The show house in a development is the jewel in the crown. Generally last to come to market, it can carry a premium of up to €100,000 extra. Why is that? It's not just the cost of the furniture and fittings, but the design know-how that has delivered a complete look - a home that buyers can imagine themselves living in.
The trick is to create a space that looks, as Elaine Jerrard of Elk House Interior Design puts it, "the right side of perfect, and not too hotel-y. Somewhere you can imagine sitting on the sofa, or putting a cup of tea down on the counter". She has decked out schemes such as Clairville Lodge in Malahide and the soon-to-be launched show unit at Lansdowne Place, and has developed a busy project list of private clients who want her style in their own homes.
Carol-Anne Leyden of CA Design agrees: "I think new builds can often be more difficult than you would think. They are a blank canvas, which is great, but people really want it to feel 'lived in' and homely when they move in so they come to us for advice on how to achieve this effectively in their new homes."
She has dressed many show houses as well as carried out high-end refurbs such as at Pembroke Road in Dublin 4, and gets lots of inquiries from people who have viewed those properties. "We are always happy to share paint schedules and offer advice as we know it can be a daunting task furnishing an entire new home."
Roisin Lafferty of KLD has picked up many awards as well as column inches in style bibles such as Wallpaper and Elle Decoration, and is known for designs that push out expectations.
One project had a booth-like green room (literally) with walls and seating covered with artificial grass. She says the most popular features are often the quirkier ones - such as Harry Potter spaces for kids, "though more comfortable", and bars tucked out of view.
"We did one behind a wall of panelling that was very James Bond." The window seat that she and her team designed for the show house at the Marianella scheme in Rathgar, for example, was such a hit with prospective buyers that the developers decided to make it standard.
"You can take more risks design-wise on smaller developments," she says. "Larger schemes of 500 units need to have a broader appeal."
She's currently working on the interiors for Annesley Gardens, a new street of 20 houses in Ranelagh, in collaboration with Suzie McAdam Studio, with prices expected to range upwards from €1.25m for a three-bedroom home.
Here, all three share their tips for recreating that show house look.
Style it up
"Part of the appeal of show houses is the perfection with which everything is set up and styled," says Roisin Lafferty. "They are, after all, designed to be desirable and aspirational." She styles everything from the coat hanging on a coat hook, to the 'shelfie', the perfect positioning of books or collectibles on a bookcase. "This isn't always something we spend time on at home. It can be seen as trivial and incidental in the hecticness of family life. However, these small styling settings can change how a space feels, can set a tone and mood and it's also a great way to express yourself and showcase your own personality."
Buy art and play with scale
What we hang on our walls can often be an after-thought - not for a show house designer.
"Artwork is an incredible way to improve a room," says Roisin Lafferty, who loves sourcing pieces for her projects.
"The larger the better… We try to mix different types of art to maximise depth and interest, combining photography, abstract prints and original paintings. I find photography to be the most emotive way to add another dimension to a space.
"Art is completely subjective. If you are not sure where to start, try sites like Saatchiart.com and artsy.net; they help define what you like and you can set parameters such as price, size, style and colour.
"A few great places in Dublin to look are hensteethstore.com, hangtoughgallery.com, stoneyroadpress.com and solart.ie. I am personally transfixed by the feminine work of [photographer] Doreen Kilfeather."
Carol-Anne Leyden advises: "When it comes to choosing where to hang art, start by choosing where you would like the eye to be drawn when you enter a room. Don't be tempted to add art to every blank wall. It will take away from the impact."
Make every piece tell a story
"With show homes," says Roisin Lafferty, "we are trying to portray a narrative, to tell a story to the visitors and potential buyers. Every piece of furniture and fixture is specifically chosen to add to this. Every piece is curated to complement or contrast with one another. This applies to combining furniture from different eras and styles, to combining a mixture of masculine, solid elements with more feminine, decorative pieces." What's the takeaway from this? "Think about the balance and proportion of the pieces you are buying as well as the look and comfort level. Think of each room as more than just a box holding furniture. Use the furniture as works of art and sculpture in their own right."
Use colour, but wisely
Harmony and balance is something that can be improved by picking the right colour, according to Roisin Lafferty. A simple way to make spaces feel bigger is to paint all elements such as radiators, door frames, skirting and architraves the same shade as the walls. This allows the backdrop of the room to be just that. "It focuses the eye on the other pieces instead of drawing your eye to the skirting or door frame. We like to deliberately focus the viewer's eye to the assets of the space. Paint helps to do this."
