Commuter-friendly decor that goes the distance for a stylish and happy home
With more of us commuting and spending long hours away from the home, you need to make it a haven to return too
When I first met Amanda she was a self-employed artist, working out of a studio beside her home in rural Co Tipperary. Her old renovated cottage was gorgeous, inside and out. People used to drop in to buy work from her studio and, if she liked them, they might get asked in for a cup of tea.
Then she was offered a full-time lecturing job in a university about 50 kilometres away. She was ready for a change, and a regular income, so she took the job. Now, five years on, she feels that becoming a commuter has fundamentally changed her relationship with her living space. Then, the house was an extension of her workspace. Now, it's a haven from the world of work. It's an example of how commuting can change how you view your home space.
"I've always loved my home," she says, "but the time that I spend here is really precious when I'm not here every day." Because her time at home is less, she's arranged things around the house to make life easier, and become very selective about who she shares the space with. "I love having family and friends to visit, but I don't want random callers."
One of the positives of the new job is that it has given her more money to spend on the house. "I got a new kitchen!" she says. "When you're working away from home, the time that you spend in the kitchen tends to be more pressured. You cook in batches and you need more space for that. And I don't think that I ever want to live without a dishwasher again."
Apart from the kitchen, the structural layout of the house hasn't changed radically, but she has had to change her habits. A commuter, who only sees their home in the evenings and at the weekends, has a completely different relationship with the space than someone who's at home all day. "When you commute, the house is a relaxation zone and you are more enclosed within it," she says.
In the winter, the commute becomes difficult. "I hate leaving the house in the dark and coming home in the dark," she says. "When I get home, the first thing that I do is close the curtains and light the stove. I'm under fluorescent lighting all day at work, so I keep the lights really dim. I have task lighting for reading and sewing but, even in the kitchen, the lights are low-key. I have a single spot over the cooker and that's enough."
For task lighting that doesn't disrupt the rest of the room, Dyson's ultra-minimal CSYS range includes a desk light (around €457); a floor light (€686); and a clamp light (€457) that attaches directly to a desk or table. Being Dyson, there's a lot of science behind the range. The designer, Jake Dyson, feels that he's nailed one of the bugbears of LED technology - overheating. This can damage the phosphorous coatings, degrading the brightness and colour of the light. For most of us, though the CSYS is just a really effective task lamp that looks a bit like an industrial set-square.
Once your task lighting is sorted, placing light sources at different levels helps to create an ambient space.
"A glass shade will allow light to spread throughout the room," says Gabriel Byrne of Fantasy Lights, "but a metal or porcelain one will focus the light downward." While pendant lights are important to a well-layered lighting plan, he suggests that table lamps "often seen as the maiden aunts of the lighting world" should also play their part. The range of hand-blown glass lamps from Fantasy Lights can be ordered in a range of colours - amber, grey, pearl, pink or clear glass - and prices range from €299 to €660. Just don't put them where you're likely to bang your head on them. I once accidentally head-butted a glass pendant, hung low over a table. It didn't survive the encounter.
If you have money to spend on furniture, but are tight on time, the Danish brand Bo Concept will send one of its interior designers out to the house to measure up the space and make sure you get what you want. The design service is free but, while the furniture isn't overpriced, you'd need to be on a decent salary to kit out a whole room with it. The Arhus dining chair, for example, costs €389 and the Milano table is €1,189. The Adelaide living chair costs €1,399 with an extra €349 for a matching footstool. All of furniture from Bo Concept is customisable, so prices may vary according to configuration and finishes.
Most Irish commuters, like Amanda, travel to and from work on a daily basis, but an increasing number of workers have a-typical commuting patterns. These bring their own design challenges. "We've designed homes for two types of commuters," says Dana Kallo of Black Fox Interiors. "The first is the person who lives abroad, but may fly into Dublin for a couple of days a week." Most of these clients are over the age of 35 and typically choose an apartment, rather than a house.
"Designing these apartments is very different from designing a family home because we are only catering for one person's needs," Kallo explains. "In general, they are rarely used in the daytime, the clients aren't so worried about how much sun they are going to get. That means we can focus more on the fittings and furnishings than on what is going on outside the apartment." This sounds a little bit like designing an interior for vampires. "What matters for them is to feel comfortable in the evenings, so we try to create a very relaxing space," she continues, "but what people find relaxing is completely individual. Everything comes back to the personality of the owner."
Kallo's second type of commuter client is a Dublin-based person whose work takes them overseas, sometimes for months at a time. Their Irish house or apartment is their main home, but they want the option of renting it out when they're abroad. This involves a two-tier design. Parts of the home, like the master bedroom, are entirely private. The owner's belongings remain in situ and that room is closed off when they're away. Other parts, like the kitchen and bathroom, are designed to function for anyone one who might be renting the space. "This type of home is not cheaply designed," she adds. "That makes them very nice places to stay."
blackfoxinteriors.com, dyson.ie, boconcept.com, fantasylights.com, ikea.com