Saturday 26 May 2018

Beauty on a budget in D4- How this landscape designer filled his home with character and charm

It doesn't take a fortune to make a home filled with character and charm, even in Dublin 4. It just takes ingenuity and an eye for a bargain. Luckily, landscape designer Bernard Hickie has both.

Bernard in the old studio
Bernard in the old studio
Glass replaced one wall
The exotic garden
Mementos from travels
A walkway to the bathroom doubles as a favourite seating area
A walkway to the bathroom doubles as a favourite seating area

Fran Power

When landscape designer Bernard Hickie bought a Dublin 4 mews house in 1995, its address was chi-chi but the house itself was not. Behind the large street gates, there was a garage riddled with dry rot, while inside the mews house there was a galley kitchen and living room on the ground floor and a bedroom upstairs. A dilapidated sculptor's studio was tacked on to the rear.

"The house had no central heating and needed a refurb," says Bernard. "I couldn't afford to knock the studio down and build it again, which is what should have happened."

Instead, he moved in and began to work on it bit by bit. But it wasn't until 2007 that he enlisted the help of friend and designer Maria MacVeigh and began structural work.

Years spent working on film sets had taught Bernard that a little ingenuity goes a long way.

"It's more about a bit of commonsense and working with your hands. I love restoring things if it's necessary. It's a case of putting stuff together and making it look expensive or posh." Everything was done on a tight budget, with much of the work carried out by Bernard himself - and there was no limit to his imagination.

On the ground floor, one wall of the old studio was replaced with glass, so it opened the house to the garden at the back.

"I ripped up the floor and put in fresh concrete and under-floor heating, then stuck the cheapest red deal floors on top," says Bernard. "I limned the floorboards because that works best with cheap wood and they're still there."

The former studio became a large sitting room that runs the entire width of the house and opens on to a pretty sunken garden.

The original galley kitchen, which had been shoe-horned under the stairs, was opened up into the main living/dining area and the ceiling was exposed. For the kitchen units, Bernard bought cheap Panelling Centre doors, sprayed them an elegant charcoal grey and added B&Q handles. He chose the Burlington slate counter top on the island is from the marble specialists, Artefaction.

The old garage that ran from the street wall to the house was replaced with a long, wide room, with lightwells in the roof. At one end, a black-tiled bathroom was hidden behind a sliding door. A sofa bed converts the space into a guest suite or a bright space to sit and read. The space is decked out with refurbed treasures and art; one painting by Siobhan McDonald, takes pride of place.

Upstairs, Bernard's bedroom looks out over the flat roof of his sitting room to the canopy of a leafy back garden.

"It's all about architectural shapes," says Bernard. There are tree ferns, rice paper trees, bamboo, and a large bay tree "that's been there forever".

It's a quiet space in the middle of the city and forms a break between the house and the glass-fronted studio at the end of the garden that he built as an office.

Once Bernard had the bones of the building in place, he set about furnishing it with key pieces. Those include a grey B&B Italia sofa and sideboard from Helen Kilmartin at Minima, a display room glass-topped table that had a scratched surface and a set of four white Eames chairs, all bought at knockdown prices from Garret O'Hagan Design.

A huge gilded French mirror was found in an antique shop in Francis Street.

"I paid for it over three years on hire purchase. It was close to two grand and I paid for it at €100 a time until I owned it."

An antique butler's convex mirror is another bargain buy. "I found it covered in paint in an antique shop in Ringsend and I took Nitromors and sandpaper and took it back to its original gilt finish. I have a good eye for stuff."

His magpie collection also means that everything has a story attached - a piece of treasure discovered in a junk store or salvage yard. A jade sculpture of the Hindu deity Ganesh found when Bernard was travelling in India. Or the beautiful tactile glass sculptures such as the ruby hued pomegranates crafted by his friend Killian Schurmann, the well-known glass sculptor.

"We were eating pomegranates here one night when Killian said, 'They are so beautiful, I'm going to make one.' He gave me one as a memento.

"The truth is the only things I spent real money on are the few modern bits and most of them I put on the mortgage," Bernard admits. "I bought a few nice pieces and the rest is accumulated junk that I found and cleaned up."

You'd never know it.

Sunday Independent

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