Think in layers
Show homes are designed to trigger an emotive response and to make people want to touch and feel, says Roisin Lafferty. "We like to layer up multiple textures to provide depth throughout. Invest in good quality key materials - floors, counter tops and tiles. These are the base of any space. Then look at layering luxurious materials such as brass, marble, rich timbers as smaller elements." This has the advantage of keeping costs down. "Make sure to soften your spaces further too. Soft materials are hugely important in making a show unit feel homely and soulful."
Elaine Jerrard likes to use "the subtle effect of textured wallpaper, even in the smallest of areas". Choosing the right fabrics can be a game changer.Transforming or breathing new life into a room with textured cushions and throws is always a winner. "The clever use of accessories is another way of adding texture," says Elaine, "glass, ceramic and stone are typical materials found, but look out for more unusual pieces made with paper, acrylic and leather to enhance your space."
Go deluxe in the bedroom
The bedroom is the place to roll out the luxury touches. This can be surprisingly easy to do. Pare back the furniture but, says Roisin Lafferty, go big on the headboard. "It gives a sense of grandeur and opulence. Rather than just a bed and a normal headboard, increasing the scale also increases the impact and drama. Consider having some panels upholstered for extra comfort. Adding exposed timber such as a rich walnut will also add depth and richness. For me, mirror is a wonderful way to open up the space and reflect natural light and design details, so I would also encourage the inclusion of mirrored panels.
"Rather than bedside lamps, low hanging bedside pendants give a more opulent and high-end feel. This is a great way of defining the master bedroom and can add another finish in such as brass, metal or glass. Ideal height is no more than 60cm above the bedside table of choice."
Not just window dressing
Many contemporary builds feature floor-to-ceiling windows, which while they fill a room with light during the day, are not so wonderful for privacy, while at night time, a dark wall of glass can seem cold and chilly. Roisin Lafferty says: "Sheer curtains offer a translucency to the room and also diffuse natural light, creating a warm and inviting environment. The important thing if adding curtaining of any sort is to try to have ceiling tracks, rather than poles, to ensure a much more lightweight and seamless look, and also to have the track running the full span of the wall, not just the length of the window. By doing this, when the curtain is open, the window is fully shown and the view is framed."
For smaller windows in bathrooms or kitchens, points out Elaine Jerrard, the need for privacy or to screen out light often means they only get the most functional curtains or blinds. "Don't underestimate how the most beautiful window dressing can add luxury and visual interest to a room as well as being functional." She likes to use sheer French voiles in natural fabrics. "A combination of linen and silk (some even have a touch of cashmere), these fabrics make up into the most beautiful Roman blinds. They are luxurious to touch and screen just enough to maintain privacy, with minimal loss of daylight."
Commission dual purpose pieces
"There are lots of cost effective ways to transform otherwise mundane areas of your home," says Carol-Anne Leyden, "for example, we like to cover up unsightly radiators by adding bespoke pieces of joinery that have the dual purpose of being a radiator cover and storage unit. These pieces also act as display areas to showcase your favourite cook books, serving plates and glassware and really add that finishing touch. These clever radiator/storage units are particularly effective in kitchen corners that often become redundant spaces."
Trick of the light
"The same paint colour can look like seven different shades, depending on the light," says Elaine Jerrard, so never neglect the old trick of painting swatches on each wall. "East-facing living rooms do well with warm whites such as 'Venetian Wall' by Colourtrend (pictured here), says Carol-Anne Leyden, while cooler tones such as 'Blackened' by Farrow & Ball work well in south-facing spaces. Some shades such as the off-white 'Skimming Stone', also by Farrow & Ball, are good in any orientation.
"We love designing kids' bedrooms and nurseries," says Carol-Anne Leyden, "it's a room to have fun in and really think about functionality as well as design." She starts with a neutral colour such as mid-grey for walls. "Firstly, it's practical for small kids and, secondly, it is the perfect base to layer on to and add to with accessories." Then, she adds furniture that has a playful edge from companies such as 366concept.com for fun rocking chairs in all fabrics and colours, or the pared-back style of Danish company umage.com for cheap and cheeky feather ceiling pendants.
Broken plan not open plan
The notion of open plan is great, but the reality is less easy to live with, particularly now that many of us are working from home.
Carol-Anne Leyden suggests using rugs to create different zones - "a durable paper rug is perfect for under a kitchen table and a more plush high-pile rug helps to zone a living area.
"Free-standing shelving also helps to divide open-plan spaces and also serves as a space to display treasured items and decorative pieces. Our go-to brand for rugs is fabulaliving.dk."
Sunday Indo Business