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Gym, pool hall, recording studio: How to reinvent a spare room

Kids like to have a space for fun, but grown-ups might like a playroom too

Lots of family homes have a designated area or even an entire room given over to their children so that they can spread out their things and enjoy the serious task of playing and relaxing without getting in anyone’s way.

And while it makes sense for the kids to have somewhere earmarked for fun, grown-ups may also like a playroom.

We spoke to three people who’ve decided to dedicate a whole room to their own leisure time.

Apartment gym

Nadia El Ferdaoussi lives in a three-bedroom apartment in Dublin – sleeping in one, sometimes renting the second and the third, she admits, was always used as a "dumping ground". So during lockdown, she decided to claim back the space for herself and turn it into a home gym.


“I had been doing a lot of online workouts during lockdown and was dragging weights and mats into the front room to do live classes in front of my laptop,” she says. “But it was a clunky set-up, so I decided to make use of the wasted space in the third bedroom, beginning by ripping up the carpets and putting in a durable wipe clean vinyl – which was laid by Des Kelly Interiors. I then commissioned floor to ceiling mirrors from Rathmines Glass and asked my personal trainer, Conor Corcoran at Collective Fitness for advice on which gym equipment I needed and what I would actually use.

“He sent me off to another local Irish company, McSport, with a shopping list. The room isn’t really big enough for any cardio equipment as I wanted to keep space for a yoga mat, so I got adjustable dumbbells and a few other versatile bits like bands and kettlebells. I kept the walls white and chose a light white/grey wash for the vinyl to keep everything looking clean and bright.”

El Ferdaoussi’s refurb only took a few weeks and after painting the walls herself, the gym was ready for use. She is delighted with her new space and would advise anyone else who has a room filled with junk to speak to experts and transform it into something special.

“The staff in McSport were great for helping me choose the right equipment because they’ve become experts in smaller home gyms since the start of the pandemic, so I would advise others to definitely speak to a professional,” she says. “Think about lighting and ventilation too, I’m lucky to have a door that opens onto a balcony, but I also added a floor fan – and the mirrors were great as once they were installed, the room looked twice as big.

“I rarely went into that spare room before it was finished, so it was completely wasted. But now I have a whole new space which I’ll continue to enjoy coming into autumn and winter with colder, darker mornings when I’m less likely to want to leave the house.”

Sound studio

Peter Cunnah lives in Donegal with his partner Ruth Pilkington in a beautiful old Cliff House overlooking the river Swilly. It was originally a 5-bedroom property but was separated into four apartments, so when the couple moved in three years ago, they decided to live in one apartment and rent out the other two, and the fourth (which is located in the basement) they decided to turn into a recording studio.

“The first thing we had to do was get the house dry as we get a lot of heavy weather here and all of the windows needed replacing as well as a myriad of plumbing issues and damp from the mountain behind us,” says the D: Ream frontman.

“The apartment is actually the old basement and I put in kitchen, bathroom, control room and live room. I got professionals in to do the electrics and final skim and I decorated it myself while my partner chose the really funky zebra print carpet. And I had the shelf unit custom-made by my good friend and Luthier Sean McDonagh.

“The work took about four months, and I was in recording and using the space within a year. And although I have lost two years of live performances (due to the pandemic), in the meantime I am able to record and put a new album out.”

The singer says he will probably need to do more work on the studio in time as the job was done very quickly, so he would advise others to take their time and ensure everything is done properly.

“Obviously planning is key and in an ideal world, my advice would be to work with your builder or architect to design and then execute the plans,” he says. “In my case, there just wasn’t time for that and Covid struck within four months of us moving in, so I managed to pull it together and made it a usable space. And I have really enjoyed it, especially when we were told to stay home as I had both the studio to keep me sane and a beautiful beach in front of the house to exercise on.”

Pool room

Stephanie Buckley, her partner David, and sons Scott (16) and Phoenix (2) have also benefitted from a room transformation – in their case a TV room was turned into a place to play pool and hang out at the newly-installed home bar.

“During Covid we planned out a decorating project,” says the Instagram content creator. “My partner, David had his heart set on a home bar and during restrictions when public houses were shut, it was a great time to transform the space, particularly as he wasn’t too busy in work.

“It was something of a DIY job and only took about two and a half weeks. My brother-in-law, Kevin built the frame of the bar, while my partner, who is in the construction industry with AMPM Plumbing & Heating, was able to do the rest.

“And now, what was once a palatial chill out space with only an L-shaped sofa and a flatscreen TV is now “The Boom Boom Room” – we robbed the name from Eddie Murphy’s film, Life – if you know, you know.”

The Dublin woman says the addition of a pool table was crucial to their new space and while it hasn’t been completely finished, they plan to host a party there soon.

“My son Scott is probably the happiest of us all as he plays for The Irish Pool Association, so he hopped from PlayStation to playing pool all summer long,” she says. “We still have some more finishing touches to add, such as barstools and a neon sign to display the name – but now that normal life is slowly resuming, we’ll probably never get around to finishing it.

“But although we have only used the bar a handful of times, it is cool to have the space if and when we need it, and I am going to have a little cocktail party for my birthday in October to make up for it.”