Tuesday 23 April 2019

Peep beyond Neville's hall door

Mary O'Sullivan

Neville Knott reveals his unique take on the art of interior design to Mary O'Sullivan

THE DENIZENS of the town of Boyle are in for a treat. One of their oldest stores is about to be revamped and the designer is none other than Ireland's answer to Laurence Llewelyn Bowen. It's Neville Knott, the new and effervescent presenter of Beyond the Hall Door, which started back on our screens two weeks ago.

Of course, at this stage they are probably quite blasé about Neville's work; the Co Roscommon-born designer is a scion of the family who owns the store Logan Knott, and he's been doing its Christmas displays (where his father Logan himself and his older brother Lionel allow him to run riot with their windows) since his student days.

But the windows of the stores weren't his first experiment at design; it was at boarding school that his talent for interiors first emerged. "I went to boarding school from the age of 11. I hated every minute of it. Art was the only thing I felt I was good at and I got very much involved in designing for the school plays. I was also involved in redesigning the senior boys' common room. I did an optical illusion on one wall. I believe they painted over it only last year. It was as if it was a brick wall with some of the bricks pushed through and you could see hills, mountains and lakes beyond."

A touch of symbolism there the extrovert interiors expert was obviously longing to get out and get on with his life. Immediately after leaving school, because he'd always been more interested in the design aspect of art rather than the fine art side of things, Neville went to the Dublin Institute of Technology in Mountjoy Square where he opted to study display design. Afterwards he went to the UK for further qualifications and then joined the display team in Switzers. When it became Brown Thomas he stayed on for a while before leaving to study for a BA; he wanted to concentrate on interiors.

"I was always fascinated by interiors. My family home wasn't old my father had built it but I had always played in wonderful old houses and I adored the architectural details and the period details."

He now lectures in interiors in the faculty of Applied Arts in Mountjoy Square (as well as working as a consultant to Clerys). "I love teaching. It's very similar to performing on TV. I do the studio challenge on the programme and that's what I do all the time, set the students challenges."

There is a saying that those who can do, those who can't teach, but Neville is proof positive that it's untrue. He's in wide demand as an interior designer but confines himself to two large projects per year. "Because I only do two I make sure they're interesting. I've been very lucky purely by word of mouth I get to workon wonderful old listedbuildings."

Not that he isn't au fait with modern buildings. In fact Neville's own home, an apartment in a 20-year-old block in South Dublin, has his own ideas stamped all over it.

"I completely gutted and redesigned the place. I decided to buy an apartment in an older block because they're more spacious. The day after I got possession the builders moved in, and it took about 12 weeks in all."

His aim was to open the whole space up, so the living room his favourite room which was initially two rooms, became one, and he got rid of all doors except to the two bedrooms and the bathroom.

His biggest single investment was the flooring Italian limestone which he laid everywhere bar the bedrooms and which adds to the whole airy spaciousness. "It costs a fortune to lay and the cementing underneath costs another fortune, but it's worth it. I love the look of it, you don't have to worry about stains and because the heating runs underneath it's very warm. I'm using it a lot in my projects."

He also used limestone in the contemporary fireplace which he designed, only this time a Spanish limestone. "I think I've done everything with limestone that can be done," he laughs.

He's also done quite a lot with curves, particularly in the design of his living room. "Curves within the home are psychologically very good for you. Apparently it goes back to when we're first born and the first thing we see are our mother's eyes. I'm a great believer in curves and introduce them everywhere." Hence the curves in the fireplace, the window seat and the TV unit which are reflected in curves he's created in the ceiling.

"People can introduce curves in all sorts of ways, with something as simple as a round or oval rug. When I'm doing a project I often introduce a curve in a wall. Plasterers just hate me."

Neville is also a great man for niches. Around the corner from the living room is the lilac dining area and off that is the kitchen. There is a wall between the two, but as well as having an entrance arch the wall is broken up with little niches, lit with recessed lighting, which adds to the openness yet intimacy of the space. (Lighting is hugely important to Neville and he has uplighters, downlighters and hidden lighting all over.)

He also created a soft-seating niche over the radiator in the dining area. "It'a little space where people can have a private conversation at a party but break it up if some-one comes." Neville obviously likes a bit of mystery andintrigue.

He also likes soft and muted colours and uses them brilliantly around the apartment. The hall is painted five shades of yellow, going from a pale yellow at floor level to an almost mustard yellow at the top the effect is warm, bright and airy. The living room is also extremely bright, in part due to the big curved windows but particularly because of the clever use of colour. The Italian limestone flooring is a warm white and he's painted the walls cream.

"There are 3,000 creams. I made this one myself and I call it French vanilla. I wanted the room to be a blank canvas, a backdrop for my furniture and paintings, some of which are antique and somemodern."

The most modern piece, a feather and down cream sofa, came from Minnie Peters. "I had it made to my own length so that I can fall asleep on it." The antiques mostly came from auctions; for example the leather, gilded and glass screen came from an auction some years ago in Monkstown House, as did his set of town crier prints.

The classical Greek columns which flank the door to the living room were salvaged from the old Switzers. "I had them in my old apartment but they fit in even better here because we're on the coast it gives the apartment a look of the old Italian seaside villa."

It'll be interesting for the inhabitants of Boyle to see what sort of look he comes up with for the redesign of Logan Knott. You can be fairly sure it'll include curves, limestone and some interesting lighting. You can be certain it'll bestunning.

Beyond the Hall Door is on RTÉ 1 on Thursdays at 8.30pm. Next Thursday Neville's studio challenge is nurseries on a budget.

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