A session with an interior designer pulled the rug from under us, literally

Caroline Madden: We’re renovating again and after getting some interior design advice, it’s suddenly easier

The builders are teed up to start work the second we get the keys. Photograph: Getty Images

The builders are teed up to start work the second we get the keys. Photograph: Getty Images

 

We swore we’d never renovate again, but to get the location and space we wanted, we’ve had to go for a fixer-upper. We’re knocking walls, re-routing plumbing, relocating the kitchen, creating a utility room. That’s the plan at least. But we’re on an insanely tight timeframe because we have to move out of our rental soon. The builders are teed up to start work the second we get the keys, and we need to hit the ground running. And so we decided to bunker down over the holidays and plan the renovation with military precision.

Right, I said, rolling up my sleeves. First stop: Pinterest. Our children really got into the spirit of it and helped me create multiple elaborate mood boards. Why had I thought renovating was going to be painful? This was fun.

Within an hour we had made some key decisions, namely: we would decorate my daughter’s room with mindfulness wallpaper that she could colour in, and we would download plans to build a construction truck bed (from scratch) for her little brother. And, possibly most exciting of all, I had found a designer who could make us a bookcase with a concealed door.

“Em, shouldn’t we be ordering a kitchen or something?” my husband said. But the kitchen shops had closed for Christmas.

So my daughter and I went to the beach and collected shells with which to decorate lampshades. And that project led us to a video showing how to create light shades from nothing more than string, glue and a balloon. “I really think we should be buying a fridge in the sales,” my husband said. But how can you pick a fridge if you haven’t planned your kitchen yet? And also, how was he not impressed with our string light shade? It had cost almost nothing and was only slightly soggy.

I realised we might need some third-party, impartial intervention
 

I could see his point about the sales and so we bought a sofa, reduced from €1,299 to €549. More importantly, it was navy, which as we all know, is the most flattering colour in existence. I remembered later that this rule applies to clothes rather than interiors. Also I have so many navy jumpers and dresses there’s a risk I’ll become invisible every time I sit on the new sofa, but still, it’s a thing of beauty.

Also on sale was a dramatic lattice-patterned rug to go with the sofa. I snapped that up, too. Perfect. Living room sorted.

My hero

While we were in sales mode, my husband persuaded me to take a look at the Harvey Norman website to research white goods. But when I logged onto their site, I saw to my delight that my hero, Angel Strawbridge from Escape to the Chateau, has launched her own interiors range for the chain. This was too exciting, and threw up so many new, weighty dilemmas, such as the bamboo-patterned cushions versus the cherry blossom. Decisions, decisions.

“We really should be looking at dishwashers,” my husband interjected. “And won’t we need a washing machine and a dryer?”

We then entered the era that will henceforth by known as The Great Combined Washer-Dryer vs Separate Machines Debate that literally lasted for the entire holiday period and sapped my will to go on, even more than when the mortgage broker put my profession down as “homemaker”. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a homemaker. Except for the Betty Draper connotations and the dwindling sense of purpose and self-worth.

It was at around this point I realised we might need some impartial third-party intervention. Serendipitously, I spotted an ad for an interior design service with EZ Living Interiors in Sandyford, Dublin. There was a promotional offer running: a one-hour consultation would cost just €49. Cheaper than counselling, and it could be redeemed in-store on a minimum spend of €1,000. I booked a slot and it turned out to the single best decision so far in the whole process.

My husband was delighted. I could see he was actually starting to enjoy this
 

Usually the consultation would take place in the customer’s house, but because we didn’t yet have the keys, it would be in the Sandyford superstore. My husband and I turned up, not sure what to expect, and we met with interior designer Lisa Glennon, whose measured approach to decorating proved a godsend. Doing up a house can seem overwhelming, she said. People imagine that she goes into a room or house and can immediately visualise the entire end result but it doesn’t work like that.

“You don’t see the final product straight away. You approach it in stages,” she said.

“So I shouldn’t be buying rugs yet?” I asked.

“Definitely not.”

My husband was delighted. I could see he was actually starting to enjoy this.

First, she said, we should think long and hard about the layout of our new house, and how it will function. “Renovation is an opportunity to do that, to make the house work for you,” she explained. She recommended putting a lot of energy into deciding what each area of the house will actually be used for. So, for example, once the kitchen is moved out of its current location in our new house, we could use that empty space as a playroom/art/reading snug for our children, and she recommended a great cabinet maker who could create really functional built-in units.

‘Be brave’

Lisa also liked our idea of turning a potentially unused room downstairs into a utility space/boot room, which again the cabinet maker could help with. And when she suggested that we consider fitting an old-fashioned drying rack into the utility space, I didn’t even dissolve into an existential crisis, or embark on a rant about the uneven division of household labour. I actually loved the idea.

Once the layout and storage was decided, we could move on to flooring, and then paint. “Be brave”, she advised in relation to choosing paint colours. “Don’t just go for the safe bet.” It’s so much nicer when you go with what you really want, instead of white, she said, giving us the number of an excellent painter who doesn’t charge the earth.

I promised I had learned my lesson, but on the way out I was sorely tested
 

As for finishing touches like lamps and side tables, she recommended taking photos along the way and saving them into a “home” folder, but not to buy them yet.

Then Lisa took us round the store and showed us a selection of furniture she felt would work in our new home: beautiful velvet chairs with thin metallic frames; amazingly plush, cushiony beds perfect for sitting up reading; a dinky little two-seater sofa for our children’s play area. I loved each and every piece she recommended.

“Remember, no white,” she counselled as we finished up. “And no more rugs. Not until the very end!”

I promised I had learned my lesson, but on the way out I was sorely tested – there it was, the perfect Moroccan gold mirror. Crying out to be paired up with the new rug. I lingered, I walked on, I doubled back. My fingers twitched for my debit card. But instead, I filed it away mentally under “F” for “frou frou” and said to my husband: “Will we see if we can catch a kitchen planner on the way home?”

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