A horsey house - peek inside this interior designer's stunning dormer bungalow
Horses and interior design are not typical bedfellows; we tend to think of horsey people as no-nonsense, hardy types who embrace the great outdoors, whereas our image of the interior designer is a creative creature who imagines new ways of making the great indoors beautiful.
Unusually, glamorous redhead Collette Ward has a passion for both, and she has managed to weave these disparate enthusiams not only into her personal life, but also into her business.
She is an interior designer, and as well as a lovely home, she has the usual studio and showroom crammed with fabric and wallpaper books, lamps and other home accessories, but it's set deep in the country where she is surrounded by the glorious Wicklow hills and paddocks for her beloved horses.
The passion for horses came first, and when she decided she wanted to train to be a rider, Collette had to leave her home place in north-west Donegal, where her mother had a fashion business and her motor-racing father had a garage. "Like most people growing up in rural Ireland in those days, as my mum joked, I was bred for export," Collette recalls, adding that she trained with the legendary Iris Kellett in Kildare.
She became a competent rider and still competes in dressage competitions, but it's only a full-time career for a handful, and when Collette realised that she probably wouldn't make a living from it, her mother suggested interior design as a fallback.
She was lucky in this sphere, too, in that she was taken on as a trainee by another legend, the late Peter Johnson. "In both areas, I cut my teeth with the best," Collette relates. "Peter and his wife Natasha, I learned so much from them. They got the cream of work in Ireland - we did the interiors for the K Club; all the top hotels; the best houses in Ailesbury Road. I was with them for four years, and then opened my own place in Dublin in 1998."
Like many outdoor types, the engaging businesswoman is also into skiing, and it was around this time, while skiing in Courchevel, that she met her now husband, Marcus, a consultant engineer, who's from Wicklow.
He, too, is passionate about horses - Marcus hunts - and when they began to look for a home, the Wicklow area was an obvious choice, and they opted to buy a dormer bungalow near Aughrim. It wasn't just any old dormer bungalow, though - it came complete with 25 acres. "It's not the period house we dreamt of; we'll keep on buying the lottery tickets for that," Collette jokes, adding, "It is what it is, a bungalow. There was nothing of architectural merit here, they built them in those days from a book of plans. With my experience in the business, I knew I could inject personality into the interior. What it had was the land. And we liked where it was, rather than what it was."
So there is plenty of room for lots of horses, and Collette and Marcus now have six, including two ponies for their sons Robert (15) and Stewart (10). And, in addition, there were sheds and barns, so when Robert was born, Collette decided to move her business to Wicklow. Her showroom holds one of the most comprehensive wallpaper and fabric libraries in the south east, including the ranges of Nina Campbell, Sanderson, Colefax and Fowler, as well as many others, and there's an extensive collection of furniture and accessories on offer. Sofas and armchairs are made to order, and there are lots of interesting lamps and cushions for sale; needless to mention, quite a few feature equine motifs.
"Of course, I worried that my smart Dublin ladies wouldn't come down here, but they love it, they make a day of it; also, I now have local clients," Collette notes, adding that they only need to come maybe on one visit, to see the full range on offer, and that most of her work involves visits to the homes of clients. "I travel all over the country, particularly Dublin, Wicklow, Wexford, even the North," she says.
And she's happy to travel, even if it's only to make over one room. My mother always says, 'do a room a year so your house doesn't get past it', and I think it can be good advice. Also, if a person decides to do the whole house, they can get overwhelmed, both financially and decision wise," she volunteers.
Collette says she believes it's important to be respectful of what a client already has in their home. "By moving a piece of furniture, a rug or a painting, you can give it a whole new lease of life. Interior design is a very intuitive process. Once I meet the client, understand their lifestyle and see the room or house, I will know immediately what it needs. I don't work to a formula like a lot of interior designers. I have a confident eye, and if something feels right, I will do it," she notes, adding that she has been commissioned to design the showhouse for next week's Ideal Home Show at the RDS. "I've been brought on to push the boundaries, and I'm really looking forward to it, I feel people will be excited by my ideas. I'm not trend based - I give a nod to trends, but I feel unfettered by them," she asserts.
Hence, there's very little grey in Collette's own house; on the contrary, it's awash with colour, but it's all done very cleverly, so the eyes of the viewer are not assaulted with too much vibrancy. For example, the sitting room is a rich mustard shade, "a Collette cocktail" as she describes it, and it works very well. "The leather armchairs, original French, 1930s, inspired the colour. You have to be brave; you can't be half-hearted. It works - it's bright by day, intimate by evening - and, of course, there's a nod to Donegal with my McNutt cashmere curtains," she explains, adding that she'll be using McNutt throws in the showhouse. "This sitting room is for grown-ups only - no children, cats or dogs," she says with a laugh, adding that they have two dogs and two cats.
The sitting room is part of the original house, and was left untouched, apart from redecoration, when Collette did an extensive makeover on the dormer bungalow almost as soon as they moved into the house. They engaged architect Gillian Sherrard, and extended the whole back of the house, creating a lovely kitchen/living/dining area. They raised the ceiling and added lots of glass, but not the vast expanses that so many opt for. "I wanted views, to see the hills, to feel I was never stuck indoors. But I didn't want huge glazed panels; they would be wrong for this style of house," Collette notes.
She also added a large open-plan space upstairs, which is the master bedroom complete with en suite and walk-in dressing area. At ground level, there are three bedrooms and a sitting room, as well as the kitchen/living/dining area, and there's also a utility room, its walls lined with photos of the family and their horses. "I try to keep it subtle," she says, and in fairness, she does. Snug, yet stylish.
Collette Ward is designing the Ideal Home Showhouse at the Permanent TBS Ideal Home Show, which takes place from October 27 to 30.
See idealhome.ie for information and tickets
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine