My Favourite Room: Man of marbles
Darren and Lorraine Robinson live in one of the oldest parts of Dublin. However, many of their home's contents go back even further and are from very exotic locations. Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin
'This is the head of a Tasmanian devil, they became extinct in the 1920s; and these are two leopard heads," Darren Robinson explains, as he points out the three heads above the door into his living room. He adds, "The Tasmanian devil is a really early one because it's got a lead mouth, one of the leopards has a Bakelite mouth, and the other is early too, because it's got a clay mouth. You can date them by the type of mouth they put in, and, of course, the eyes are glass. The teeth are real."
The grisly subject of stuffed animals doesn't often come up in these pages, but then Darren and his wife Lorraine are pretty unusual people. They are passionate about all things tribal and not only is their home full of ancient artifacts from countries as far flung as Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and East Timor, their shop - Decor in Wexford Street - is stuffed to the rafters with shields, stone and marble heads, weapons and furniture, all collected on their travels abroad, ever since they were in their early 20s.
Though they're both involved in the business, and Lorraine is very tolerant of the invasion of her home by weird objects, Darren is the one who is the consummate collector. "I've always collected things. When I was a child, I collected marbles; that's the way I am," Darren explains. Referencing the 1960s BBC sitcom about the rag-and-bone business, he says: "You should only collect good things that you can sell on, otherwise you become a bit of a Steptoe & Son character."
Darren, who hails from the Liberties, went into the world of business at a particularly young age too. "My dad had chip shops and I worked with him in the markets in Meath Street. I opened my own shop when I was 16 in the Abbey Mall; it was called Blast from the Past, it was a vintage clothes shop," he says.
The couple were early starters in the romance stakes also; they met, when both were 15, in the Ivy Rooms on Parnell Street at an Aching Drum gig, and they've been together ever since.
Lorraine, who's also from the Liberties, did a marketing degree, then she worked in the bank and in advertising for some years before joining Darren in the business. Their first joint venture, which was undertaken when they were in their late teens, was a surfing-gear brand called Iko Iko.
There's a certain Gothic quality to the couple, mainly due to their propensity for wearing black, but they're also lovers of the great outdoors. They love surfing, which they like to do in France in the Biarritz area, as well as in Bali, where they have a second home, which they bought for family holidays - they have two sons, Saul (18) and Max (13).
They discovered Bali 20 years ago. They had been buying Balinese furniture for Decor - which they opened 22 years ago - through an agent in Europe, and decided to cut out the middleman. "We said, 'This is a no-brainer, we'll do it ourselves'," Darren explains.
However, they encountered one hitch along the way. "I was meant to go with Darren, but then I discovered I was pregnant. We had my ticket bought, but I had to cancel it," Lorraine recalls. She adds that Darren decided to go on anyway, and he landed alone into a country they knew nothing about.
"It was 1997 and arriving into the tropics then, at 26, with nowhere to stay and not a word of the language, was a bit mad. All I had was a bit of paper with the name of a guy on it. If he didn't turn up, I didn't know what I was going to do," Darren reminisces.
Fortunately, the guy was at the airport to meet Darren, they hit it off and Darren still works with him to this day.
They also fell in love with the island. "It's known as the Island of the Gods, it's so beautiful - full of temples and very safe," Lorraine says.
The stock in the shop isn't confined to Balinese products; they travel all over Europe looking for items sought after by their many customers. "We go off at weekends to flea markets in London, Paris, Oslo, and Brussels," Darren enthuses. "We have great times, we meet mad individuals and have great crack."
It helps that they have plenty of buyers for the stuff they bring back. "For a long time, everyone could only afford Ikea for their homes - and I have nothing against Ikea - but now they're coming to us for choice items, to add something special," Darren notes.
Restaurateurs and pub owners are big clients; they come in looking for eclectic pieces to add a bit of individuality to their business premises and they also buy Darren's art. Over the years, he started painting and sculpting and his pieces can be seen in places like Fade Street Social. He sells his art under the name Dr Dublin. "I've been doing it 10 years, I used to sign 'DR' for Darren Robinson and add 'Dublin', then people started calling me 'Dr Dublin', so that's me now," Darren says with a laugh.
Both Lorraine and Darren exude an infectious love for what they do. Lorraine concentrates on the marketing side of the business as well as looking after the boys, while Darren gets deeply into the history of the various artifacts, and is very interesting to listen to as he explains the origin of every piece in the house and how he came by each particular item.
They bought the house 20 years ago when they were first married, but when the boys arrived, they moved to Crumlin, to a house with a garden. Fortunately, they kept the first house and rented part of it out as a shop. When the recession hit, they decided to pare back their outgoings. They sold the Crumlin house, and two years ago they moved back to the inner city. They're thrilled they made the move, not least because they are only a stone's throw from Decor and have cut out the 90-minute daily commute. They also love the view from their rooftop deck over St Patrick's Cathedral - the boys go to the Cathedral School.
The house, which is 200 years old, has not been without its problems, though. "We had a budget of €30,000 to do it up - I think we've spent about €130,000, and we're still not finished," Darren says, explaining that much of the cost involved tanking the basement, as it has flooded twice. "Then we pulled a piece of wallpaper down and the whole building collapsed. When we decided to move back in, we thought it was a paint job, but there's not a screw that hasn't been changed," Darren says ruefully.
As well as the basement, the house comprises two bedrooms on the ground floor, the living room and kitchen on the first floor, and above them is the master bedroom, which is home to an extraordinary bed. "We got a present of it. We found when we moved back into the inner city, friends helped us out a lot," Lorraine explains.
The bed, with its horned corners, is a bit of fun. "It's called a party bed; it has a CD player, a DVD player, flashing lights and straps for handcuffs," Darren laughs. It's a complete contrast to the rest of the house's furnishings, but who knows? Maybe it's the collector's item of the future.
Decor, 14a Wexford St, D2, tel: (01) 475-9010, or see decordublin.com
Sunday Indo Life Magazine