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Design of the times

After some years in the doldrums, interior experts are back in demand... but they ain't cheap

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Interior designer Suzie McAdam of The Design Seeker

Interior designer Suzie McAdam of The Design Seeker

Ruth Maria Murphy

Jonathan Adler sideboard from The Design Seeker

Jonathan Adler sideboard from The Design Seeker

Ventura Design showroom

Ventura Design showroom

Fritz Hansen Ant chair from Lost Weekend

Fritz Hansen Ant chair from Lost Weekend

Fritz Hansen furniture from Lost Weekend

Fritz Hansen furniture from Lost Weekend

The Design Seeker Hideout design by Front for Gebrüder Thonet Vienna

The Design Seeker Hideout design by Front for Gebrüder Thonet Vienna

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Interior designer Suzie McAdam of The Design Seeker

What's the collective noun for interior designers? A Compendium of Collective Nouns suggests "a tantrum of decorators". So rude! Most decorators are perfectly well-behaved human beings.

"A swatch of interior designers" sounds much nicer. In that case, I've just been introduced to a swatch of interior designers at The Design Seeker, Suzie McAdam's new showroom in Monkstown, Co Dublin. "It used to be just me and one other," says McAdam. "Now there are seven of us!"

That's six interior designers and one financial manager to put manners on them.

These days, it's hard to throw a rock in some parts of South Dublin without putting it through the window of an interior design showroom. Ten years ago, they were few and far between. Interior designers operated out of their own back bedrooms or studio spaces cluttered with piles of samples. Now, sleek and stylish showrooms are popping up like mushrooms wherever there's a market for their services.

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The Design Seeker Hideout design by Front for Gebrüder Thonet Vienna

The Design Seeker Hideout design by Front for Gebrüder Thonet Vienna

Most interior design showrooms combine an element of display, an element of retail, and a sliding scale of design services. As a client, you can get a flavour of the designer's style and the brands they like to work with, but the main thing you're buying is expertise. For clients, it's easier to get a sense of someone's work from a room set than from a mood board or an Instagram account. For interior designers, showrooms are a welcome source of employment.

Flashback to 2008 when I first met Suzie McAdam. She was an interior architecture student in DIT where I was lecturing in design history. Thankfully, I didn't put her off. Neither did the lack of employment prospects when she graduated at the height of the recession. At that stage, the college was producing a fresh crop of interior design graduates every year and it felt as though we, the lecturers, were bringing them to a high place and pushing them off a cliff. The recession was tough on everyone, but the interior design industry really took a pounding. There was nowhere for them to go.

McAdam was one of the tough ones. Briefly, she went to work abroad. Then she set up on her own. Her studio flourished, undertaking between seven and 10 projects a year, all of them major renovations.

"We didn't have the capacity for smaller projects," she says. "It seemed mad to be turning people away, but if it wasn't a full-scale renovation, we just had to say no."

At the same time, her blog 'The Design Seeker', was attracting attention. McAdam has a unique talent for hunting down interesting items and putting them together in a way that makes sense. Let's call her the sniffer dog of Irish interiors.

Her aesthetic is hard to describe. The Americans might call it 'transitional', meaning a blend of vintage elements with new, but there's more to it than that.

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Fritz Hansen furniture from Lost Weekend

Fritz Hansen furniture from Lost Weekend

"To me, design is about finding individual pieces, silhouettes and shapes that transform a space, and building on that with colour and texture," she explains. "It's also about not being defined by any particular period." I suggest that The Design Seeker is more about a methodology rather than a look. "Yes," she says. "Exactly that."

Here's how it works. You can either book a free appointment at The Design Seeker with a junior designer or pay €300 for a consultation with one of the senior designers. For the latter, you'd expect to come out with a plan for decorating and furnishing a room, mainly with items from the showroom.

What's on view is a carefully curated selection of a much wider range, with many options in fabric and wallpaper. Brands include Jonathan Adler, Gebrüder Thonet Vienna, Ingo Maurer and Magic Circus, along with vintage items. None of it is cheap. The Rendez-Vous sofa from Saba Italia - a super-cool modular design that won an Archiproduct Design Award in 2019 - costs €4,066. The delectable Flying Flames chandelier from Ingo Maurer, for example, costs €4,724. It actually does look like floating candles. McAdam says that it reminds her of Hogwarts.

"There's some fabulous design going on in Ireland," says Mary Ryder, interior designer. It's less than a year since she opened her showroom, Curated, in Sandyford with business partners Michelle Hetherington (architect) and David Clarke (quantity surveyor). Having a showroom has enabled her to bring in European furniture brands, the like of which are rarely seen in Ireland. Like The Design Seeker, her approach is based on a method rather than a look.

"It's very curated," she says. "We don't really have our own aesthetic, we create a bespoke look and we take a layered, nuanced approach. Your room should never look like you went out and bought it all in the one showroom. I can spot that at 50 paces and we strive not to do that here."

Other interior design showrooms predate the recession. Survivors and thrivers include Lost Weekend in Dun Laoghaire and Ventura Design, which opened its Blanchardstown showroom in 2012. Since then, Ventura has opened showrooms in Deansgrange and, more recently, London. The company now employs 50 people, including 12 interior designers. You can walk in and have a look around or book a consultation with an interior designer.

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Ventura Design showroom

Ventura Design showroom

"People like to see what they're buying," says Arlene McIntyre of Ventura. "It's the same as in the supermarket. People still pick up an apple and sniff it!"

All of Ventura's furniture is made in Ireland and most of it is bespoke, but the showroom will give you a general idea of the quality and the style, which McIntyre describes as "classic, contemporary, timeless, and comfortable - it's very important to me that a home doesn't look like in a nightclub".

Prices for interior design consultancy seem to be consistent across the board, although packages vary in detail, but the brands stocked by The Design Seeker, Curated, Lost Weekend and Ventura are often pricey. It's quality stuff, but out of range for many.

More accessible alternatives include CA Interior Design Consultancy Studio, which opened in Portobello in 2019. Consultancy packages start at €250, but some of their furniture is relatively affordable. The trick, as always, is to talk to people. Find out what they're offering, if you like their style, and what aspect of it you can afford.

There's no point in getting excited about a sofa from The Design Seeker when you can only afford a cushion but, then again, a good cushion can go a long way.

See thedesignseeker.com, ventura.ie, cadesign.ie, curated.ie, lostweekend.ie.

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