Saturday 18 November 2017

Peek inside this family's Danish-inspired haven on Dublin's south side

Helle Moyna faced a mammoth renovation task when she took on a house which has bits from different centuries, but there is no one like a Dane for creating a home.

Helle in one of her living rooms, which is full of light, courtesy of its many period windows. The house is listed, so its sash windows had to be renovated in a particular way.The furnishings are mainly Danish designs. Photo: Tony Gavin
Helle in one of her living rooms, which is full of light, courtesy of its many period windows. The house is listed, so its sash windows had to be renovated in a particular way.The furnishings are mainly Danish designs. Photo: Tony Gavin
Helle Moyna’s kitchen, which was designed by architect Morwenna Gerrard, is to the front of the house. The units were crafted by Patrick McKenna of Wabi Sabi and the work surface is marble
The door to the garden is edged with coloured glass
Helle installed a parquet floor in the more formal living room and she put a solid fuel stove in the period fireplace, as the lofty rooms are hard to heat. Like all the living spaces, the background is neutral but she introduces colour in the accessories
The leather chair and footstool are among the many furnishings sourced by Helle in her business, Nordic Elements
It can be difficult to install a successful en-suite in a period bedroom and still retain the period details, but this part-glass box behind Helle’s bed is a great solution
Helle in her dining area. The shelving is by Danish designer Poul Cadovius. Dating from 1948, it's known as the Royal system, and is one of the world's first modular systems. The table, which has two extra leaves, is by DK3 as are the tan leather chairs
The painting, above the mid-Century-modern desk was given to Helle for her 40th birthday by her sister. It's by Danish artist Poul Pava. 'People have asked me, "Did one of the boys paint it?" but you know what, he's a very well-known artist in Denmark,' Helle says with a laugh
The en-suite has a part glass, part tiled wall, which affords enough privacy when the bathroom is in use. The decor is kept simple with white subway tiles and white sanitaryware. The black mirror is from Debenhams
A detail of the hall

Georgian houses are usually furnished in period style, or else the owners veer towards the other extreme and go all modern.

Helle Moyna has found a third way. She opted for mid-Century-modern furniture for the very old house that she lives in with her family in south Co Dublin, and it really works.

When it comes to furnishings of that type, Helle has two advantages over the rest of homeowners - her own business, Nordic Elements, centres around sourcing mid-Century modern and modern pieces for her clients. In addition, she's from Denmark, which is considered the home of good design in general, and, in particular, it's the origin of most mid-Century-modern pieces, so Helle has all the best sources at her fingertips.

Denmark isn't just known for design - more recently, its concept of cosiness, which the Danes call hygge, has become popular. Denmark is also often top of the league tables when it comes to the best country to live in, yet Helle opted to leave. "I went to London for a year; I never intended to stay," Helle says with a smile.

Helle installed a parquet floor in the more formal living room and she put a solid fuel stove in the period fireplace, as the lofty rooms are hard to heat. Like all the living spaces, the background is neutral but she introduces colour in the accessories
Helle installed a parquet floor in the more formal living room and she put a solid fuel stove in the period fireplace, as the lofty rooms are hard to heat. Like all the living spaces, the background is neutral but she introduces colour in the accessories

"I was born and brought up in Jutland, the biggest part of Denmark. It is a lovely country to grow up in - very safe, good schools; very equal and liberal,"

However, she decided to spread her wings when she finished college and headed for London. "When you live in a small country, you get stuck and you never move. I had enjoyed English at school, so that's why I opted to go to England for a year," she says.

Interiors wasn't Helle's first choice of career. She had done a degree in business before she decided to go to London. When she arrived there, she did the usual expat-type jobs, such as waitressing, but after six months she fell into a brilliant job at top chef Anton Mosimann's private club, where she spent 10 years. She was taken on because of her business background, but the job evolved into so much more.

"It had just opened, so I set up all their systems. Then I became their events organiser, and I was creating events for film premieres, the like of Cartier, Louis Vuitton, the royal family and the government; just very wealthy people. It was very hard work, a lot of travel and, of course, each time you're creating a new thing," Helle recalls.

After 10 years there, she moved to Merrill Lynch, then Morgan Stanley and finally Deutsche Bank; at each company she was organising high-end events.

In the meantime, in 1999, she met her husband, who's from Monaghan. "We met through an Irish friend of mine. We met at her birthday drinks. Then it transpired we had many Irish friends in common. When you know one Irish person, you know the world," she laughs.

The door to the garden is edged with coloured glass
The door to the garden is edged with coloured glass

The couple have two sons Tobias (11) and Marcus (nine). "Tobias was born very premature, at 28 weeks, and we spent two months in neo-natal with him. He was two pounds 12 ounces, and you want to see him now, this big guy," the elegant Dane says.

