My kinda style - Tap into your fashion taste when decorating at home
I have a friend who can mix a skirt from H&M and an Oxfam jacket with designer boots and get away with it. Everywhere she goes, you can hear the click of smartphones as fashion bloggers take note. If I dressed like that, people would drop loose change into my coffee cup. I am in awe of stylish people.
That same enviable friend once bought a scruffy set of bentwood chairs in the local auction. She sanded them down and painted each one in a different colour. They looked stunning in an effortless kind of way. I've also seen her fill a tall vase with rhubarb leaves to decorate the hall table. It looked exotic, expensive and stylish. The next day, I culled my own rhubarb patch in the hope of pulling off something similar. We had a good laugh and then made rhubarb crumble.
This is why I'm wary of interiors magazines that exhort you to express your personal style around the house. Because I'm not sure that I have one.
But Courtney Smith, (right) stylist and fashion maven, assures me that I probably do. "Most people have a personal style, they just don't realise," she says. "They may not be aware of it, but when they go into a shop, they naturally gravitate towards the type of things they like." This, she feels, is true of both fashion and interiors. "I think they feed into each other. They're both part of the same realm."
In fashion, Smith is known for her love of leather jackets, biker boots and anything with a nautical stripe. It's a style that segues quite naturally into the newly decorated interior of her old coastguard's cottage in Malahide. "The hall was dark so we brightened it up by painting it in a greenish blue called Robin Egg."
The paint comes from the Moda range from Dulux (around €61 for five litres), designed to make colour co-ordination easy by grouping colours. Robin Egg, appropriately enough, belongs to a seaside-themed palette known as Coastal Calm. Smith further brightened the hall with a big mirror and pictures in white frames.
In the living room, she used the existing sandy-coloured carpet to guide the colour scheme and painted the walls in a sandy beige called Salinger from the same collection. "That's where we'll be spending most of our time in the winter and it could be quite cold so we wanted a warm colour." The couch, which was a new purchase, is brown and layered with tone-on-tone cushions.
With interiors, as with fashion, Smith reserves the right to change her mind. "Style has to be open to change. I'm not a girly girl but I like to wear something pretty every now and then. It's the same with the couch. If I have a change of heart in a few years' time, I can dress it up in clashing colours."
For the big new purchases, the couch and the bed, she went for "very normal furniture from Harvey Norman". She has combined these sturdy but unremarkable pieces with old furniture inherited from her grandparents' house: an old brown table from the 1960s has been enlivened with white paint and a pair of bedside lockers has been given a smart new set of nautical knobs, painstakingly sourced on eBay.
"My grandfather was one of the coaches for the Irish Olympic sailing team in the 1970s," Smith explains. "We have his sailing binoculars on the wall and a ship's compass. We even have his old sailing hat and that's on display too, except sometimes I wear it." That's the kind of detail that makes the difference between a personal style and a shop-bought look.
Smith's love of maritime decoration, which she expresses both in the clothes she wears and the way she decorates her house, is a deep ancestral affinity. There's nothing superficial about it. And because she's chosen to live in a former coastguard's cottage, the style also suits the house.
Just as your personal style changes over time, it also responds to the place where you live. "I used to be a complete minimalist," says the interior designer Suzie McAdam. "Maybe it's because I studied architecture."
Then she moved from her modern bungalow to an old tumbling Victorian house. Within weeks, she was trawling Paris flea markets for trunks, French-style love seats and even a chandelier. Living in an old house had released her inner hoarder.
McAdam still loves pared-down Scandinavian furniture, but her style has become more eclectic. For a recent photo shoot, she combined a vintage peacock wicker chair (€90 from Retrorumage) and a sheepskin rug (€40 from TK Maxx) with a giant Chinese wall fan that she picked up in a Singapore market, a Dot vase (€55 from Dust), and a backdrop of Gatsby blue from the Dulux Moda range. She allowed herself one extravagance: a reissue of the 1947 classic Grossman Gräshoppa floor lamp (€719 from finnishdesignshop.com).
"I'd be a bit like that with fashion," she explains. "I'd often combine vintage clothes with something from Zara and splash out on a really good handbag." But she's also noticed that some of her clients favour one style in clothes and a very different one in interiors.
"Some people are really into interiors but fashion doesn't interest them. They might dress plainly but have an amazing art collection."
For advice on finding your personal style, the Moda Style Pop Up takes place between 10am and 5pm today and tomorrow at the Drury Buildings, Drury Street, Dublin. Suzie McAdam will be there to give advice on interiors style; Courtney Smith and Corina Gaffney on dressing for style; and Aimee Connolly on stylish make-up. The event is free but you have to book. See facebook.com/duluxireland, pinterest.com/modaireland, and #Modastylepopup. See also courtneysmith.ie, suziemcadam.com, retrorumage.tumblr.com, tkmaxx.ie, finnishdesignshop.com, dust.ie.