Cork is 'bursting with interiors stores' that offer unique pieces as well as tapping into the latest trends
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Cork is 'bursting with interiors stores' that offer unique pieces as well as tapping into the latest trends.
'When I was growing up, you bought a set of couches and that would do you for 30 years," says Jo Linehan, interiors stylist. "There wasn't a lot of interest in interiors and there wasn't a lot of choice." Linehan was brought up in Mallow, Co Cork. For a young person who was passionate about interiors, it was a frustrating place to be. "It felt like everything was happening in Dublin," she says.
Linehan is one of the presenters of The Good Room, a makeover series that aired on RTÉ Player earlier this month. The other presenter is her business partner Caroline Foran, the other half of Gaff Interiors. The series evolved in partnership with Moda, created by Dulux, and is designed to take the fear out of home decoration.
"People are terrified of using colour!" Linehan explains. (This isn't just a Cork thing - colour shyness is a national failing.)
One of the six episodes was filmed in Glanmire, just outside Cork City. Going back to her old stomping ground, Linehan noticed just how much Cork has changed as an interiors venue. "Now, Cork is bursting with interiors stores and everyone's getting interested in doing up their homes." When she goes home to Mallow, she never misses a visit to The Lime House, a friendly interiors store on Davis Street. "I always leave with a new candle or cushion."
In terms of high street shopping, some of the usual suspects have improved their homeware offering.
"Dunnes Home is amazing and it's been around for so long that people really trust it," she says. "They like that it's Irish owned and supports Irish designers." The international chains have also played their part. DFS, which supplied the furniture for the Glanmire episode of The Good Room, opened in Cork's City Gate Park in 2012 and it's just over a year since the Danish lifestyle company, Sostrene Grene, launched its Patrick Street shop. The shops sell attractive home accessories, Scandinavian in style and neither particularly expensive nor particularly cheap.
This May, Homesense opened in the Capitol Development on Grand Parade in Cork.
It's the homeware version of it's associate store, TK Maxx. Like TK Maxx, Homesense sells branded items at discount prices. Also like TK Maxx, you never know quite what you're going to find. It's great for bargain hunters, but less good for those with specific requirements or people in a rush. And not good at all if you have a headache.
For people who like vintage or off-beat items, she recommends Mother Jones' Flea Market, which runs in Thompson House on York Street from 10am to 6pm, Friday to Sunday. "Cork people are always looking for a bargain," says Linehan. "That's one thing that hasn't changed."
The interior designer Simon Paul agrees. "People here have money, but whether they're going to part with it or not is a different thing."
Paul is a native Corkonian and the instigator of Paul & Co, an interior design service and showroom based in Cork's Blackrock suburb.
"I opened the shop four years ago because there was nowhere to buy anything decent and nice," he explains.
Although Paul & Co supplies some high- end brands, the objects on display in the shop are mid-range in price.
"A table lamp would cost between €200 and €300. We could also source you one from the likes of Vaughan Design in London that would cost €1,200, but we don't keep expensive stuff just sitting here hoping people are going to pass by on a whim."
Paul likes to focus on pieces that you won't find elsewhere.
"Our mirrors do very well for us," he says.
"They're European, with a bit of substance and character, and they're not too grannyish."
French-style mirrors with slightly ornate gilded frames range from €300 to €900. "The average spend is about €500, but if people see something that is right for them, they'll go for it."
According to Paul, Cork people are discrete about what they spend on their home.
"They don't flash the cash. They don't want to be seen to spend too much in the face of neighbours who might not have it to spend," he says.
"And they don't like to have their interiors photographed in case someone recognises it. You have to respect their privacy."
For an interior designer, there's a knock-on effect to working in a tight-knit community. You have to assume that your clients will visit each other's homes.
"You can't do the same thing in two different houses or it will get around that you're a bit of a one-trick pony."
As if to prove the fact that good design can flourish in unexpected places, the Old Mill Stores has been doing a roaring trade in homeware since it opened in 2012. You'll find it in the village of Connonagh between Rosscarbery and Leap.
Operating as Ovne Antique Stoves, Claire and Tom Graham had sold antique stoves on the premises since 2000, but that side of the business waned during the recession. "I always had an inkling that we could do more with the shop," says Claire.
Their location, directly situated on the N71, was a huge advantage.
On the way to and from West Cork, you pass right by their door. Then, their family members in Amsterdam and Copenhagen alerted the Grahams to a wealth of edgy European homeware and furnishing as yet unavailable in Ireland.
Now, the Old Mill Stores is where people pop in for a dose of the unusual.
"We go for things that are different," Claire explains. "We try not to repeat what other interiors shops in Munster are doing."
Bestsellers include the appealing Senor and Senora vases (€55 each) from Kitsch Kitchens in the Netherlands, and goose feather lampshades from Vita Copenhagen (€79 to €250).
The feathers on the shades diffuse the light beautifully, but I'm concerned that they might be a dust trap.
"They're not!" Claire replies. "Feathers are naturally dust repellent and you can clean them with a blast from a cold hairdryer."
You'll find 'The Good Room' on rte.ie/player. See also gaffinteriors.ie, paulandco.ie, theoldmillstores.ie, dulux.ie, dfs.ie, dunnesstores.com, sostrenegrene.com, homesense.ie, @TheLimeHouseMallow, and @motherjonesfleamarket