13 July 2010

From Ireland: the Making of a Modern Classic

The Irish Times

Interior designer Ger Smyth lives with her husband, Mike, and children, Simone and Jordi, in this Ranelagh house which they renovated. EMMA CULLINAN reports

When did you move here?

About three years ago. We acquired the house five years ago. It had been empty for four years. The gentleman who owned it had been in a nursing home. He was born here. It was very charming – and had the original wallpaper – but you just couldn’t live in it because the windows had been open for four years and everything was mouldy. Some of the ceilings had come through although we managed to hoist them up and saved them all which was fantastic.

I love period houses and the contemporary look. To get it all in one building was nice for us because we had been looking for years and years for the right period house. We were the underbidders on so many and just kept moving back into new houses.

We always wanted a double-height space and the back of this house allowed us to do that which was great.

Has doing the house up taught you about what clients go through?

It has been really good being at the coalface and to have gone through it myself and been there with the builders and architects.

Who were the architects?

Kelliher Miller. I work with them now. It’s been a really nice relationship. Declan Byrne of Shale construction did the building. I like working with him. It was the first time I had worked with them both and it was good for us all to see we could work as a team.

So you weren’t daunted by what needed to be done?

Being in business you can see the potential very quickly. It was a fantastic journey and was trouble free. The building was listed – we wanted to protect the period features and were not out to destroy the house anyway – so we got a conservation architect to do drawings and a report for the planning application. The conservation architect, Manfredi Anello, was fantastic and got it through planning first time. We had to pay a bit more for him but the reality was that we would have been in rented accommodation for months longer if the planning permission took longer.

How did you decide how to configure the space?

We were living in rented accommodation and used to come here every night during the building work which helped us to make decisions: it’s one thing looking at a plan, another to feel the space. That’s why I suggest that clients bring me in early in the process.

I will always say to a client, “how do you live in your house? Where do you read? What do you do in the evenings?” You don’t just build a house to have a nice interior – it’s to live in.

We wanted a room with no television and we didn’t want rooms that were never used. Both Mike and I work at home and the office in the back doubles up as a guest bedroom: it has an en suite. You don’t need a spare bedroom for when children’s friends stay over because they want to sleep on their bedroom floor.

You don’t want people away from you when you’re cooking so the kitchen remodeling joins it with the living space. And the children’s rooms are on the floor above, overlooking the living area, so we are near them when we are downstairs. I had a ladder of mirrors made so you can look up and down it to see what is happening on the other floor. Often in older houses people are either in the basement or up top, divided by the reception on the middle floor.

So you went over the design a few times: did you change things on site?

Yes, the architect suggested a cantilevered office window . With a terraced house the width is limited so this gave the office a larger footprint and is a nice design feature.

How did you choose the overall look?

I wanted a contemporary, classic look and there are a lot of different ways of approaching that. If you have lots of antiques you go that way but sometimes when young people own period houses they want a funkier look so I would use classic-shaped furniture with funky fabric and texture. So you pay lip service to the period.

If you think of the palette before you start, you can get a nice flow through the house. I chose off-whites and silvers. In choosing metals, you need to decide whether you will go for gold and brass or silver and aluminium and they will play roles right throughout the house.

It was a 1990s thing to have different coloured rooms: a terracotta room, green room, mustard room. Here it’s open plan so it’s not like you can open the door to old and new but there is a warmer feel in the period end and a cooler monochrome in the contemporary area.

You can make the palette topsy turvy: in the kitchen I have grey skirting and white walls while upstairs it is the other way around. I don’t use pure white because it is too sharp and cold. I’d use something that is more like a silver or very, very pale grey.

If a house flows well then you should be able to put any piece of furniture into any room, from another room.

What did you paint it with?

I particularly like the Simply range by Dulux. I tend not to stick to one brand but they have a lot of lovely slates. They grade the tones, so you get Slate one, two and three. You can use, for instance, Slate one on the walls and Slate three for the furniture, knowing they are all from the same family, just deeper and lighter. Sometimes you need a different tone on a different wall: if there is lots of light on one wall you can go deeper on that.

And you paint furniture?

In my own house I paint it myself but I don’t do that for clients: I have it made and spray-painted by a cabinet maker. I got our bed painted in the same colour as the fire and wardrobe – we’ve had that wardrobe since we first got married. It was pine then but has been many colours since. In my business new things keep coming in and making me want to start from scratch.

What’s coming in now?

Well, it’s like the catwalk in Paris – you are never going to wear the clothes. With interiors, you are trying to adapt the latest trends to a domestic situation. With children and pets you need to scale down.

The new trend is for mustards which look beautiful with greys but I find a resistance there. When people hire you they want things to last for seven years. I usually say to go with a neutral background and strong colours in the accessories which you can change. I have done show houses which is great, great fun because you don’t have a client who is going to live there so what you can do is amazing.

Has the extension given better access to the garden?

Yes. We didn’t even know the length or width of the garden when we bought it or that it had granite walls. When we cut it back we found beautiful plant tags – apparently the garden won prizes. We brought the level of the garden down by several feet and now the extension doors go right back. You can walk straight out into the garden and if you keep going, out the back gate, you can get on the Luas.

Where did you get the kitchen?

We designed it and got a custom cabinetry maker to put it together. I saw the glass cupboard in a magazine and he made it for me. We got the extra-wide granite for the island unit from Spain. You are usually limited to a certain width and length in Ireland. I went to Kuper Stone and said I didn’t want a join in the granite – I don’t like that – and he went to investigate and found this.

Where is your furniture from?

A lot is from Bo Concept which is great for well-priced sharper pieces and Roche Bobois is excellent for high quality soft furnishings. The sofa is from Bo Concept and the table and chairs are by Calligaris from Living. I love the fish-tail chair backs. I also buy contemporary furniture from Duff Tisdall

I try to make wide scope of shops. It depends on the period of the house. I go to Minnie Peters and Francis Street for nice occasional stuff from various periods, such as art deco. And I bring things in from abroad.

In my own house I ordered things in from abroad, like the free-standing bath from the UK, to test how reliable the companies were. Some things arrived and some didn’t so I knew who I could work with for my clients.

Could you be inventive and use ideas for your house that you could not do with a client?

Yes, but you have to be practical and this is a showpiece for clients. Also I don’t have an endless budget. I brought things here from my previous houses – I didn’t start from new – so would I have put all this together? No.

In most houses there is something that has to stay, that you have to work with.

Every client has a different amount to spend on home remodeling but I always tell them to keep something back for a wow object – it might be expensive but in six months’ time you’ll barely remember what you paid for it. This house has been walked through so many times: it is great to be able to bring clients here.

No comments:

Post a Comment