Sunday 15 September 2019

'It can just start to look like the back-store part of a clothing shop' - Room to Improve's Dermot Bannon on design clichés

Architect Dermot Bannon's style is helping to shape the design taste of the nation. So which trends does he think will stand the test of time - and which will date

Dermot Bannon
Dermot Bannon
Dermot Bannon. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan
Dermot Bannon
Dermot Bannon
TV architect Dermot Bannon
TV's Dermot Bannon offers tips on improving your home
Dermot Bannon
Picture windows
High ceilings: 'People are doubling the height spaces in their homes'

TV producers have been turning themselves inside out for decades trying to come up with TV gold. Who knew that the answer lay in the mild-mannered Donegal singer, Daniel O'Donnell? Add in an equally affable TV architect, a stressful home renovation and some talk of purse strings, and you have a full-blown hit on your hands.

Thanks to the long run of Room To Improve - currently heading for its 12th series - Irish homeowners know the drill. They might recall the tug of war between a sensible, experienced architect or project manager, and intoxicating possibility. And this is one of the show's touchstones: the tussles between Dermot Bannon and the client over budget or aesthetics.

The man himself has noticed that his own design style has matured and grown with experience.

"I think I'm more confident because I've done a couple of hundred houses at this stage," he told the Irish Independent earlier this year. "But what has changed, maybe, is that I can read people better. I can quickly put myself in their shoes and try to live their lives so I can design for their life."

So how does he rate the trends that are popping up in homes these days? Which of the current crop of must-haves will wear well and which will go the way of beauty board and wood chip wallpaper?

CLASSIC Open-plan living

Dermot's verdict: "As a nation we are really embracing open-plan living. I've always been fascinated as to why we build so many rooms. In a way we build in a similar way to what's come before us. In Victorian houses there was a 'good' living room or 'good' sitting room, and a small kitchen at the back. But we've started taking down walls. Think about it - when we go on holiday, we enjoy family time together in a communal living space.

"This trend acknowledges that we're all living our lives together, and Mummy isn't at home cooking dinner all day long. We work long and irregular hours, and the time you do spend together, you want it to be perfectly happy. Should people worry that teens want their own space? My eldest is 13 and I think the way teenagers are these days, they're more involved with the whole family. If you have the space, it's a great idea to have a separate TV room, but the idea of the 'good' room is gone."

CLASSIC High ceilings

Dermot's verdict: "People are focusing more on doubling the height spaces in their homes, which is great, because for so long we accepted that a room had a 2.4m-high ceiling. Often, the high ceilings in older buildings had to do with air changes and fireplaces in rooms, which is why many small Georgian rooms will often feel bigger than they are. Now, we're starting to experiment with mezzanines and opening up to access that sense of drama and light from above. The proportions of the room need to be right, though: there's no need for a really small room with a high ceiling."

CLASSIC Picture windows

Dermot's verdict: "I'm famous for these at this point, and there's a reason they're here to stay and have been a motif of modern architecture for so long. Firstly, they give a good view, and are better value. Some windows now have better insulation values than old '70s bungalows, and they offer a much better connection to outside light.

"A big window makes the room feel bigger, but also makes a small outside space seem bigger too. The only big con is that I suppose you have to clean them. And, no, having them in the rain doesn't constitute a clean."

Cliché Chasing trends

Dermot's verdict: "Everything in the world is so fast moving and interiors, in particular, has become this really trendy thing. There are hundreds of design and interiors bloggers out there. I love people embracing the idea of architecture and design, but there's no point in responding to what has come immediately before. People are going to make mistakes and that's fine. If a room feels a little warehouse-y, there's no reason why it can't evolve into the perfect living space.

"I love that people are embracing the idea of what they need from their house, not just what they'd like. For years, we've built generic house types, but now people are looking more towards their lifestyle. Some people work from home and need space to do that; others love the outdoors life and need a space to dry wetsuits, a space to meditate, or a wall to hang their bikes. We're doing away with the idea of, 'I'll be happy with what next door has, only better'."

Cliché The sunroom

Dermot's verdict: "I think they were the go-to thing when you had a bit of money a few years ago. You'd put a sunroom in the house, which you might use for a few weeks in March or October. Otherwise, it was too boiling in the summer, or too freezing in the winter. They're often poorly insulated and block off the light of the room they're attached to. As rooms go, they're only useful for drying clothes."

Cliché Walk-in wardrobe

Dermot's verdict: "I haven't seen a wish-list in the last while that hasn't had a walk-in wardrobe specified in it, even in the tiniest of houses. For some reason, we have a thing about them. In many of them, you get all this corner space that you can't do anything with, and depending on the size, it can just start to look like the back-store part of a clothing shop."

Cliché The 'good' room

Dermot's verdict: "For so long, every house had a 'good' room. It's an emotional thing; we all have great memories from using a certain room at Christmas and sitting around the fire with everyone. If you have a really well-designed place, you won't need the 'good' dining room. These days, most visitors will tend to come and sit in your kitchen. The 'good' room was handy when we had parish priests over, but now, you tend to take important visitors to the nearest coffee shop, and the 'good' room becomes the place where the treadmill and Christmas decorations live."

Cliché The en suite

Dermot's verdict: "We tend to squeeze in as many en suites as we can. I'd rather one or two really well-designed bigger bathrooms as opposed to there being a lot of en suites. They can be really small and uncomfortable to use, for a start. In our house, there are five of us and we have one bathroom. It's never been a problem."

Words by: Tanya Sweeney

Photographs by: Alice Clancy, Ste Murray and Enda Cavanagh

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