The Specialist: Interior designer Deirdre Mongey
Deirdre Mongey works on everything from single rooms to corporate premises but always tries to bear in mind how each individual space will be used on a daily basis
Interior designer Deirdre Mongey in her home in Avoca, Co Wicklow: she believes good lighting can produce “phenomenal” results. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
‘You can’t do this job without being obsessive. And you have to be intuitive. I do a lot of listening,” says Deirdre Mongey, an interior design specialist who has been in the business for 25 years.
We meet in one of her latest projects: the complete revamp of an apartment in the Four Seasons Hotel in Dublin’s Ballsbridge. It’s for a wealthy client with a busy lifestyle. The apartment’s feeling of calmness has been achieved carefully through intelligent thinking about the space and its use, restful colour, bold focal points and subtle lighting.
“When I meet clients for the first time I ask how the space is going to function as a home. I am very function-focused. Who is going to live there? What kind of life do they lead? Do they go out a lot? Do they like to cook? From answers to questions like these, I learn a lot more about them and the way they live,” Mongey says.
Her portfolio includes everything from a single room and a country cottage to entire houses, the largest being a 12,500sq ft one in south Dublin that took more than two years to complete. In between there have been corporate premises and family houses in Dublin and Galway, with many being return projects.
From Castlebar in Co Mayo and the daughter of an optician, she graduated from the National College of Art and Design in industrial design the same year as milliner Philip Treacy and fashion designer Helen Cody.
“I redesigned the trial frame used for testing sight and my thesis was on spectacle frames – products of function or fashion,” she says.
That degree has informed her work ever since, equipping her to design a space and the elements within it. “You are designing in three dimensions all the time and so you think in 3D.”
After college, her big breakthrough came in Galway working with Cotton Box Interiors – “equal to Kevin Kelly and Peter Johnson in Dublin” – before setting up on her own in 1993. Though she describes her taste as “modern classic”, she says she isn’t known for a definite signature or stamp, that each house reflects her clients and not herself.
“My core view is after you get the function of the house right then you get to light and dress it. There is no point, for instance, in having a beautiful kitchen if it doesn’t take into account the pattern of family life.”
For the apartment in the Four Seasons, a blank wall became a fireplace, with a TV and recessed illuminated shelves. “I play around a lot with soft light and I don’t like dark spaces where the TV dominates.”
For a self-confessed “neat freak”, her own home in Avoca reflects her view that in people’s lives the needs of their interior spaces changes in a 10-year cycle – in a family house, for example, children grow up and become teenagers and their rooms have to change.
“When I design for children’s rooms, the way I use colour is less is more. There is so much else going into the room because most of what children use is very colourful.” The room that housed her 11-month-old baby when they first moved in 11 years ago became a den – “the kids loved it. It was their space” – and is now geared to teenage living.
What advice does she have for a young couple starting off?
“If the house is a stepping stone, put the money into things you will bring with you. If you intend to stay, spend money on the shell. Start with insulation, bathroom, things you use every day like good quality showers and vacuum cleaners, anything mechanical and then the kitchen. You don’t have to start with an expensive one.”
She also stresses the importance of flooring; in her own case she used low-maintenance polished porcelain” which looks the same today as 11 years ago “. Good lighting can produce “phenomenal” results, she says. “Well placed lamps can completely transform a room and built-in lighting is not expensive for the return you get.”
Colour is back
As for current interior design trends, colour is coming back in a big way. “It’s not to underestimate the putty and grey palette, but inserting vibrant colours like orange and cerise into them makes a real impact. Fashion will give you clues.”
New materials excite her, such as composite stone which makes better kitchen surfaces than natural stone because it’s more stain-resistant. She also likes the vogue for New York loft-style industrial lighting.
Kitchens are becoming more family-friendly “and everything comes to us via a drawer system, not by poking around in cupboards. That’s being applied across the board and is a significant difference today. People are focusing on the balance between beauty and functionality and my role is to advise how money is best spent.”