A boutique furniture business that sells 20th century classic design replicas has found success the old-fashioned way - by word of mouth, writes ALANNA GALLAGHER
One good New Year’s resolution would be to steal Una Foley’s style. Her modern home is a mix of contemporary and classic pieces where hard lines are toned down with soft furnishings and set against a paintscape that she refreshes regularly.
Foley is one half of CA Design, a boutique business that sells 20th century classic replicas that she runs with her niece, Carol Anne. It is her initials that form the company name.
“The furniture we do at CA Design is now timeless,” Foley says. “The pieces look like they could have been designed yesterday yet some of the designs the chairs are based on are more than 60 years old. They sit as well with antiques as they do in a contemporary setting.”
This school of thought is in evidence throughout Foley’s home. She hates modern minimalism, preferring a space in which to feel warm and comfortable. She favours “a mix of antiques with contemporary pieces”.
Interiors have always been her first love. Growing up, she was buying House and Garden when other teens were reading Cosmopolitan, but when she left school the Limerick lady took up European studies at the University of Limerick. While at college she recalls drooling over the Laura Ashley catalogue, one of the few interior brochures available in 1970s Ireland, and fantasising about how she would work the fabric swatches into her own space.
A tutor took Foley and her undergraduate class to Moscow, which was still under communism. That was 1978. She bought a Dr Zhivago-style fur hat and brought back Soviet contructivist posters and stamps that adorned her college year walls. The decoration bug had bitten.
After college she got married and, with her then husband, bought a two-storey over basement period house in Limerick that had been sub-divided into six flats. Slowly she set about repatriating the house into a family home, project managing the renovation and cutting her teeth on the hands-on and grittier side of the business.
Her friends were impressed. “I got asked to help out and offer opinions but I still wouldn’t have called myself an interior designer. I didn’t have the confidence to take money for the work.” Six years later the house sold for three and a half times what they had paid for it. This was 1995. The Celtic Tiger was in nappies.
Fast forward a decade: Foley and her husband had divorced and she went back to college, to the Dublin Institute of Design, to follow her one true love. Work still took a back seat to rearing her three children. Emily, the youngest, is now 17, Isobel 18, and Ali 20.
Foley got her first paid interior design commission from a cousin. “People who saw her place got in touch and my workload grew from there,” she says. “People started to seek me out. They liked what I was doing. It helped build my confidence.”