Ciara Drennan is an interior designer, but she's an unusual member of her profession in many ways.
For one, she's a great advocate of separate spaces in the home, and not a huge fan of open-plan. Ciara's philosophy is have your glass box by all means, but make sure you have somewhere to escape to.
And she is a fan of dining rooms. Dining rooms are practically a thing of the past, and you rarely see one in a new-build, but Ciara was determined to have one when she set about planning her new house some years ago.
Pavarotti said: "One of the nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating." And Ciara would agree - she regularly invites friends and family over to eat around her dining-room table. "I love to entertain and to make memories for the family," the tall brunette explains.
She also has a completely different way of working with her clients. "I have quite a bizarre business model, I think," Ciara explains with a laugh. "I do six to eight houses per week, every week. So yes, it's quite an unusual business model. I don't want to project-manage your job. No matter what you pay me, I don't want to do it."
She does the consultation, she tells the client what he or she should do, and she walks away. "I have no problem giving you advice after that," Ciara says. "But what I do is I go to the house, I ask if it's one room, the whole house, whatever. I go through everything. I'd look at drawings if it's a new-build - where are you going to put your TV, your dining area; we'll pick the colours, or whatever the clients want, their floors, their blinds, their sofas."
Afterwards, Ciara sends a very detailed follow-up email. "I outline everything we discussed; where to buy everything; I send on my list of suppliers, and tradespeople; and I advise on sofa size, and layouts," she says.
Ciara is very definite, very practical, very businesslike, and that's probably because unlike many other interior designers, she initially studied business, and then worked in business. Creativity came later.
Initially from Dublin, Ciara, when she was 13, moved to Dunboyne, where her parents had a very big office-furniture company, Drennan Office Solutions, and Ciara, like her three other sisters Jill, Denise and Gemma, worked in the company throughout her school holidays.
When she finished school, Ciara did a degree in business at LSB (now DSB) and went to work for the company. "I always assumed I'd take over the family business, as my other sisters were more academic," she says, adding that her father sadly died when she was 21, and while her mother continued to run the business, she did need Ciara's input.
However, when she qualified at 21, Ciara bought her first property, and while doing it up, she found she had a flair for interiors. "It was a Georgian house in Dublin 8, converted into apartments, and I bought one of the apartments," she says, adding, "I wanted to get rid of the kitchen, even though it was quite new and my mother was appalled. It wasn't awful, but it just wasn't what I wanted."
So she ripped it out. Canny Ciara, however, didn't just put it on a skip. She advertised it, and got quite a good price.
The whole experience of taking out what she didn't want and putting her own stamp on the apartment prompted her to train as a designer. She did a design course by night, and shortly after completing it, she was in demand. "I qualified in 2004, and from the day I qualified, I started doing houses," Ciara enthuses.
However, she still works in the office-furniture business. "My sister Gemma and I run both businesses together. If Gemma needs me to design a space for 100 desks, I'll do it. I enjoy that side of the business too, and it's easier - the clients aren't as fussy as your average homeowner, who is more invested in the home than people are in their offices, but I'm more passionate about the interior design."
Gemma also does research for Ciara if she gets a different kind of job than usual and needs lists of suppliers. "You should see the amount of emails that go back and forth between me and Gemma per day," Ciara laughs. She adds that she has different packages for different types of houses. "I've whole families where I've done the parents, and then all their children's houses," she says. "I hear a lot from clients that my fee is the best money they've ever spent. I would like to see houses after I advise them, but that's not the way I work. I think what people like is I'm very practical. I'm really conscious of their jobs, whether they have kids, and if the house is working for them."
Ciara herself had to take all those exact same details into consideration when she was designing her own home, which she shares with her husband, Brian, and their two children, Aubrey (seven) and Holly (five). It was through her work that she met Brian, an accountant. The couple moved around a lot, but Ciara always wanted to build her own house, and when her mother gave her a site next door to the family home - each of the daughters got a site - she got to work.
The build was carried out with the
same sort of efficiency as Ciara's interior jobs - it was completed in four months. "We had a very good architect to do the plans for the planning permission, but the design was mine. I got everything I wanted," she says. Georgian-style to the front, the house is quite modern at the back. Ciara wanted a kitchen/dining space, with the living space separate, so it's divided by a fireplace. Off the kitchen, there's a lovely playroom.
"I see it all the time - the playroom shoved into a corner space that no one would want to play in. Here, it's one of the nicest rooms in the house," Ciara says.
The ceilings are higher than is the norm, and typical of the Georgian style; there are sash windows, but the house also has all the comforts of modern living - it's triple-glazed, there is underfloor heating and air-to-water heating. "We have the stove in the living room, but we never light it. The house can be heated with a candle," she says.
Colour is, of course, very important to Ciara - she does a lot of work with Colourtrend, and she opts for a mix of neutrals and strong shades, like the dark green in her kitchen.
The kitchen is very important to her - in fact, just as she was able to dispense with the one in her first home ever, her current kitchen was one she actually owned before she even built her house. "I was working at a design show one year, and I got a kitchen made for the show. It was a Jonathan Williams kitchen, and it was very expensive - the island was dark pink, the units were light grey, and it had lots of lovely marble worktops. When the show was over, the guys said they were going to sell, and I said, 'I'm building a house, we'll do a deal'. And we did," she says, adding, "It was in storage for at least a year. Then, when we built the house, I kept moving the kitchen to find the best location for it. We designed the house around the kitchen."
It was the units and marble worktops she loved - not the appliances, which weren't included, anyway. Despite her great love of cooking, Ciara's not into the latest in kitchen technology.
"I see it all the time. When clients are getting new kitchens, they feel they have to get the appliances with all the bells and whistles. Forget it, I say. A total waste of money. I prefer to put my budget into something else,"she says. "You don't need fancy cookers to make a lovely meal for friends."
That's Ciara - Practical, yet warm and fun.
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin