Love at first sight: Peek inside the house of interiors guru Dorothy Power
From the moment she entered the hall, Dorothy Power knew she had to have this house. now, the Interiors guru tells Weekend Extra how she turned two run-down apartments into her dream home
Back in 2001, Dorothy Power and her husband John were living in Warsaw, Poland. Knowing they would be returning to Ireland shortly, they decided to sell their house in Monkstown and began the search for somewhere new to live.
"There's only the two of us, so I didn't want anything big - now look what we're in!" says Dorothy, throwing her hands up towards the fabulously high ceilings and ornate cornicing of her luxurious Sandycove home. Along with her husband, she is co-director of the Irish branch of designer furniture company Roche Bobois, based in the Beacon South Quarter.
"I said to the estate agent: 'I only want three bedrooms max.' They said there was one coming on the market with five bedrooms," she says, rolling her eyes. Dorothy was sceptical of such a large home, but when she went to view the red-brick terraced house, there was only a small pedestrian gate, not the sprawling drive-in entrance that welcomes guests today. "It didn't look very big from the outside, so I thought: 'This could be OK,'" she recalls.
At the time, the house was split into two flats. "It was in an absolutely horrendous state. The carpet was terracotta, the walls were terracotta, the ceiling was terracotta - everything was painted terracotta. But as soon as I walked into the hall, I just knew, I had to have this house."
She had looked at a few other properties, but this was the first that had really struck her. Dorothy grimaces when describing the poor condition it was in, but admits she was smitten the moment she opened the door and caught sight of the handsome staircase and spacious hallway.
John was still in Poland, and was so tied up with work that he didn't get a chance to come back to Dublin to see the house for himself. Dorothy laughs as she observes this was probably for the best.
"Thank God he hadn't seen it! If he had, there's no way he would have bought it," she says. His reaction when he did finally see it? "Shock horror. He couldn't believe how much work it would be."
The renovation began while they were still living in Poland. Dorothy's cousin is a builder, and with the help of an architect, Greg Tisdall, they converted the second largest bedroom into a walk-in wardrobe and en-suite, and turned another bedroom into a home office for John. The fireplaces were all taken out, and some were traded in for upgraded versions. They knocked through the wall dividing the living and dining rooms, and replaced the small window with a glass door. An extension was added onto the back of the house, so now the gleaming white kitchen spills out into a second living and dining area.
The house dates back to the 1860s, and they have carefully maintained the original features including the cornicing, the staircase, and the stained glass window in the hallway.
It was while they were in Poland that the couple had the idea to bring Roche Bobois to Ireland. One of Dorothy's best friends has lived in Paris for 30 years, and on visits they would often browse the latest collections from the furniture company. John and Dorothy were also having difficulty finding the beautifully crafted, sophisticated furniture they dreamed of for their new home. "The furniture is really well made, they engage with great designers to design the furniture and they're always looking to be innovative in the materials they use," Dorothy says of the brand. "They do two ranges, the contemporary and the classical, so you're meeting the need for lots of different people."
Before launching Roche Bobois in Ireland, Dorothy started off working in IT at Guinness. "I always had an interest in interior design, so when I left Guinness I did a two-year course in interior design at Griffith College. I freelanced for a bit back in the '90s, but there wasn't a huge amount of business back then," she recalls. "So we got involved in the ownership of a company selling porcelain and ceramic tiles, and that's where I started engaging with customers. I love it, I love putting a scheme together for somebody and then ringing them afterwards and hearing that they love what you've done."
Roche Bobois opened in the Beacon South Quarter in 2007, which Dorothy admits was not a great time to launch a new business. "For the first nine months, business was very good, and then the recession came. It was tough for a couple of years trying to keep the business going, but we came through it and we managed everything. It was down to good management and picking pieces at the right price that people would want to buy."
Her own house is kitted out entirely with Roche Bobois furniture, showcasing the products in a real home (albeit, one with slightly larger than average proportions). On the surface, it's a very stylish, polished look, but on closer inspection, you'll notice some more offbeat details - namely, Dorothy's extensive collection of elephant ornaments. "I'm a big fan of collecting elephants. Somebody gave me one once back in 2000, and I've been collecting them since," she says, pointing to various pieces she picked up in Warsaw, Prague, Buenos Aires and the south of France.
She has recently re-decorated the house with new sofas, new curtains and a repaint, after more than 10 years. "I think a house is an evolving thing. You're always doing something, you're never finished. Our style changes a bit, but it's generally something classical that will stand the test of time. Particularly with furniture, it's a big expense so you want to pick something you're going to love for a long time, not just the current fashion for yellow or whatever it may be." However, the house is largely a reflection of Dorothy's own personal taste. "John doesn't really have a huge interest in design, it's not really his thing," she explains.
John and Dorothy first met at a bank function in 1984, and were married two years later. They've now been together 30 years, and Dorothy says that John knows it's best to let her have her way when it comes to the house - as long as it's within budget.
"I was quite measured. I didn't say: 'I have to have that.' I knew I wanted to do something, like the bedroom, but I waited until financially it was right and took my time picking the right pieces. I think people can make a mistake of jumping in and doing everything really quickly, you just need to step back a bit and take time."
Although she's in the showroom up to seven days a week, Dorothy loves relaxing in her bedroom when she gets the time.
"The front of the house has the best light in the morning, so if I'm on a day off, I'll sit in the sofa in the window and read. If you get a nice day, the sun just streams in through the window. I prefer to sit up there than in the living room, it's a nice calming space," she says.
Dorothy grew up in Castleknock, but has fallen in love with Sandycove. Every Friday, she goes out for dinner with John at DeVille's, Rasam or the Cookbook Café, and during the week she loves shopping for groceries at Cavistons delicatessen - "it's important to give my business to local people," she says - or going for walks on the sea front in Dún Laoghaire.
"I love it, I never want to move from here," she says, twinkly-eyed. "We'll be happy here forever."