Thursday 22 February 2018

Small but perfectly formed

Downsizers are faced with a dilemma: how to pack a lifetime of possessions into a compact space. Caroline Allen asks interior designers Joe Ensko and Helen Roden of Merrion Square Interiors to share their tips. Photos by James Fennell

A new bespoke kitchen with hand-painted finish, made by the designers’ own joinery, was created as part of the formal dining room.
A new bespoke kitchen with hand-painted finish, made by the designers’ own joinery, was created as part of the formal dining room.
The entrance hall creates a sense of flow throughout the property with its palette of greys and taupes. A Navan velvet carpet adds a sense of comfort
The sense of indulgence continues In the master bedroom with a headboard covered in Nina Campbell floral damask edged in velvet
Sanderson linen damask curtains and a sofa and square Trafalgar armchairs upholstered in an Osborne and Little soft taupe chenille weave, make for a welcoming reception room. The side tables, the antique French stool upholstered in a Bruno triplet chenille, and the console table – blend seamlessly into the room
Helen Roden and Joe Ensko of Merrion Square Interiors

Caroline Allen

Downsizing is meant to simplify life but it brings its own set of dilemmas. You spend a lifetime accumulating furniture and memorabilia, so it's not surprising that it's a wrench to part with pieces that are full of sentimental value. But if you don't wave them goodbye, the new, smaller home quickly fills up with oversized objects that can overwhelm the interior.

Not so with the owners of this 232 sqm three-bedroom Victorian townhouse in Dublin 4, who downsized from a larger home. They worked with designers Helen Roden and Joe Ensko of Merrion Square Interiors to edit their collection of furniture, accessories and artwork, to create a compact, clutter-free, elegant home. A careful mix of antique pieces and modern art, the decor quietly celebrates the beauty and abundance of light the property enjoys.

"The clients had quite a mix of furniture built up over the years. Having spent quite a while consulting with them, appropriate pieces were selected. If you can show that a piece is not going to work, people usually accept it," Joe says.

Several pieces were reused and reimagined, with chairs and sofas reupholstered.

The house had "good bones" and numerous original features such as plasterwork, fireplaces and sash windows, and the aim was to make the couple's living space more user friendly and comfortable. "They didn't want to extend; it was more a refit or refurbishment that was required. They were happy with the space and didn't want to cut in or out of any room," recalls Joe of the four-month project.

The entrance hall was used to create a sense of flow throughout the house with strong greys and taupes featuring throughout the hall and up the stairs and landing. Navan velvet carpet adds a sense of comfort. "We find that carpets are really coming back, especially patterns such as geometrics. People are getting a bit braver," Joe says. "Carpet is great for adding more interest to a room. Everything can be quite flat when you have plain floors and plain walls. In a high-ceilinged room, a wooden floor can make everything feel quite echoey, no matter how many rugs you put down," Helen remarks.

The elegant hall console table with hand-painted finish was designed by Merrion Square Interiors but nothing distracts from the beautiful arch which is the piece de resistance of the hallway.

As part of the reconfiguration, the existing small kitchen was turned into a utility space. A new bespoke kitchen with hand-painted finish, made by the designers' own joinery, was created as part of the formal dining room. Original double doors lead into the reception room. "The owners very much wanted a flow between the reception room and the new kitchen," says Helen. Antique metal chandeliers hang in the kitchen/dining area and the owners' own crystal chandelier illuminates the reception room.

Warm greys - Farrow and Ball's Charleston Grey, London Clay and Elephant's Breath - were used on the walls throughout, with a grey wooden floor in the kitchen/dining area. French influences are dotted around the house from the 19th Century painted console table in the reception room to the 1940s-style dining chairs that were repainted and upholstered in a Pierre Frey taupe weave. Oil-fired radiators were boxed in for a streamlined finish.

The beauty of downsizing is that other people's requirements don't have to be taken into account, and so there isn't a television in the reception room or the kitchen, just a small TV in the bedroom. "People are now using iPads more, so are less focused on TV, unless it's a family room dedicated to TV viewing," says Joe.

As well as the main bathroom on the return, there's also a petite en suite. "The en suite is very limited in size; it's always an issue in a Victorian house," Joe muses. "We stole some space from the landing outside the bedroom. The pedestal basin along with the floating WC creates the illusion of more space, while the subway tiles in an almond hue, are matched to the wall colour.

"The feedback has been very positive, with the owners finding the new spaces easy to manage and live in, whether it's just the two of them or whether they're entertaining a large group," says Joe. "You don't have to sacrifice style and comfort when you downsize. With the right colour palette and carefully chosen furnishings, you can have an interior that combines style, comfort and elegance."

Looking for interiors inspiration? Come along to house 2016, Ireland's high-end interiors event, which takes place in Dublin's RDS from 20-22 May. Buy your tickets now at

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