An interior designer at home: ‘Trends are fun, but go easy on them’

Pieces of me: Denise O’Connor, architect and interior designer

Denise O Connor in her garden at home in Goatstown. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Denise O Connor in her garden at home in Goatstown. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Denise O’Connor is an architect and interior designer. After studying architecture in UCD she worked in London on residential, healthcare and office schemes and in 2005 returned to Dublin and set up her own design consultancy, Optimise Design. She writes a column in the Irish Times Property supplement, and is also a contributor to interiors website, Houzz. She was a presenter for the first series of the RTÉ TV show The Design Doctors. She lives with her husband and two children in Goatstown, Dublin.

Two mid-century chairs recovered in fabric from the Conran shop
Two mid-century chairs recovered in fabric from the Conran shop

Describe your interiors style Simple and contemporary. I like things that function as well as look great.

Which room do you most enjoy? Definitely the kitchen. Everyone congregates here and it opens into the garden. If I am working from home I sit at the kitchen table with the doors open which I find very calming. The kitchen is white and very simple – it’s practical and easy to clean. The pedestal table is from BoConcept. The walls are white except the one I papered with a Cole & Son paper called Cowparsley which is very fresh to look at. The garden is where I go to potter and I find it de-stresses me. I don’t know anything about gardening really but I love the unpredictability of it. You can see something flourishing in someone else’s garden and take it home to your own where it will not do anything at all

Portrait photograph by Mark Nixon in Denise O’Connor’s livingroom
Portrait photograph by Mark Nixon in Denise O’Connor’s livingroom

What items do you love the most and why? I have two really large portrait photographs of our sons by Mark Nixon which I love, because they really capture their personality. They are lovely to have a a constant reminder of how quickly time passes. They are 11 and seven now, and these were taken when they were one. I have two lovely mid-century chairs I bought when we were living in London. We found them at the Portobello Market and I got fabric from the Conran shop and had them recovered. They have travelled all over with us and they are really comfortable to sit in.

My grandmother was super-creative and she did a lot of embroidery. I have four of her embroidered birds that used to hang in our hallway when I was a child. My mother passed them on to me and now they are in our hall. People just don’t do that kind of work anymore. Then there is my Nespresso machine. I love my coffee. And my iPad.

A single wall in Denise O’Connor’s kitchen covered in wallpaper by Cole & Son
A single wall in Denise O’Connor’s kitchen covered in wallpaper by Cole & Son

Who is your favourite designer? An amazing woman called Patricia Urquiola. She is a Spanish-born architect based in Milan and she designs everything from rugs to furniture, as well as buildings. Everything she designs is forward thinking. She is very elegant and her body of work is amazing. I admire the artist Stephen Lawlor who is a printmaker and painter, I have an abstract of his in my bedroom and I find it very peaceful.

I would absolutely love to put a basement into my house. I love the idea of creating space out of nothing

Do you collect anything? The only thing I collect is my children’s art. They produce so much of it! We have a little art gallery in the utility room and they love seeing their work go up on the walls. There is an amazing app called Artkive which you can use to store pictures of children’s work and you can print them out as a book.

Your biggest interiors turn off? Anything that is too trendy. Good design should be timeless. Trends can be fun, but you should add them in such a way that can be rotated out pretty quickly. For instance, brass is very fashionable now and it’s being overused. It can go too far when you see it on light switches and taps and everywhere. There are lovely ways to introduce brass, but go easy and don’t spend a lot of money on it.

Pedestal dining table from BoConcept
Pedestal dining table from BoConcept

Your favourite travel destination and why? I love Stockholm. My husband took me there for my birthday as a surprise a few years ago in November. It is the most mellow, peaceful, relaxing place. The people are gorgeous, the food is amazing, it is inspiration-overload. I have gone back four times since. The shops are brilliant – even the Cos is much better there!

More recently I’ve been in San Francisco and that was fantastic. They have these places called Popos – privately owned public open spaces. Developers have to provide public spaces in new buildings which is a great public-spirited thing. There are tours of the best ones and you get to see some really love spaces.

If you had €100,000 to spend, what would you buy? I would absolutely love to put a basement into my house. I love the idea of creating space out of nothing, and it would be the most amazing space for the boys when they are older, so that is where the money would go.

Denise O’Connor will give a talk on Space Works: How to get organised at home at The Irish Times Home&Design Theatre at the Ideal Home Show at the RDS on Friday, April 21st.

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