When Sonya Lennon came across her terraced red-brick house in Fairview, on Dublin's northside, in 2003, it was love at first sight. At the time, the object of her desire was home to a family of 11.
"Every room was carved up into sections, but there was an unbelievable sense of warmth and homeliness to it," she recalls. "I remember saying to my friend, 'I want this house. I will get into a bunfight for this house.'"
The sale ended up going to sealed bids, and Sonya and her partner of 23 years, the graphic designer David Smith, were up against four other bidders. "It was a rollercoaster, it was completely nerve-wracking, but we got it, and we just love it." From the street, Sonya's home appears deceptively small, but on stepping inside, visitors find themselves in a lovely big hallway replete with a high ornate ceiling.
Sonya has made a name for herself as one of Ireland's most trusted fashion stylists and, along with her design partner Brendan Courtney, has created womenswear collections under their label Lennon Courtney, the most recent for Dunnes Stores. As well as working on their spring/summer line, they have been kept busy developing Frockadvisor, an app that connects fashion lovers with independent boutiques.
The 47-year-old Dubliner shares her home with David and their twins, Evie and Finn (11). When they first moved in, the couple enlisted the help of architect Dermot Boyd. She explains: "The house needed to be stripped out. The whole thing was very old-fashioned and sort of piecemeal: multiple bedrooms, a tiny little bathroom, no bath, just a little shower and if you stepped out of the shower you were into the landing!"
They opted to sacrifice one of the bedrooms to create a significant bathroom, painted a warm mid-tone grey with bright red industrial rubber flooring from Forbo.
The back of the house is south-facing, so they decided to capitalise on the natural light, ripping out the back section and installing opaque windows on the first floor and floor-to-ceiling windows on the ground floor. "That was the biggest job," Sonya says. "But the light in the house is beautiful."
It was not an easy process: Sonya remembers returning from Holles Street with the twins to find builders roaming through the house, which was still open at the back. "It was carnage!" she shudders. "It seemed to take forever, and of course, we were doing it on a wing and a prayer and on a very small budget."
However, she still has fond memories of those early days. Sonya dreamily describes the first night they spent in the house: surrounded by boxes and with nothing but a borrowed microwave to make dinner, she and David opted for a take-away from the chipper across the road and popped a bottle of Champagne to celebrate their new home. "That was a really nice moment," she says with a smile.
During the renovations, they were mindful that the integrity of the house's original features should remain unimpaired. They retained the character-defining staircase, authentic period coving and a stained glass window next to the attic.
When it came to decorating, Sonya put her styling skills to good use, deftly combining clean modern lines and a lively but liveable colour palette. The overall effect is a confident and sophisticated balance between comfort and style. She summarises the décor as "modernist, clean, somewhat eclectic and pretty constant - we don't move with trend.
"I think our homes are always an extension of our personal style," Sonya observes. "Both myself and Dave are creatives, so it wasn't about choosing the safest option, it was about making a statement we could live with and that suited the space as well."
After years of living with shades of grey, they recently revamped both the hallway and the combined living and dining area with a splash of deep blue. "I absolutely love it," Sonya says of her new look. "It's very elevating, and it's so versatile in the way the light hits it. It looks so much brighter in the hallway than it does in the living room. It's a rare thing, which is quite a warm blue without veering into green-y tones."
Sonya refers to the impeccably stylish film A Single Man, directed by fashion designer Tom Ford, as the original inspiration for the living room. The blue - Amazon Beat by Dulux - provides a dramatic backdrop for a broad mix of furniture and accessories. Modern pieces are offset with vintage finds, like the coffee table she picked up in a vintage store in Brixton on her way to a shoot in the Caribbean, or the retro leather sofas with wood-panelled frames and chrome legs, reproduced by Habitat from designs by influential British designer Robin Day. Further interest comes from artwork by the likes of Phillip Allen, Katherine Boucher Beug and Gary Coyle, as well as student work from IADT, where David is a lecturer.
Sonya is a board member of the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland, and says she is "quite passionate about keeping the dollar in the country". She picked up a beautiful sideboard at Anonymous on Dublin's Francis Street, a selection of richly textured cushions and throws from Makers & Brothers, and some more understated soft furnishings from Considered by Helen James at Dunnes Stores.
Although they were initially attracted only by its proximity to the city centre, Sonya and her family have grown very fond of Fairview. She cites the Japanese restaurant Okayu and the authentic Italian pizzas and pastas from Da Mimmo as the area's best-kept secrets.
"There is a strong sense of community here, which is brilliant," she says. "Just down the road there's a community garden called Mud Island where we have impromptu parties in the summer, and it is just magnificent."
As Sonya is never at home during the day, she is keen to make the most of her time there each evening, enjoying a meal with Dave, cocooned in luxurious blue hues by a crackling fireside.
"I spent a large portion of my youth wearing only black," she says mournfully. "Now, I absolutely love colour. To paraphrase [interior designer] Iris Apfel, I never met a colour I didn't like!"
Styling by Nikki Cummins Black
Photography by Tony Gavin
Make-up by Paula Callan for Callanberry, see callanberry.com
Assisted by Michelle Field
When the current owners of 15 Vesey Place in Monkstown first viewed the three-storey over-basement house for sale 25 years ago, it presented a restoration challenge. Luckily, that was all in a day's work for the couple - one of whom is architect Felim Dunne. "The house had been subdivided into about 10 bedsits, each with their own bathroom and kitchen, so it was a top-to-bottom refurb," he says.
When Douglas Carson of Carson and Crushell Architects was approached to reimagine this mid-19th Century townhouse with mid-20th Century three-storey side wing, the brief was to create beautiful interior spaces and a better relationship with the well-established rear garden. As wish lists go, there's nothing unusual there.