Peek Inside: Businessman who designs kitchens shows us inside his 'labour of love' family home
Money pit or labour of love? So many owners of old houses use one or other of those terms to describe their homes, and usually it's down to the personality of the person - whether he or she is the 'glass half-full' or 'glass half-empty' type.
Steven Jones uses both phrases to describe his home in south Co Dublin, but, at the end of the day, he really plumps for the latter: a labour of love. For the last 12 years, he has been doing essential structural work and renovations to the charming period cottage he shares with his wife Sasha, their two boys, and their Great Dane, Wilson - but it's obvious that he enjoys it.
Fortunately, Steven has a distinct advantage over the majority of homeowners - he has a pretty good idea of what he's doing; he is, after all, the co-owner and designer of Enigma Design, a successful kitchen and cabinet-making company. He designs the company's kitchens, storage units and wardrobes.
It's an area he's been immersed in since his youth, when he worked for his father during his teens and early 20s. "My father had a business making Corian worktops, and I worked with him during school holidays and when I was in college," Steven recalls.
He had no idea at that stage that he would go on to excel at furniture design, and, in fact, he opted to study science at college. That didn't really interest him, so he moved on in third year. "It wasn't really for me. I was working at the same time and earning a lot of money, and I decided the academic life wasn't for me," he says.
After leaving college, he went to Australia for a bit of fun, where, by chance, he first got a job in a company doing what he'd done with his father - making Corian worktops. His second job there, in Sydney, was doing exactly what he does now in Dublin - making bespoke cabinetry.
"They manufactured everything they made. The same as us - we manufacture everything," Steven says. "I really enjoyed it. I got quite a lot of responsibility, even though I was young - 22. They would have liked me to stay, but I didn't really go to Australia to work, I went there to travel, so I went on to Fiji and New Zealand before coming home."
He also met his future wife, Sasha, an IT specialist, in Australia. Sasha is from Dublin's southside just like Steven, and, just like him, she was also travelling for the fun of it. As it happens, she was travelling with old hockey mates of Steven's, and it was through them they met, before going their separate routes.
They realised there was a spark, but didn't arrange to meet back in Dublin. "We met shortly after we came back. We didn't need to make a plan, it was inevitable we'd meet. Dublin is so small, and we hung around with the same people," Steven explains with a laugh, adding they've been together ever since. They married in 2006, and have two boys - Harry (11) and Sam (eight).
Immediately after Steven came back, he went to work, and within months he set up Enigma Design with Brendan O'Neill, who used to work for Steven's father. "We started off with a van and a set of tools; we now employ eight. Brendan runs the workshop, and I look after the design. We have a designer who also looks after the showroom," he explains. "You know what, I'm not qualified in anything, but I have been working with my hands since I was 14,15, and I've learned as I've gone along. I have a knack for the manufacture, and with anything detailed or complicated, I would spend a day in the workshop with the guys to make sure it's done the way I would want it."
What sets Enigma Design apart is the fact that everything is bespoke. "We don't buy doors or components, we're one of the few companies that still make them," Steven says. "It just gives you freedom to build anything at all, so we can offer clients whatever they want."
Forty per cent of Enigma's output is kitchens, 40pc is other household furniture like tv units, shelving and wardrobes, while 20pc is commercial - reception desks for offices, etc. "We're not big, but we are where we want to be," he says happily.
A lot of people are coming to Enigma for very modern kitchens - flat-panel handleless doors with a matte finish. Steven and Sasha's own kitchen is more country style, and considering it's been there almost since the couple moved in in 2006, it's really stood the test of time.
Their home is the couple's second; prior to that, they'd lived in Shankill. "We wanted a bigger house, and we wanted a big garden," Steven explains. When they bought the house, they got both. The house was around 2,000 square feet and the garden is an acre. They got a lot more besides - it's in a picturesque location at the foot of the Sugarloaf, yet it's mere seconds from the N11.
The house is also full of charm - it is part 1780s cottage and part 1950s pottery studio, both of which attracted the young couple.
But it came with a lot of headaches. "Fifteen years before we bought it, the owner joined the two parts and joined them very badly," says Steven. "Even though we'd had it surveyed, we didn't realise there were multiple problems on every front. There was absolutely no insulation, not one bit. On our first night in the house, we both ended up coughing."
Within the first two months, they spent €80,000 on damp proofing, electrics and a new septic tank. "Then we ran out of money," he says.
Slowly but surely, they've tackled the different parts of the house. They replaced the windows on the front two years ago. There was dry rot in some of the floors, so they took them up and replaced them. They re-roofed the cottage part of the house last year, and also added a beautiful new master bedroom, making the total square footage 2,600 square feet.
Features such as the stove in the living room - which, according to Steven, was a monstrosity - had to be removed, he felt. In its place, he put in a wood-burning stove with a painted fireproof MDF surround.
The house now comprises a large kitchen/dining room, a TV room, a playroom, an office, four bedrooms and three bathrooms. They opted for whitewashed scraped oak flooring throughout, except in the kitchen; they laid travertine marble in the kitchen 11 years ago, and it still looks great, just as the units and island do.
Having the whitewashed oak floor throughout gives a lovely flow to the house, and this is enhanced by the fact that they've also kept the palette on the paintwork to a few select colours - for example, all the joinery is painted in Pointing by Farrow & Ball.
Throughout all the rooms can be found fabulous bookshelves and storage units. "I've made virtually everything in this house: all the units, architraves, all the skirting - everything, including the kitchen units. The kitchen, when I did it 11 years ago, took six weeks of weekends," Steven says, adding that he wouldn't have that time now.
One part of him would like to add a new, more modern, kitchen - he probably feels a man who designs kitchens should possibly have the most up-to-date style, but he knows in his heart it's too good to demolish just yet. And after years of work, maybe it's time to just sit back and enjoy it. "It's as big as we need it to be," he says. "It's not ostentatious and we're not precious about any of it. We like it to be clean and tidy and a home, and it is that, which is fantastic."
Steven Jones and Enigma Design will be at house 2018. house 2018 is Ireland's only trend-led and style-focused interiors event taking place in Dublin's RDS from May 25-27, showcasing world-class design and the cream of Irish interiors talent. Buy your tickets now at house-event.ie/tickets, under-12s go free
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Living