The shape I'm in: Deirdre Whelan, interior designer

Listening to interior designer Deirdre Whelan’s soft Dublin lilt, it’s difficult to believe she spent the first 15 years of her life in Holland.

The shape I'm in: Deirdre Whelan, interior designer

Her Irish father first met her Dutch mum when she was an au pair in Ireland. After they married, he spent 18 years in Holland until he was offered a post in Trinity College Dublin as head of the microelectronics department.

It didn’t take long before she was speaking like a native.

“I lost my Dutch accent completely. Mind you, if I was very, very tired then sometimes it comes back a bit,” she says.

While her family has settled in Ireland — an older brother and sister are married to Irish people and live here — one Dutch trait remains: a love of cycling.

“Bikes are a huge thing over there — everybody cycles and that just stayed with me. We live quite close to town and so it makes total sense for me to cycle everywhere.

"I go to meetings I cycle to meetings and I don’t mind cycling a distance. I know exactly how long it is going to take me.

“If I hop in the car I don’t know if the traffic is going to be bad or not. Also, it sometimes gives you a chance to not think about other things but just switch your mind off and concentrate on cycling... and you get a bit a fresh air.”

One of the judges of RTÉ’s Home of the Year, she is keenly aware of what makes a home special.

“You walk into it and you say, ‘gosh this is really special or really welcoming. It just feels right’.

"Sometimes it just even an energy that’s created with all the things they have in the house and how they’ve put it together.”

* Home of the Year, RTÉ One, Thursdays at 8:30pm.

What shape are you in?

I’m in fairly good shape. I cycle everywhere and that, I think, helps a huge amount. I go to the gym but not as often as I would like — work and family life are busy. I go every Saturday morning and do cardio, some weights and some stretching.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

I love salads. I make my own — they are quite Mediterranean. I would throw lots of different things in — it just depends on what is in the fridge. For dressing, I generally use lemon juice, olive oil and a little pepper and salt.

What are your guiltiest pleasures?

I do like biscuits and I do like chocolate and if they come together it’s even better. Dark chocolate is a good way of curtailing the chocolate you eat because it’s quite rich. I have Nutella on brown bread for breakfast, I love it.

What would keep you awake at night?

Sometimes if a job gets stressful coming to an end or something goes a bit wrong, it might wake you up at night. What I do then is switch on the light and read for a bit and then I’d go back to sleep. My husband is very good about it.

How do you relax?

By being active — whether it’s going for cycles, going swimming with my 11-year-old daughter Anna May, or going to the gym, I find that they are good ways of switching off. You really feel energised afterwards and that you can cope with things much better.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Generally, it’s good friends. I like people with a good sense of humour, people who are interesting and make great conversation. For me, a combination of the two works brilliantly.

What’s your favourite smell?

I have a plant outside the house and when it flowers it just reminds me of my childhood. I rub it in the morning when it’s flowering and say ‘...ahh that’s fantastic’. I also like middle eastern smells in cooking. I love cumin and coriander and cardamom.

When is the last time you cried?

When I was watching The Lion. It’s a true story about an Indian boy who was eventually adopted by an Australian family.

He spent five months at the age of five surviving on the streets of Calcutta, trying to find his mum and his brother. That was a total tearjerker. I’m quite an emotional person.

What traits do you least like in others?

Aggressiveness — there is no need for it. Things can always be sorted out without getting angry. Life is too short for anger.

What traits do you least like about yourself?

I’m quite laid back. Sometimes, I could probably do with being a bit more pushy.

Do you pray?

No.

What would cheer up your day?

Someone with a genuine smile. It doesn’t take very much. I think it rubs off.

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