Alannah Monks loves vintage, DIY and the use of dark tones in her decor. These elements all come together in her charming home in North Dublin which she shares with her husband, two daughters and three dogs
Many people did new and different things to their homes during lockdown; they were spending so much time indoors that they needed to change anything that wasn’t working.
For Alannah Monks and her husband Patrick, it was a question of what to do with their second sitting room, which had been turning into a junk room. Neither wanted that to happen, so they came up with the idea of an in-house bar complete with a Guinness tap.
“When the kids were small we only needed one living room because they wanted to be with us all the time. Then, when lockdown hit, they were getting older and we very much wanted another living space, but we didn’t want a ‘good room’ or another TV room. We wanted something that would serve another purpose. The two of us also really like Guinness and we were like, ‘we’d love to be able to drink a pint of Guinness’. I hadn’t had a glass for nine months — this was after nine months of lockdown. Also, we didn’t know what life and socialising was going to be like in the future,” Monks recalls, “so we said, ‘let’s make a home bar and if we have friends over, we can make it a bit of a night out’.”
This was not as daunting for the couple as it sounds. After all, they had been heavily involved in the building of their house some years previously and they are enthusiastic DIYers who think nothing of taking planks of MDF and making shelves or bedheads, tiling where necessary and constantly changing the paint colours of their delightfully eclectic home in North Dublin.
Into the bargain, Alannah works full-time in interiors in Oriana B., a fascinating emporium in Dublin 3, where mid-century and vintage originals can be sourced, as well as several ranges of new homewares — sofas, lamps, lighting, tables and other furnishings. The company is owned by Katharine Deas and Alannah’s role is far-reaching. “Anything visual that comes out of Oriana B has to come through me. So I do content creation, all the photography, marketing, and Instagram, and I do range curation. We source from over 50 suppliers and we’re also looking at markets overseas with a view to designing our own furniture.”
Though she’s only 33, Alannah — who was born in England but came with her family to live in Balbriggan in North Dublin when she was three — has already had a very varied career, which equips her well for her role. The middle child of three, she first studied journalism at DIT (now TUD). “I always loved writing, so I did a degree in journalism and afterwards worked for fashion magazines. I really liked it, but it’s hard to make a living. And after a few years, I felt a bit jaded. I love fashion but I felt I cannot find a new way to make stripes interesting for summer! I felt I wanted to do something creative myself.”
As it happened, her decision to leave fashion writing coincided with the building of the house with her husband Patrick. “We built the house 10 years ago and that was when I decided I needed a change, and making all the decisions and doing the house made me feel that there is far more to that, so I retrained. I got a job as a kitchen designer — I learned the ropes, learned CAD, worked with interiors architects.”
She also did set design where she says she really found her niche. “I loved the presentation end of things. I did cookery shows, Meals in Minutes with Donal Skehan, a Mark Moriarty show during lockdown, and I did campaign shoots for Dunnes and Lidl. I also did photo styling for House and Home. It was always on the interiors end. I loved creating spaces but the presentation came more naturally to me — learning about colour and pattern and how to do stuff.”
She met Deas while doing a shoot for a magazine. At the time, Deas had an online company selling vintage and mid-century homewares. “I wanted to borrow some glassware for the shoot. Katharine and I had an instant connection. She told me she wanted to have a full shop with modern as well as vintage [furniture] but she needed proper photography. I said I could do that. When lockdown hit, she’d send the products to me and I’d shoot them around my house. Then, after a couple of years, she said, ‘I want to expand my range and I want you to choose it’. So that’s how it went,” she recalls. “We work brilliantly together. We call each other our work wives. We talk to each other as much as we talk to our husbands,” she notes with a laugh.
Alannah first met her husband Patrick when she was a teenager.
“I snuck out and went to a bar in town called Whelans and I met Patrick. He was 22 and I lied and said I was 19. I kept up the ruse for a few dates, then his friend saw me in my school uniform and ratted on me. Patrick was fuming and didn’t want to know me. Some years later, when I was 21, we reconnected. It was water under the bridge and we’ve been together every since.”
Alannah, whose maiden name is MacMahon, took Patrick’s name when they married in 2014. “I never liked Alannah MacMahon, a three-syllable first name and a three-syllable surname, that’s a mouthful. I needed a snappier surname. People laugh because I am a real feminist when it comes to other stuff, but I thought it’s not going to get in the way of me having a phonetically better name. If Patrick had a surname that didn’t go with my name, I wouldn’t have changed it. It’s all about the aesthetics with me.”
When they first moved in together, they lived in rentals in town and Alannah says she really empathises with those in rental properties as a result. “We had all the horror stories. We had a gas leak in one house — the boiler hadn’t been serviced in years, it was horrible. Then we moved to a house that had mould and I was pregnant and we couldn’t get it sorted.”
As it happened, Patrick, who’s an implementation engineer for Workday, a HR software company based in the US, was gifted a plot of land by his family, who are farmers, and they were able to build on it. His sisters also got plots and because all the houses are close, the designs had to be similar. “All went for planning at the same time, so in terms of architecture, it’s very straightforward, no frills. The house had to fit in with the landscape, it had to fit in with the rest of the houses, so we’re all in some sort of dormer with a porch.
“I found out I was pregnant in January, then we had the really bad mould problem and I was like, ‘I need to get out of here’. We started building in April and we moved in in October. I was in full nesting mode.”
Alannah says because of her daughter Alice’s imminent birth — she also has a 14-year-old stepdaughter, Rose — when builders asked her to make decisions about seemingly small things like light switches, she said she didn’t care, something she slightly regrets now. “Looking back now and looking at friends who’ve built houses without being pregnant, there are a lot of decisions I would never have made. I was like ‘put the house up, put a roof over my head’. We were also really really young and really broke, so I went, ‘whatever is cheapest, quickest and available; we can change it later’. But of course, I haven’t changed those things.”
The kitchen/dining room’s very functional tiles are a regret but they also have three dogs so maybe the tiled floors are best.
She has changed many things since they moved in, including paint colours and soft furnishings and she imbued the house with her charming style, which includes lots of vintage, colour and pattern. “The kitchen started as grey. There was grey everywhere 10 years ago. Within a year I had painted it navy. Now it’s Steam Engine by Crown.”
She points out tiles at the side of the island in the kitchen which she put on herself. “We have this thing about DIY, we make mistakes but when you get to the end, there’s a real pride that we did it ourselves,” she says. “I get a specific idea of what I want and if I can’t find it, I make it up myself.”
She describes her interiors style as ‘polished eclecticism’. “I’m not precious. Houses are for living. I’m over the showroom look in the home. It has to be comfortable and useful.”
However, she has her own firm set of guidelines, including around the use of black. “I’m a firm believer that you should use some black in every room, it anchors the space.”
She also loves art and when she paints walls, she often creates abstract patterns which enliven the plainest of spaces.
When it came to the bar, they built it themselves with MDF which they cut, drilled and glued together. They painted it Penny Black — a dark slate grey — against a backdrop of white walls.
“There are lots of mirrors and a sofa and little tables. I didn’t want it to look like an Irish pub. I wanted it to be like a bar where you might go for a cocktail. One of my friends said it was like a hotel reception — I took that as a compliment,” she laughs. They love to sit in the bar and play music — Patrick plays guitar but another typical pub pastime has also crept in. “I was so against pub games. Patrick was like ‘ah, come on’. Christmas came and I gave him a dartboard for Christmas.”
As it happened, Patrick and Rose got Covid just after Christmas so for the days of isolation, the whole family played darts and loved it.
However, its not surprising the dartboard is behind its own doors. Aesthetics will always play a part for Alannah.