You can do it - and they can help


Want to upgrade your interior? Make do and mend is this season’s hottest trend and there are oodles of home help courses to bring your ideas to life, writes ALANNA GALLAGHER

SPRING HAS sprung and there’s a thrifty mood in the air. Our obsession with interiors may have had its creative wings clipped by the recession but the home professionals have responded by offering classes in how to do it yourself, all for pocket-friendly fees.

“People who would previously have employed the services of an interior designer are opting to go the DIY route,” says interior designer Suzanne Billings. “Homeowners haven’t got the money to employ the services of professionals. Instead they recite the little red hen’s mantra; ‘I’ll do it myself’.”

What Suzanne Billings’ Design Workshops offer is a helping hand by way of professional guidance, as well as access to the company’s fabric library and the value-added element of personal tutorials that offer advice and ideas that are relative to your personal project.

“The idea is to get inside the heads of an interior designer to see how they would tackle these problems,” says Billings. “It short-cuts the process and stops you making expensive mistakes.”

At €75 per half-day course it is a lot less than the price of an interior designer who last year could command upwards of €100 per hour.

Another great DIY idea that adds colour and texture is screen printing. “There’s been a rise in the numbers applying for courses,” says textile artist and tutor, Mel Bradley, who teaches classes at the National College of Art and Design. The classes have already attracted their share of design heads looking to expand their creative remit and students include an architect and fashion designer.

To get the best out of the course, she advises you to do as much research on ideas and inspiration before you attend. The secret then is to keep the design simple.

“You can create cushion covers, throws, upholstery fabric and curtains although these last two are bulkier and more difficult for beginners to print,” she explains.

The more adventurous might like to experiment with more dramatic pieces, such as one-off wall hangings which look especially striking in double height spaces; artist Bradley’s work is exhibited in the West Court Hotel in Drogheda.

Sisters Joanna and Stephanie Sloan also offer print classes. NCAD graduate Stephanie has an MA in printed textiles from London’s Royal College of Art and has worked with UK fashion designer Giles Deacon.

Fashion designer Ciaran Sweeney is also offering insight into print with a five-week course.

When times get hard people start to appreciate second-hand furniture, says David Herman, one of the auctioneers at Rathmines-based Herman Wilkinson. “In the past six months there has been a significant rise in the numbers of 30 and 40 somethings searching for reasonably priced pieces. You can furnish a three-bedroom home for €3,000-€4,000.”

Cash-strapped interioristas should also spend time on eBay. Cavan-based Noel Hearle, a fan of the auction site, bought his alarm and surround-sound system from it. He’s also invested in some pieces of furniture, including an upright piano for €400, and a pine wardrobe, that he’s renovating, which cost a trifling €70 from a Dublin-based seller.

Renovation knowledge is crucial to anyone who is serious about revamping their interior. Auction hounds should invest in a weekend furniture restoration course run by Nigel Barnes of Old Chairs. Based in Kilrush, Co Clare, the two-day course is designed to teach you how to turn tired furniture into new and improved pieces.

We can’t run enough courses to cope with demand, says Barnes. “Most people come with a project in hand,” he says. This helps galvanise enthusiasm and Barnes has many repeat students. The weekend course costs €145 and includes lunch on both days.

Materials are supplied, bar fabric, for upholstery. You can stay on-site at Clooneenagh House for €30 a night, with all you can eat and drink, within reason, Barnes says.

Thirty-something Phoebe Conway has already upholstered two dining chairs and learned how to French polish on Barnes’ course. “At Old Chairs there’s a maximum of four per class so you really get close tuition.”

Reupholstering a sofa or suite remains the slickest way to update your furnishings. People are choosing to reupholster rather than buying new furniture, says Ian Donnelly, MD of Home Focus at Hickey’s and Hickey’s Fabrics.

Plush Upholstery has tapped into this niche. Kela Hodgins specialises in revamping sofas and chairs, revitalising tired-looking pieces. She reworked one shabby chair which had been relegated to the garage.

The reupholstered chair is once more fit for family use and now has pride of place in the sittingroom. Hodgins can also repair seating and even nip and tuck sofa styles that need updating.

Whatever ideas float your boat have the courage to do them yourself. You’ll find the experience rewarding and it might even take you in a new professional direction – not a bad idea in these straitened times.

And, best of all, it also helps you to create a home with real heart.


There are furniture auctions every Thursday at 10am at Herman Wilkinson in Rathmines with viewing on Wednesday from 2pm to 6.30pm. Call 01-497 2245 or see

Adams in Blackrock has periodic sales of period furniture, paintings and decorative arts, call 01-2885146 or

Buckleys of Sandycove, Auctioneers Valuers, 27 Sandycove Road, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, call 01-2844717

Do it yourself classes

Suzanne Billings Design Workshops start in April in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin. For a full list of classes and dates contact Suzanne on 01-230 1245. A half-day course costs €75.

Old Chairs (phone 087-2491978) is a once-a-month weekend restoration course. A two-day course costs €140. The next course is on May 16th and May 17th followed by June 13th and 14th. For further course dates check their website at

The continuing education department of the National College of Art and Design is running a beginner’s course in screen printing in July. The week-long course costs €270 and includes dyes but not fabric. The National College of Art and Design also offers a 10-week, night-time accredited course, starting in September. For more course details email

Free craft demonstration in Hickeys fabric store on Henry Street, Dublin, every second Wednesday at 11am and noon. See

Plush Upholstery will breathe new life into tired or grimy pieces. Armchairs cost from €300 plus fabric. Call 087 7682523 or see www.plushupholstery for more details.

Botanical screen printing weekend workshop, The Old Rectory Studio, Brittas Bay, Co Wicklow, Saturday, May 23rd and Sunday May 24th or Saturday, July 4th and Sunday, July 5th. Price €180. Call 086 8970868 or see

Fashion designer Ciaran Sweeney is running a five-week introduction to fabric and textiles. Price €500 for one night a week for five weeks. Call 0868138036