Sunday 22 April 2018

Interior designs... The reconditioners

New breed of designers are reworking homes with a mix of new and reupholstered items

Think Contemporary designer Joanne Kelly
Think Contemporary designer Joanne Kelly
An interior design from Bo Concept
Joanne Kelly used the star-burst rug to lead the colours in this high-end recondition
Think Contemporary interior recondition
Fargo sofa from Bo Concept
Think Contemporary interior recondition


New looks can be achieved by reconditioning the best of your existing furniture and then finding new pieces to offset it.

"So what's your style?" asked the pushy salesperson in the furniture store. "Classic or contemporary?" I scratched my head. I'm not really aware of having a personal style. Guessing wildly, I said that maybe I like a classic interior. She showed me a room of paisley carpets, curly legged chairs, and new furniture that was designed to look like it was old.

I love real antiques, but I'm not a big fan of distressed surfaces. Take any piece of furniture back to our gaff and it will look distressed soon enough. I asked her if we could look at the contemporary section. This room was very bare and everything in it had a shiny surface and sharp corners. It all looked a bit unfriendly.

On reflection, the way the store made a sharp divide between one style and another just didn't fit the way I thought about decorating. I also felt a contemporary interior didn't need to be so aggressively modern. For me, being contemporary isn't about having everything brand new. It's more like buying a bright scarf and new boots to offset an old leather jacket that you're still in love with 10 years on.

It's why we often to like to take that old leather jacket in, get the holes patched, have it rebuffed and a set of funky new buttons sewn on and then find some more current accessories to go with it. It looks just as good or even better. The same can be said for furniture. Because sometimes what you have is strong enough to build around or even transform completely with a little upholstering and reconditioning.

Interior designer Joanne Kelly ( is an experienced reconditioner. "There was a huge issue back in the boom that everything had to be high end and brand new," she says. "It doesn't have to be like that - it just has to be thoughtfully selected.

"We try not to follow trends too much. We get to know our clients, learn about what they like and what they don't like, and work around that. We're big fans of Ikea and of mixing their furniture with more expensive pieces, and of having older pieces reupholstered."

That said, Kelly has worked on some pretty high-end interiors. The open-plan kitchen and dining area of a newly renovated bungalow involved new, old and bespoke pieces. The table from Bushell Interiors ( cost around €1,500.

"We couldn't find a set of dining chairs that ticked all the boxes, so we had them made and upholstered in bright purple fabric. They worked out around €550 each," says Kelly.

The stripes in the painting (€439 from Bo Concept) above the sideboard are echoed in the fabric of a reupholstered wingback chair in the next room.

"The client had the chair already, but it was made for a very different style of interior," Kelly explains. "It wouldn't have worked if we hadn't put such a contemporary fabric on it." In the sitting room, Kelly had to negotiate an existing sofa.

"It's not what I would have chosen myself. I wasn't crazy about the way the cushions are upholstered in a different fabric and there was a pile of floral cushions on it that contradicted the style of the sofa."

Taking a starburst rug (around €800 from as a starting point, she selected bright cushions in the same colours.

"It's often best to keep the expensive things neutral and bring in colour in small things and pieces of furniture that you can move around the room."

Like I said, it was a high-end project. I won't be forking out €500 for a dining chair any time soon, but you can apply the principle to suit your budget.

Work with what you have and use a brightly coloured piece, like a rug or a painting, to lead the colour scheme. It's a principle that Kelly has also used in her own living room.

"I felt I could be a bit more daring in my own home than I would be for a client," she explains. She based the design around a rug with raised bobbles in lime green, teal and turquoise, with the colours reflected in a turquoise chair and a lime green wall.

In a smaller house, and with a much lower budget, Kelly took a rug from TC Matthews that showed splashes of pink, purple and orange, and combined it with a retro coffee table (€225) from Ikea's Stockholm range and a bright pink slipper chair from Helen Turkington.

"The client is in her 20s and she wanted something that was fun, colourful, and a little bit girly, but not the flowers-and-lace kind of girly."

Like all interior designers, Think Contemporary price jobs individually, but Kelly and her partner Anthony Buggy estimate their service costs between €3,500 and €6,000 for complete project management and design of an entire house.

For smaller jobs that don't require an entire redesign, the Danish furniture chain Bo Concept offers a free interior design service for their customers.

"If you're interested in buying our furniture we will come out to the house and create a design that works with your existing furniture," says Sam Faouel of the Sandyford store (

The price range is wide with coffee tables, for example, ranging from €300 and €1,000. Expect a lead time of around eight to nine weeks for upholstered items and four to six weeks for plain furniture.

One of the selling points of the range is that it's heavily customisable so that you can adjust the legs, arms, back and upholstery of chairs and sofas. Much of this can be done online.

"We find that a lot of people are working out the design online and just bringing it in to us to have it made up," Faouel says.

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