in the demand for 'pre-loved' furniture.

"It's a combination of the affordability factor, along with a shift in the mindset of consumers that is helping to create a new demand for second-hand furniture," says Manager Paul Houlihan.

"Furniture that was made in the 50s and 60s was better quality and made to last, and was usually made from solid wood rather than cheap MDF or chipboard.

"We also see a lot of people who are looking for a particular item from a particular era to add to their home."

"More importantly, the money that we get for our furniture in Oxfam promotes sustainable lifestyles for people in Africa," adds Houlihan.

Irish Independent

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