New build, new tricks
When interior designer Suzie McAdam was given a brand new build to work on, she wanted to layer character and soul on to the blank canvas. Jessica Elliott found out how. Photographs by Ruth Maria Murphy
Colour and confidence are the first impressions that strike the visitor in this large new-build house, with interiors designed and decorated by Suzie McAdam. "The family brought me on board from the time that the house's foundations were being laid, and I was really excited to help them create a home from a blank canvas," she says.
The owners wanted a new build in the countryside, north of Dublin, because it allowed them to build to a large and traditional spec but plan and design the interior themselves. It was, they felt, a unique opportunity to create their own home in an unusually large footprint for a city house.
Light and space were Suzie's guiding principles in configuring the ground floor. "Walking around the shell of the house alongside the builder, I encouraged the owners not to add any internal walls at the back," she says.
"Two smaller rooms lead off the back living area, both with double sliding doors to allow the rooms to be free-flowing." The result is a ground floor that offers an enormous living area as well as cosier spaces that can be closed off for relaxing or working. Upstairs, there are four well-proportioned double bedrooms and three fantastic bathrooms.
Natural light is harnessed to great effect in the open-plan living area, with high ceilings and a full glass wall that opens on to the garden. But that sense of light-filled elegance throughout the house is thanks to Suzie's selection of reflective surfaces and the cool colour scheme. Lime-wash oak parquet flooring was chosen to let the light flow into the living room and makes the furniture appear to float.
"I love the classical look of parquet and this washed version is sort of a modern interpretation," says Suzie. Despite it being brand-new, the large proportions of the house really appealed to Suzie, and she relished the challenge to create a timeless scheme that was neither too modern nor traditional. "Period homes are imbued with character and a sense of place; in contrast, very contemporary houses can seem soulless, so I was keen to explore textures, finishes and lighting to create a sense of warmth and soul."
The furniture is mainly in the Scandinavian style: pared back with an emphasis on mid-century design classics. "I'm a nerd when it comes to design classics because they are just so timeless in their beauty and they stand the test of time. It's fun to play with current pieces but, in 20 years' time, it's the chairs in this house that will still be the real stars and will stay in the family," says Suzie.
Throughout the house, a few key materials and colours reappear in different guises.
"There are materials that the client really liked and enhanced the house, but a secondary benefit is that they link the house and create a unified and uncluttered feel," says Suzie.
A case in point is the beautifully simple Saarinen marble dining table, decorated solely by three copper hanging Plumen bulbs. The same cool white marble is reproduced on the kitchen island and backsplash, set off by a copper Arne Jacobsen kitchen tap and two small copper Tom Dixon pendants.
Layering and texture are the crucial foils to the luxurious mood that runs through the house. The master bedroom upstairs features masses of marble metro tiles with chunky chrome taps and a deep basin and bath.
"The marble tiles really stood out for their weightiness and depth compared with plain metro tiles," says Suzie, who adds that her client wanted to achieve a "non-corporate" luxury. What really makes the bathroom, though, is the patterned Moroccan floor tiles - an unexpected but perfect choice to add character.
A colourful, intricately patterned Moroccan floor tile has also been used in the entrance hallway - not an obvious pick for a huge space, but the visually evocative effect of the encaustic porcelain works.
Period houses may come complete with character and a sense of place but, as Suzie shows, a new build is the perfect opportunity to put your own stamp on your home.
This is an edited extract from the forthcoming March/April issue of Image Interiors & Living out February 18
The Saarinen dining table from Nest was positioned in front of the glass wall leading out to the garden to bounce light into the room. The cowhide rug grounds the table on the lime-washed parquet by Fired Earth, and its copper tones are echoed around the room in the twisted Plumen bulbs, the Arne Jacobsen taps and Tom Dixon pendants in the kitchen. All the faux flowers are from Dust.
From top, the open plan area with marble dining table, copper lights and limewashed parquet and top right, Suzie at work. From top left: Suzie had the Moon table, from Made in Design, converted to hang on the wall. The blue rug is from Arnotts and the rocking chair is from CA Design; softer colours and lines create grown-up schemes in the teenage girl's bedroom. Suzie sourced many of the prints from Cate Parr on Etsy, and they are echoed in the bedding; Best Tile's blue metro wall tiles and geometric floor tiles in a bathroom; The contemporary fireplace was designed to act as a focal point and highlighted in Farrow & Ball's Hague Blue. The chair is a Fritz Hansen original, also from Nest, while the rug is by Beni Ourain, from Emily's House in London; the focal point in the kitchen by Newcastle Design is the locally sourced Calacatta marble backsplash. It has been bookended - a single piece of marble is split and then fitted together to give a butterfly effect.
How to add light The open plan area in this home was north-facing so I went for a limewashed parquet floor to add light. In general, choose light tones in flooring, cabinets and walls - it will bounce light back. Look for reflective surfaces, try gloss paints instead of matt and kitchen units that are gloss. And avoid heavy textiles such as velvet or brocades. Opt instead for soft linens and lighter textures.
How to add character Many of us have moved away from strong colour. Particularly in new builds, there's a tendency to paint everything white - it can look clinical. I'm a fan of dark, moody tones and I like using colour to create drama. Try painting ceilings, cornices and/or woodwork to add atmosphere. It works well in spaces used in the evening such as TV rooms. It's important in new builds to add a sense of layers and character.
Think beyond spotlights I feel they can lack atmosphere. Think of pendant lights, floor and table lamps that add colour and texture.
How to add warmth Here I used lots of copper and brass to add warmth. Replacing taps, handles or sinks is a good way to update your kitchen without having to replace expensive units. See superfront.com, anthropologie.com and zarahome.com for good options.
My favourite piece The polar bear bookcase by Ibride - I had coveted it at Maison & Objet in Paris last year, but it's a difficult piece to place because it's so big and needs a large space to show it off. It was one of the first pieces I showed to the family when the living room was planned and they loved it.
My style It's very eclectic. I'm drawn to individual pieces whether they are antique, mid-century or super contemporary and I like to mix them all up. I'm drawn to their shape, colour and texture rather than the era. The same goes for finishes - I might look for reclaimed tiles and mix with contemporary ones. I like layering to give character and depth to an interior.