At home with the dark side

Interior designer Sara Cosgrove keeps things pale in her commercial work, but her Dún Laoghaire home features antique pieces and atmospheric shades

Sara Cosgrove's name usually crops up in features on the Irish in London, with inspiring tales of Ireland's home-grown talent, making their mark across the water. And rightly so, as the Mayo native has spent the past 15 years carving out her name as an interior designer with stints at John Rocha, Candy & Candy, Helen Green and Allegra Hicks, the design studio at Harrods and as designer for the The Principal Hotel Group.

Cosgrove never gave much thought to returning to Ireland, even when she married Dubliner Damien O'Mahony (who runs a catering company in Sandyford) six years ago.

At first she continued to commute to the UK every week. “We never properly lived together for the first few years, but when I fell pregnant with Loughlin in 2016 we knew something would have to give. Initially, I had zero intention of staying in Dublin long term. I thought, ‘maybe just for a few months of maternity leave, living near the city centre somewhere and then we’d all go back,’ ” says Cosgrove.

But two years on, with (baby) number two due this summer, she has surprised even herself by becoming a permanent resident of the seaside town of Dún Laoghaire, where she has also set up a rapidly expanding design studio and loves how suburban family life is playing out.

Having spotted a large Georgian fixer upper that was split up into lots of 1960s style single-room flats, the couple felt it had potential and had a surveyor look at it before putting in a successful bid.

“We knew we had a lot of work on our hands. And I was prepared for that, having spent my entire career on building sites, but when it’s a personal project and you’re in the last trimester of your first pregnancy it’s a different ball game,” says Cosgrove.

“I approached this house so differently and so rapidly compared to how I would a work project. I was determined to have even a few of the rooms liveable, (kitchen, master bedroom and bathroom) before the baby arrived, which was four weeks after we got the keys, so we orchestrated a military operation. At one point, there were 15 different people working on top of each other in the house simultaneously,” she says.

The bulk of the work involved ripping out all the partition walls, the old kitchens and bathrooms, replacing pipes (which dated back to the early 1800’s), repairing the roof, plastering the walls, installing a new kitchen and sanitary units. “We got 70 per cent of the work done before Loughlin was born, even though he had the good grace to be late and that had to be enough.”

Then of course everything went on pause for a while as it does with a new baby, which Cosgrove said was actually a blessing as it made her stop and pay attention to how the house worked, how the light moved about the garden and how she should approach the finer points of the decor of each room.

“It’s the advice I give all my clients – live in a new space first, see how it works before you do any work or decorating. But it’s much easier to dish out advice than take it, right?”

Unlike Cosgrove’s trademark work palette of metals and glass, fresh taupes and creams mixed with pops of corals and emerald, on this occasion she took the family home in an entirely different design direction.

“We have dinner in the original dining room every night, it’s the only place where we down phones and properly talk. I wanted to create a very atmospheric, intimate room, so opted for dark mossy grey tones all over with classic mahogany sideboards, antique furniture and lots of ambient lighting.”

I've added a few contemporary touches

The sitting room is lighter and slightly brighter. But the classic Georgian theme prevails with the original pitch pine floorboards, lots of mahogany pieces, giant blue china lamps and nautical brass accessories. “I’ve added a few contemporary touches like my colossal (10ftx10ft) astrologers chart I found in LA. And there are normally lots of toys all over the floor, but I’ve discovered with this house I’m an old-fashioned girl at heart.”

The centre piece of the master bedroom is a long, tall wall of bespoke silk screens which Cosgrove says were inspired by Coco Chanel’s private apartment in Paris, a place to which she had exclusive access when working on the refurbishment of suites at the Ritz Paris. But the most important element of the bedroom for Cosgrove is the actual bed.

“I worked with Barry Sternlicht (who invented the Westin Heavenly Bed) and spent months learning how to select the right pillow and mattress combination for a hotel bed. If you invest in nothing else for your home let it be your bed. The perfect formula is a fluffy mattress, all-white linen, a firm hollow-fibre polyester bottom pillow in standard size, topped with a duck and goose down mix pillow for the best combination of firmness, softness and comfort,” she says.

But in Ireland people are more rooted

Cosgrove still works with international clients but Dublin is her home now and she has a team of five working in her Dún Laoghaire studio. She also feels working at home over the past two years has helped her evolve as a designer too. “When working in the UK or UAE clients rarely plan to spend more than five years in their homes, so they want everything that’s hot and all the styles that are on trend. But in Ireland people are more rooted and approach interiors with a much more long-term attitude, with family values at the core of many decisions. And I love that, it’s more lower key but there’s more sentiment to it.”

Cosgrove feels she has lots more to do to the house before her plans will be fully realised. "The windows drive me nuts and we plan to put in a L-shape extension to the rear, landscape the garden properly and ultimately move the kitchen up the first floor. Then I'll probably want to move on. But Damien is having none of it. He's much more grounded than me and is happy to stay put. And t be honest I don't think he has another big house project in him. Come back to me in a few years and we'll see who has won that battle." Saracosgrove. com

Sara Cosgrove’s source book