Sort it: 5 ways Irish home design has improved

We’ve gone from a superficial approach to one that is more individual and authentic

Uniquely you: since the recession a whole new wave of individuality has come about

Uniquely you: since the recession a whole new wave of individuality has come about


This year I’ve been 10 years in business, and looking back there have been a lot of changes along the way: from how technology and social media have transformed the way we do business to how the big tech companies have transformed the way we design our workplaces. By far the most exciting change has been the shift in attitudes and priorities towards the design of our homes.

There is no culture of design in Ireland. It’s not something we were raised with. In the past, it was seen as something of a luxury, an optional nice-to-have. Design is often judged on aesthetics but it’s actually about so much more. How our homes are designed has a dramatic effect on how we behave and how we feel. In a short period we’ve gone from a very superficial approach to design to an approach that is more individual and authentic.

Individual style trumps adding value

During the boom times, the focus was very much on renovating to add value. It was as if all decisions around the design and decoration of our homes were made with a potential purchaser in mind. Then the recession hit, and faced with having to stay put, priorities shifted.

A whole new wave of individuality came about and for design, this was wonderful because each and every scheme was totally unique. The focus was now on the person living in the house and all changes were made to suit them and their family.

Function over aesthetics

A well-functioning home is top of everyone’s list. During the boom times, there were a huge amount of homes built that simply didn’t function well. There was no storage, too many bathrooms and no room for the homeowners to grow into the house. They had been maxed out before anyone had even lived in them. The houses had been designed without any thought about the people who would be living in them.

Now things are changing, the practicalities such as storage and utility spaces are being considered and many new homes are being sold with the potential to add value in the future.

Obsession with square footage is a thing of the past

A compact, smartly planned home is far better than a sprawling warren of rooms. I remember some years ago visiting a house where a granny flat had been built on to the back. The extension took up almost all of the garden and completely destroyed the layout of the existing house. It blocked all of the light coming into the main living space and restricted the access to the garden. When I suggested removing the granny flat and reconfiguring the ground floor to open it up to the garden I was met with a horrified look and asked why that would be a good idea because they would lose 400sq ft. I can’t imagine that scenario now. Unused rooms are something that no-one wants, people expect their homes to work hard and run efficiently.

I find that people are scaling back and don’t want the large open-plan spaces that were so popular 10 years ago. They favour well-functioning spaces that can be closed off or opened up depending on how they are being used.

Future proofing

More and more clients are planning well into the future when renovating their homes. This is a big change where in the past many decisions were based on immediate needs as most people felt they would be trading up and moving on. No real thought was given to the future.

Now people in their 40s are making design choices to allow them to be able to enjoy their homes in their retirement years just as much as they will now. This kind of future proofing means that their home will be able to adapt to their circumstances and changing needs over time.

Social and collaborative approach

Social media has played a huge role in making design accessible to everyone. Gone are the days of clients coming in with scrapbooks filled with images cut out of magazines; they were limited to publications sold in Ireland so the repertoire was pretty limited. Now with sites such as Houzz, Pinterest and Instagram there is unlimited access to global sources of inspiration and people can even interact and communicate with the designers, suppliers and manufacturers. We’ve gone from scarcity to being overwhelmed and while it can be daunting it has opened up a whole new world of possibilities and definitely broadened our design horizons.

Denise O’Connor is an architect and design consultant @optimisedesign