I once had a friend who went home to America for six months, leaving her Irish husband in charge of the home. Housekeeping wasn't his forte and she came back to find the living room festooned with cobwebs. Undaunted, she bought a few packets of silver stars and sprinkled them into the cobwebs. The effect looked amazing, albeit temporary - both the spangly webs and the lady and her husband looked great for a while, but they split up a few months later (both the spangly cobwebs and the lady and her Irish husband).
That was when I first realised that having a stylish home isn't about having money. It's about having style.
Real world interiors are often a compromise. You improvise, fix the things that you can and work around the things that you can't. The trick is to accessorise. A few nicely chosen bits and pieces help to distract the eye from parts of the house that don't bear close inspection. Skilfully placed, they can turn a work-in-progress into a work of art. And while accessories don't offer instant transformation overall, they do play a big part in making a place feel like home.
"We didn't mean to buy a doer-upper home," says Siobhan Lam. "But that's how it happened. The whole house was covered in the most hideous disgraceful wallpaper. We took it off and found the most fantastic brick walls underneath. They were mottled in different shades of green. So we decided to leave them as they were and go for a raw industrial look. Eventually we put up new coving, which nearly killed us. If you have any sort of budget you should hire someone to hang the coving, even if you're doing everything else yourself. But once that was done we painted the door and the ceiling black so that it was dark and moody."
With the addition of a lifesize, and very lifelike, black raven on the hall shelf, the Edgar Allen Poe look was complete.
The raven (€80), designed by the German sculptor Ottmar Höerl, comes from Lam's own shop, April And The Bear, which of course is all about accessories. "When I started doing up the house I couldn't find beautiful unique accessories that were reasonably priced. You could buy them online, but having them shipped over was expensive."
In the absence of hip lifestyle stores like those she had seen in London and Berlin, Lam decided to create an online shop that specialised in cool but inexpensive accessories. Now, she sells quirky items that you won't find in the high street stores - copper vases (€12), tiny porcelain cacti (€6), and art prints (from around €20). Not everything on the site is cheap, but there's plenty for less than €100. The basic idea is that if you're renting or doing up your home on a budget, you should still be able to afford accessories that offer a bit more individuality than can be found in boring old Irish mainstream retail.
This is especially relevant if you're renting a furnished property and have to adopt a 'Leave No Trace' policy. You might be stuck with the sofa, but a sheepskin rug (€35 from Ikea) along with a pug cushion (€38 from April And The Bear) will give it a bit of character. DIY creatives can create their own geometric wall art with Washi tape (€3.50 a roll). This is basically masking tape that comes in a massive range of pretty colours and patterns. It's Japanese, not to be confused with wasabi (that's mustard), and was originally meant for gift wrapping.
The current trend is to use it to decorate walls and furniture. If you get tired of it, or have to move on, the tape just peels off without leaving a mark. Well executed, Washi tape wall art can look amazing but you need to be a bit of an artist to make it work well. My own efforts just looked like someone had stuck tape on a wall. This, I think, is the catch with creatively accessorising your home. Making it look good takes a bit of talent.
Lighting can also make a big difference to a transitory space, although finding a statement light that doesn't cost hundreds of euro can be a challenge. "We've got one that I love called the Asymmetrical Copper Light shade - it's made of copper wires with a naked bulb in the middle. It costs €90 and it looks totally different wherever you put it," says Lam.
It's going to be on show in April And The Bear's pop-up shop in Fumbally Exchange on Dublin's Dame Lane until 11 July. You might also consider vintage lighting from Trentanove, a Dublin-based company that sells reconditioned and recycled industrial lights. These include caged light bulbs (€80 to €120) with a hook on top of the cage. "They were originally used in factories," says Aisling O'Regan, one half of the Trentanove design team.
"The fitting comes with a bulb and a long flex so that you can just plug it in at the wall and hang it from a curtain rail or a bookshelf." They also have a range of pendant lamps with vintage enamel shades (€100 to €110).
"We're renting ourselves and we've just done up the house. We've been there years and we were lucky that the landlord let us go a bit mad with deep antique-looking paint colours. Before that we were selling the lights, and loving them, but we didn't actually have any at home," says O'Regan, who points out that, while industrial-style lighting is widely available, all their lamps are vintage originals.
You'll find Trentanove Lighting on Facebook or at Dublin's Brocante Market in Newmarket Square (the next one is on 21 June). Other good venues for original and interesting lifestyle accessories include Designist in Dublin; Maven in Belfast; and the Old Mill Stores in County Cork.