Dashing good luxe... without going gangster
We all enjoy a touch of luxury but too much and you risk entering bordello territory
Last week, as I was shopping in my local German-owned supermarket, a woman approached me, waving a packet of toilet rolls. "Can you read the print on that?" she demanded. "Because if it's 2-ply I don't want it. In my opinion, 2-ply toilet paper isn't worth bringing in the door!" Too much information, really. But I could see her point. We peered at the packaging together, unable to find the information we were looking for. Eventually, I pointed out that the toilet paper advertised itself as 'luxury'. "I could do with a bit of that," said the woman with a sigh as she slung the packet into her trolley and marched off towards the checkout.
We could all do with a bit of luxury in our homes. But what you find luxurious, and how much you spend on it, can be very individual. For Laura Farrell, interior designer, luxury lies in the things that give you pleasure. "There's so much bad luxe out there," she says. "It can easily tip over into bordello or it can be stultifying stuffy, like a well-heeled but middle-of-the-road hotel lobby. Proper luxe is a little threadbare." Avoid matching fabrics, crushed velvet, and bling. Too many shiny things can make your house look gangsterish.
Farrell describes a visit to a high-end home where they'd built alcoves for statuary busts on either side of the kitchen range. "I had to explain that they'd spend a lot of time wiping off the grease."
So what's your favourite interiors luxury? Think carefully, it may not be that obvious. "For me, it's the kitchen floor," Farrell says. "That's my biggest luxury." The floor extends throughout the ground floor of her new home and looks like dark-stained herringbone engineered wood. It's actually a Marmoleum product known as Allura (€69 per metre, uninstalled). "It's the most practical floor ever made," she says. "It's acoustic, its warm, and when you drop a wine glass, it bounces."
Even better, it's been installed without saddles between the rooms. Saddles, also known as thresholds, are the annoying little ridges that separate one type of floor from another. They interrupt the line of sight and make the space harder to clean. Dispensing with them creates a sense of visual continuity and makes it easy to clean. Farrell has two children, a dog and a cat. Accidents happen and having a floor where you can see the dirt has made a massive difference to her life. "It's not a luxe item, but it's luxe not to have to worry about it," she says.
Her second favourite luxury is an old fashioned pantry - a walk-in cupboard off hallway with high shelves on three sides. It was in the house when she bought it and it's one of the things that she's never going to change. "Now I can see my stuff!" she says triumphantly, surveying the rows of shelving. "My ultimate fantasy is to have jars of homemade pickles and jams, and a cold cut under a linen tea towel." Unless you're building, or have an old-fashioned house with a pantry already installed, this is a tricky one to engineer. Kitchen companies like Neptune offers larder cupboards for the kitchen but the whole point of a pantry is that it's a separate room to keeps things cool.
Farrell's third luxury is an obvious object of desire. It's the limited-edition Smeg Mondrian fridge - a fridge and icebox combo in a 1950s retro style, decorated in the colours of Mondrian's ultra-famous painting Composition with Red Blue and Yellow (1930). It's hugely recognisable, even if you know nothing about art and famously expensive. At the time of writing, Price Spy declares that the cheapest that you'll get it is €2,481 on Amazon. Can't afford it? There's an entertaining cheat on the market. A mere £50 (€57) will purchase you a Mondrian Abstract Art FridgeWrap from Vinyl Revolution. This is a giant sticker that you can stick on your existing fridge to make it look (a bit) like the Smeg original. It's great fun, but you won't fool anybody. Fourth on Farrell's list of luxuries is her living room rug. It's a licenced William Morris design called Seaweed and she bought it in Window Fashions and Interiors in Terenure. "I've used the wallpaper, I've used the fabric, but I'd never seen the design used as a rug before." The Cork-based stockist of the design is Rugs.ie where a 140 x 200cm William Morris Seaweed rug currently costs €540.
Farrell's fifth, and final, luxury is an uber-simple EF Chapman metal banded pendant in gilded iron from the American company, Visual Comfort, supplied by Hicken Lighting. "I've bought them for three different clients and I decided that I wanted one for myself." Actually she has two, one in the living room and one in the hall. "I am my own best client," she admits. "I'm so easy to work with and I know exactly what I want."
One of the classic ways of creating a sense of luxury is by layering fabrics, especially around the window. "Floor-to-ceiling curtains can look very luxurious, especially if you design the curtains a little longer than they need to be so that the fabric pools on the floor," says Susan White of Hillarys. "Layering curtains and Roman blinds also creates depth, especially if you use a different colour and texture on each." For a photoshoot designed to demonstrate the luxe style, the designers at Hillarys paired Harlow Charcoal curtains (€313) with a Roche Blush Roman blind (€160); Romari Peach curtains (€289) with Mineral Azure Roman blinds (€237); and Broadleigh Aubergine curtains (€289) with Clarence Denim Roman blinds (€206). Prices are for standard (127cm x 137cm) curtains and (65cm x 75cm) in the cheapest available fabric.
The shoot, although focused on window dressings, included several pieces of Art Deco-type furniture. This, at best, is a very luxurious style but there's a lot of it about and it can be hard to do well.
My own favourite example of luxe in the Art Deco style is the new Manhattan range of wallpaper from Mind the Gap. The wallpapers combine marbled effects with used geometrical motifs in golden brass and copper, many of them printed in metallic inks and metallic foils. This is a tricky thing to do well - many have tried before - but clever design has made it work. It looks luxurious, but it's not massively expensive (€175 for a set of three rolls from Irish suppliers April and the Bear).
See laurafarrell.ie, hillarys.ie, aprilandthebear.com, hickenlighting.com, vinylrevolution.co.uk, rugs.ie, windowfashions.ie.