The Bourke enigma: Peek inside the interior designer's dream home
In the old days, when virtually all architects were male, houses were often beautiful, but nearly always impractical for day-to-day living. These men did not know how a household functioned, and so, for example, kitchens were tiny and often situated miles from dining rooms. In recent years, more and more architects are female, and houses are becoming more geared to a family's needs. Male architects are realising that they need to listen more to clients, and women are, of course, becoming more assertive about their needs.
Yet there are still areas that could be better addressed. Many people now have utility rooms for laundry - rooms which are furnished with a sink, a washing machine, a dryer and room for ironing - yet few people have them upstairs, where they would make more sense. "What is the point of dragging everything downstairs to wash and dry, when you're going to be bringing it all back up again?" observes Ann Marie Bourke.
An upstairs laundry room was on the essentials list for Ann Marie when she was planning her stunning new house 10 years ago, but then she is a life-long student of houses, and was determined to leave no stone unturned in the creation of her perfect home, whether it concerned space, light, lighting, acoustics, furnishing, or any other element of practical yet elegant living.
Ann Marie had, of course, some advantages when it came to building her dream home, not least the fact that she's an experienced interior designer and has been around houses all her life. The eldest of four, Ann Marie is from Ballina, Co Mayo, where her father has a property development business. "My father, Paddy Bourke, was a builder, and as kids, we were always around the family business. We grew up in a period house, and my parents were always doing stuff with that, so I absorbed a lot just being there," Ann Marie says.
Though she loved houses, she didn't opt to study interiors as it wasn't considered a career when she left school; instead, she moved to Dublin straight after her Leaving Cert and became a Montessori teacher. "I used to work in a school for children with special needs during my holidays. I enjoyed working with kids, so it made sense to do Montessori. Once I qualified, I opened my own school in Mount Merrion and ran it for 15 years," she notes.
However, her love of interiors endured, and she often found herself working with her father during the summer holidays. "Dad was building apartments in Mayo in the early 1990s, and he asked me to do the interiors. I didn't consider it work, I enjoyed it so much. After that, I started doing colour courses; different interiors courses. Then my sister Emer opened an interiors shop in Mayo, and I used to go on buying trips with her," Ann Marie explains. "I'm self-taught, I suppose," she adds. "When I go abroad and stay in interesting hotels, or if I see some interesting new idea in a shop, I take photos of everything. I love old and new buildings in Europe; I get new ideas from them," Ann Marie enthuses.
During her years running the school, the soft-spoken brunette met her husband, business consultant Neil Mullaney, and when Inga, the eldest of their children, was three, Ann Marie decided to give up the school in favour of spending more time at home with her toddler. "Everyone does things differently," she says. "I loved the school, which I ran for 15 years; the holidays were great, too, but I had no flexibility, and I felt it was important to give Inga more time."
Inga is now 18, and she was followed by Oscar, now 14, and Anya, now 13. So when all three were small, Ann Marie stayed at home. She continued to work with her father, however, and she did some work with her two brothers, who also went into the property development business - Joseph in London, and Brian in Dublin and Mayo - and with her sister. "I do projects with them from time to time. They all have separate businesses, but we're lucky that we're very close, and we work well together," Ann Marie notes, adding that she also began to be asked by friends to advise them on their houses. And now that her youngest, Anya, is in secondary school, Ann Marie takes on all types of projects - from one room, to an apartment, to a full house. "Up to now, it's been all word of mouth. It's very much client-led, and I'm doing more than I expected," she says. She's had all sorts of clients, which, she says, makes it interesting. "I've done everything from small projects to whole houses. Some people say, 'I just want one room', others say 'Here are the keys, let me know when you're finished'. I had a client recently who wanted a place turned around in three weeks. I have other clients who want me to do their interiors personal shopping," she says.
Earlier this year, she went to Paris with a client to get items she couldn't get here. "I knew where to go. I know where to source everything," Ann Marie notes with a knowing smile, adding, "I'm very conscious of budget and the end result. Something doesn't have to be expensive to be beautiful. I believe I end up saving people money, and help prevent them making mistakes."
Ann Marie believes another reason people like working with her is because she's flexible. "I'm led by the client's taste. I'm not rigid. If someone wants totally traditional, or very contemporary, that's fine by me. People have their own taste. Very often, they're strapped for time, and that's why they employ someone like me; they don't have the time for the research, or for finding the right people to do the jobs. I have a big back-up of good-quality tradespeople."
Ann Marie's own style is classic with a contemporary twist, and she got the opportunity to give it full expression when she and her husband built their current home in south Co Dublin.
"Our last house became too small for us, so we sold it. We loved the area, and decided to stay here, but we couldn't find the right house. We looked at a lot of different properties, but we were not seeing anything we wanted," she says. "A lot of bigger houses had kitchens in the basement, which I don't like. We looped the whole Monkstown/Sandymount area, and we came to the conclusion that we didn't want a house that was done; we wanted to make our own mark."
By changing their thinking, a different vista opened up. They spotted a dormer bungalow on half an acre and realised that if they could knock it, they could create their dream home. Fortunately, that was a possibility, and it's exactly what they did. To all intents and purposes, the exterior now looks like a big double-fronted, detached period house, and the spacious, elegant, high-ceilinged hall continues the illusion, especially as it's furnished with gorgeous antiques. All becomes dazzlingly different once the door opens to the dramatically decorated kitchen/dining/living area, with its wide expanses of glass opening onto manicured lawns. "To this day, people say, 'I love your extension', but you know what, it's all new. I had an architect; he did the plans based on my ideas," Ann Marie says proudly.
The black and white kitchen/dining and sitting area is very contemporarily decorated with marble flooring and lots of black and white furniture, including the black dining table and black chairs. "I had old mahogany dining chairs that I hated. So I said, 'OK, we can change them' and I had them gessoed in black, and added silver-leather seat covers," Ann Marie explains. "I'm a great believer in upcycling what people already have, like I did with my chairs."
She is also a great believer in painting old furniture and reupholstering good sofas in new fabrics. This area continues to a playroom, which is also very edgy with its poured concrete floors; but classic is the keyword when it comes to the rest of the downstairs and the reception rooms. In these areas, walnut floors, period mantlepieces, antiques - some from Connaught Antiques, a favourite shop - and velvet curtains abound. But it's never stuffy or overdone.
And the secret, according to Anne Marie, is a neutral palette. "I always avoid fads. Different colours are in every year, but you can't go wrong working off a neutral palette and adding colour with accessories," she says. "I'm not a brown-and-cream person; grey is very forgiving, so it's a good background colour. I'm always changing cushions to suit the season or my mood."
That's not to say she is completely averse to strong colours. The carpet on the stairs to the upper floor - with its six bedrooms, mostly en suite; and, of course, the laundry room - is a wonderful raspberry shade. "I knew the shade I wanted, but I couldn't find it. I had a dress in the correct shade and I took it to show the carpet people - I got the colour I wanted. Don't take no for an answer," she says with a laugh.
Despite all the drama in the decor, there's nothing precious about the style or the furnishings. "I'm not interested in stuff you have to be minding. It has to be about practicality," Ann Marie insists.
The ideal interior designer - a person who can combine laundry, loveliness and luxury.
Bourke Interior Design, tel : (087) 258-8242, or see bourkeinteriordesign.ie
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine