Domestic bliss: With plenty of plants and chilled-out hues, home is where the happiness is
Once upon a time, there was a man and a woman and they got got married. They each owned their own houses full of their own belongings. So they sold the two houses and bought a larger one to renovate together. The trouble was that they had very different ideas of what kind of interior would make them happy.
The interior designer, Gwen Kenny of Divine Design, was called in to work on the renovation. Kenny understood at once that her role was to act as mediator as well as designer. Gradually, she helped the couple to negotiate a middle ground. All went well until they came to the Eagle Rug.
"The Eagle Rug belonged to the man," says Kenny. "It was huge and kitsch and horrible." The design showed a gigantic eagle, woven in primary colours, and it was absolutely central to his idea of home. The man had brought it back from his travels, many years before, and whenever he moved, the rug moved with him. It always had pride of place.
The woman had no time for the rug. "She wouldn't even have it in the dog shed!" Kenny explains. "To be fair on the man, he was making most of the compromises, but this was the one thing that he wasn't compromising on."
The interior design process degenerated into farce. The woman offered to pay Kenny to kidnap the rug (she may not have been entirely serious). Kenny texted the man to say that she had kidnapped the rug and that he could have it back for a small ransom.Eventually, a solution was found. The couple put the rug in their summer house. "He didn't have to throw it out and she didn't have to look at it all the time," says Kenny. Happiness was restored.
Prioritising happiness - or how a place makes you feel - is part of a fundamental shift of emphasis in interior design right now. Instead of prioritising how your home will look, you design it in a way that makes you feel happy. The trouble is that happiness is hard to define.
In an attempt to get to the bottom of what makes people happy in their homes, the sofa brand DFS conducted a survey in the UK and Ireland. According to the research, more than half of us feel happier in the living room than in any other part of the house. The room where we feel the least happy is the kitchen (for women!) and the bathroom (for men). I can understand the kitchen ennui - it's a room associated with chores - but there's something heartbreaking about the idea of men feeling sad in the bathroom.
We spend a lot of time in our living rooms: 21 hours a week in the summer, on average, and 35 hours a week in winter. And 41pc of men prefer to be in the living room with their partner, compared to only 30 pc of women. The majority must prefer to be alone - or with the television. For 46pc of people, the TV is the main source of happiness in the living room. Other people find comfort in soft furnishings, candles and plants.
Psychologist Simon Moore was asked to comment on the research. For him, the television has much in common with family photos and soft furnishings. "Each gives visual cues, informing our brain that this is a safe and rewarding environment," he says.
In terms of décor, the overwhelming preference expressed in the survey was for a traditionally cosy living room in cream and beige with real wood flooring. Based on this, DFS commissioned the interior stylist Pippa Jameson to create a 'Happy Home' living room. (Spoiler alert: there's a sofa in it!)
For Jameson, the challenge was to design the room within the parameters set by the feedback, including the old-fashioned colour scheme. "Cream!" she laments. "People love it. And they really did want beige. I tried not to be too upset about that." With the ensemble in danger of looking bland, she rescued it with mixed metals, botanicals and pops of hot vermilion orange around the DFS Keswick corner sofa (€3,199) and Keswick chair (€998), both in dark grey. "It's really important to invest in the pieces of furniture that support your body," she says.
In her own home, Jameson favours natural materials. "Concrete, galvanised metals and the beautiful character and tones of reclaimed wood: they all have an unrefined charm that simply makes me happy," she says.
She likes Rowen & Wren, where a sisal herringbone rug costs €488 and a set of two stoneware bowls costs €83. You can buy similar ceramics at Dublin's Arran Street East. Other people find bright colours uplifting and might enjoy the new range of geometric print fabrics from Sian Elin, Tress (from €55). The patterns are bold but the colours are gentle. Jameson also feels that buying responsibly sourced materials is a huge factor in creating happiness. Skinflint have a wonderful selection of reclaimed lighting, including pendant lights salvaged from an industrial site within the former Soviet Union (€623) but you'll find upcycled lighting more locally at Industry in Dublin.
The truth is that happiness is very individual, and probably more to do with a sense of ownership than any particular style. It's also to do with efficiency. Figure out the things that are bothering you and fix them. Finding your ultimate happiness might be as simple as fixin a dripping tap.
See divinedesign.ie, interiorstylists.com, dfs.ie, rowenandwren.co.uk, skinflintdesign.co.uk, industryandco.com, arranstreeteast.ie