WITH RTE’s Room to Improve programme due to air its ninth series in January 2016, its star Dermot Bannon has become a household name.
But he’s also a hard man to get hold of when you want a talk about where he is now — almost 10 years on from the show’s inception — thanks to a busy schedule of filming over four to five months of the year, running a successful private architectural practice and confessing to a few outstanding jobs at home.
Currently he’s filming series nine and ten of the popular show together, a development necessitated by some larger and consequently more long-term projects, that can’t be completed during a single series.
It’s also indicative of how the programme is evolving — in that it can tackle these bigger budget jobs — “by being able to go for projects that need planning permission”, as Bannon explains.
Some of these can cost between €400,000 and €500,000 and are a long way from the very first TV programme he did with just €24,000 in the kitty, to move a sitting room into a kitchen, and a kitchen into a sitting room.
But the primary focus remains on interesting builds rather than the size of the projects.
Key to the ongoing success of Room to Improve, Bannon maintains, is having the same production team working on the programme since the beginning. He also acknowledges the more recent addition to the show of quantity surveyor Patricia Power.
It’s Power, as fans will recognise, who often delivers the bad news to Bannon that the price of materials exceeds the budget. Nevertheless she keeps a tight rein on matters and most of the projects come in on budget, though not all.
This we see when stress levels amongst home owners go up at having to consider digging a bit deeper into their pockets to achieve what they want. Yet Bannon has the reputation for making it all happen at costs that surprise some of his fellow architects.
“I tend to use a lot of off-the-shelf stuff like skirting boards, doors and architraves. For me they’re the products that matter less, and I invest the money in the build, the ceiling height and light. Stuff can always be added in later.”
This is where an architect brings added value beyond the design brief — but is there still an elitist attitude towards having an architect’s input in a domestic project?
His response is to share an anecdote about stopping at a petrol station just before our conversation: “I met a woman who told me she’d hire an architect when she won the Lotto.”
But he also maintains that attitudes have changed. “Years ago people described rooms that they wanted, like a conservatory, walk-in wardrobe or an en suite, but words like ‘space’, ‘connection’, ‘flow’, and ‘light’ that didn’t exist then, are now mainstream.”
He also sees the recession as having had a positive impact on how we plan our homes as it has eliminated the spare room (one of his pet hates, along with the formal and rarely used dining room), and limited budgets have focussed on needs, rather than wants.
The conversation flow gets the interiors voyeur in me wondering what his own house looks like.
Images filter through my mind of a vast, light-filled construction with open-plan spaces, no doubt, and masses of concealed storage.
“My own home is a modest terrace in Drumcondra,” he says. “People expect it to be glitzy but it’s not.”
Shared with his wife Louise and a growing family, he admits to a slight case of the cobbler’s children with no shoes.
“We’re here 10 years and there are a few handles coming off kitchen doors, and pictures that haven’t yet been put up.
"We now have three kids but until they came along we didn’t know how the space worked. It’s open plan so we’re always in the same room as them. We both work so when we’re home we’re all together.”
So what’s next for this busy television celebrity? “I’d like to do another book next year,” he admits, following the publication last year of Love Your Home.
Unlike many glossy coffee table tomes, this one is practical and accessible, and while it does mention, albeit briefly, some of the stalwarts of design, he highlights essentials like light and knowing the geographical orientation of your house.
But most of all, he says, he loves the ideas that keep him awake at night.
* Next week: tartan and plaid.
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