In with the old: a Portobello home with a vintage heart

Most things in the Dublin 8 home of flea market founder Sharon Greene have been found in charity shops or markets. She calls it slow decorating


We’ve had slow food and mindfulness, a slowing down of how you occupy your mind. Now interior design is following the fashion and putting on the brakes to embrace slow decorating. It’s about not being in a rush and enjoying the process and the hunt, says Sharon Greene, a flea marketer who’s spent the last two decades building a home from finds discovered on travels here and abroad.

She doesn’t follow trends, preferring to surround herself with furniture and furnishings that “call” her, because she believes the more you trust your gut the more your home will reflect your own taste.

“My style is eclectic and cosy,” she says. “It is not precious. While I love modernism, I don’t want to live with it. I’m really more into vernacular furniture than high-end. It’s humble and has very much a country Irish feel.”

She bought her home 18 years ago at the age of 24. Seriously dilapidated, the villa-style redbrick in Portobello in south Dublin, was in such bad condition it scared off most of the competition. But working as a building conservation consultant for Dublin Civic Trust, Greene could see past the decline.

She was in the heritage business and had a good job and was able to secure funding, with some help from her parents, to buy the house.

That was in 2000. “It was a big undertaking that took the guts of eight months to find builders to do the job and before I could move in. Everyone thought I was crazy,” she recalls. It wasn’t until she had her new bed delivered that it began to dawn on her that she had this atmospheric home a couple of minutes’ walk from the Camden Quarter.

She set about plastering the walls, replacing the existing roof, installing central heating, upgrading the windows and putting in a new kitchen and bathroom. 

Then came the fun part – the decorating. Greene trawled the Blackrock Market at weekends and the Blackberry market in Rathmimes. She found the dresser in her kitchen at the Blackberry for €40, trimming the frame to fit the alcove. It remains the same spirulina green it was when she first set eyes on it, a long time before green swung back into style. There’s a lot of green in her house – at least 40 shades she says, fitting given her surname.

Moving on from conservation to set up a creative events company, the Queens of Neon and Dublin Flea in 2008 with fellow fleasters Dave Dunne, Luca D’Alfonso and Aisling Rogerson, she helped transform Newmarket Square into a weekend destination. And while she was on the job, she used to shop for furniture and furnishings.

Charity shops

Charity shops are another of her decorative sources and where she found the Child of Prague statue, which shares the kitchen table surface with a small Virgin Mary, which came from her grandmother’s house. The Child of Prague even has an old £1 note affixed to its base, in the hope of good weather. “These plastercast pieces crop up in charity shops and while no one buys them any more, they are part of our culture and are also decorative. These two are all that remain of her religious iconography collection because Greene has swapped the idols for indoor plants and her collection is rapidly expanding.

For years she didn’t pay much attention to them but since she’s started feeding them indoor plant food and repotting them, she says she’s been amazed at the joy she gets from watching them thrive.

Greene’s mother collected antiques so her eye was trained from a young age – she continues to drive her friends mad when away on city breaks by insisting on visiting the local flea market, always held at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning, very often after very little sleep from the Saturday night before. She loves Barcelona and Berlin. There are several in London: Brick Lane, Spitalfields and Columbia Road Flower Market. When in Paris, she treks out to Porte de Clingnancourt to the miles of stalls stretching as far as the eye can see.

How does she get stuff home? “I also collect suitcases to use as storage boxes. They’re aesthetically pleasing and I will often buy a suitcase and fill it with small pieces and bring it home with me.”

The bigger pieces she buys in Dublin, often in Original Compulsive Design, Skinflint Design, Kirk Modern or The Vintage Hub. 

Greene is also an artist and makes prints and installations – she has been putting the finishing touches to a gold and black scallop shell piece that can be seen in Hang Dai, a Chinese restaurant on Dublin’s Camden Street. Last summer, Rachel Allen commissioned one for her Cork restaurant.

With developers having moved into Newmarket Square, Dublin Flea Market is looking for another home but for two weekends in December it is reprising its very successful Christmas Flea at Point Square, with more than 140 stall-holders showing their wares. It’s a who’s who of independent Irish design and also offers vintage, antiques, collectibles, retro, clothes and jewellery – and all in one place.

“I didn’t set out to decorate my home this way but love everything in it,” Greene says. She is already planning more purchases and counsels readers to trust their instincts and to be impulsive. “Part of the joy of having a home is moving things around when you get bored. If you love it, buy it. It will fit in somewhere.

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