She had a year's maternity leave with Tobias, then, less than two years after his arrival, she had Marcus, who fortunately did go to full term. It was 2008, Helle was on another year's maternity leave, the money market collapsed and banks started to lay people off.

"Tobias's birth made me realise life is so unpredictable, and with the collapse of the market, I decided to do something I had always loved," Helle explains. "I had always been creative, and interested in design, and collected design pieces I liked. I had brought stuff back from Denmark over the years, and I was working in a small way with Danish designers. I decided to take a stand showing beanbags, T-shirts and tents at a fair called Midcentury Modern in London. I sold everything, and it grew from there."

Within a couple of years, Helle was selling 12 brands into top shops in London, such as Liberty. The company had become so busy that she found she wasn't enjoying it any more, when another challenging life event stopped her and her husband in their tracks.

"We had been toying with the idea of moving to Ireland, then, four years ago, my husband's brother died, aged 47, and it really made us think," Helle reflects.

That year, after the annual summer holiday with family in Ireland, the boys didn't want to go back to London. "They kept saying, 'Why can't we live in Ireland, it's so much nicer?', so we decided we either make a decision or we stop talking about it," Helle recalls.

Helle in her dining area. The shelving is by Danish designer Poul Cadovius. Dating from 1948, it's known as the Royal system, and is one of the world's first modular systems. The table, which has two extra leaves, is by DK3 as are the tan leather chairs
Helle in her dining area. The shelving is by Danish designer Poul Cadovius. Dating from 1948, it's known as the Royal system, and is one of the world's first modular systems. The table, which has two extra leaves, is by DK3 as are the tan leather chairs

Within six weeks, they were back over in Ireland - in that six weeks, they had sold their house in London and Helle had moved her business. Helle's husband commuted initially; he was an accountant by profession, and had worked mainly for American companies. Fortunately, after two years of weekly commuting, he got a job with an American company here.

"The reason we moved was quality of life, so we decided he'd have to give up his job, move here and network. And it worked. Within three months of giving up his job in London, he got a job as finance director with a US company here. He cycles to work; we have dinner as a family; he's around - it's great," Helle says.

Finding a house in Dublin in 2012 was difficult, as there were very few for either sale or rent, but they managed to find one to rent, and then bought their current home. It's a terraced house, part of it is 18th Century, while another section is said to date from the 16th Century, and is thought to have been part of Booterstown Castle.

They didn't set out to buy a period house, but there wasn't a lot available in 2013, and they loved the fact that the house came with a very large garden. They weren't too daunted by the fact that it needed a lot of work, as they had renovated their home in London. But not many would take on such a project. For example, the house has more than 20 sash windows, and all of them had to be taken out and restored. As the house is listed, the windows had to be done a certain way, which involved huge cost.

And that was just one of the many parts of this multi-layered project. In some parts of the house, they had to put in brand-new retaining walls; they put in new plumbing and electrics, and they also reconfigured some of the rooms. The result is a lovely family home, comprising a light-filled kitchen to the front of the house and, on the other side of the hall, is a superb formal living room with a stunning ceiling and other period details.

Behind the kitchen - which was designed by Morwenna Gerard and built by a company called Wabi Sabi - is a spacious family room, while upstairs there are three bedrooms and a very unusual master bedroom, complete with en suite.

The painting, above the mid-Century-modern desk was given to Helle for her 40th birthday by her sister. It's by Danish artist Poul Pava. 'People have asked me,
The painting, above the mid-Century-modern desk was given to Helle for her 40th birthday by her sister. It's by Danish artist Poul Pava. 'People have asked me, "Did one of the boys paint it?" but you know what, he's a very well-known artist in Denmark,' Helle says with a laugh

The basement required a lot of work - tanking, new membrane, etc - but it's now a lovely studio for Helle to meet her clients and take them through the ranges she sources; as well as Scandinavian, she works with Italian designers. Her home is also a superb showcase for the ranges, as most of the furniture is either mid-Century modern or new designs by Danish designers. "I never really work with trends, I never really stay with one period. I mix it up, and that's what most Scandinavians do," she says.

Helle says her work is three-pronged. She has certain ranges that she sources and people can pop into her studio to buy them; she goes to people's homes and does interior design; and she also does what she calls personal shopping, where a client might be looking for just one or two particular items and Helle will shop around for them.

And if you're taken by the concept of Scandi cool, you'll definitely find it here.

See nordicelements.com

Edited by Mary O'Sullivan.

Photography by Tony Gavin

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