Design/life: Terry O’Driscoll, Interior Designer of Penisula Life and Design

"Try to keep it simple. Try to keep it classical, so that it won’t date and you won’t get tired of it," says Terry O'Driscoll.

What’s your background?

I designed my own house, years ago because I wanted to build an old, traditional farmhouse, and Cork County Council agreed to let me draw it. 

In fact, they left me draw it to the end, and, when it was agreed, the engineer drew the final plans for me.

What happened, afterwards was that Dulux used the house to showcase their paint range, and it also featured on the cover of the Homes and Interiors magazine. 

Design/life: Terry O’Driscoll, Interior Designer of Penisula Life and Design

Following that, people asked me to start doing design work. I didn’t have any qualifications, so I went and studied with the National Design Academy, in the UK. 

It took about two years and was a professional interior design course — it was a good course. I set up Pennisula Life and Design in 2004, and haven’t looked back since.

I have also just become a member of the Interiors Association (IA), which I am very excited about. It provides support to accredited designers in Ireland.

In 2011, I was asked to do some commercial design work on Pongwe Beach Hotel, in Zanzibar, and it gave me the confidence to branch out into that area of design. 

Design/life: Terry O’Driscoll, Interior Designer of Penisula Life and Design

I was thrilled to work on it, and continue to do phased upgrades on it each year. I thought to myself, ‘if I can do this, I can do anything’.

Then, in 2013, Embellish Home Interiors, of Skibbereen, asked me to work with them and the commercial work has been rolling in ever since. We’re a good team. 

Lorraine Delaney, of Embellish, sources the materials for jobs, and I do the design. 

We also run the Design Clinic, from the store, on Saturdays, where people can organise once-off consultations with me and I also do appointments for clients — consultations depend on the scale of the project and the cost is redeemable against purchases at Embellish afterwards.

Design/life: Terry O’Driscoll, Interior Designer of Penisula Life and Design

What’s a typical work day like for you?

It depends on the day. No two clients are ever the same, which is great. And what is needed from me varies — a lot of places, it’s guidance that’s required. A lot of the time, the client wants you to take over and do it. 

So, it varies and it depends on whether it’s commercial or it’s residential. In commercial, there are a lot of health-and-safety considerations. 

With residential, it’s a lot more about people’s personalities. It is different every day, which is what I like.

I really like doing space planning, so that’s looking at projects from the beginning. 

If someone is building a house, before it goes for planning, we go through and make sure everything works, that it flows properly, so that people can put in the best plan they possibly can. I do a lot of work on pre-building plans, actually.

Design/life: Terry O’Driscoll, Interior Designer of Penisula Life and Design

Tell us about a recent, or favourite, design, or project, that you have worked on?

There were three commercial projects, in particular, last year, that I enjoyed working on. In the Westlodge Hotel, in Bantry, we did 60 bedrooms, the reception, the diningroom and the bars, and the buck very much stopped with me. 

Then, I did The Castle, in Castletownshend, and I worked with Sharon Poulter there. Sharon had a really good vision of what she wanted, really strong, so it was supporting her, and providing guidance. 

And then, in the Bantry Bay Hotel, I did the bar and the nightclub — Gillian and Stephen O’Donovan, the proprietors there, were great. So, in each of those, everything was different, but equally enjoyable.

Design/life: Terry O’Driscoll, Interior Designer of Penisula Life and Design

What’s your design style?

Functional — you want it to be aesthetically pleasing, but there’s no point in having it looking great if it’s not functional. 

I like durable things. If you are doing residential, people have families or guests, so it has to be hard-wearing. 

If you have a lot of young kids, for example, you don’t want a cream sofa. Everybody is busy these days, so it’s got to look good easily, so that you’re not spending a lifetime tidying the house up.

Design/life: Terry O’Driscoll, Interior Designer of Penisula Life and Design

What/who inspires your work?

I don’t look at other people’s stuff, because I think it gets confusing. I focus on the clients, the building, the type of build it will be, and respecting the environment. 

What I am doing for a client is what they want, it’s not what I want. They don’t want my personality stamped on something — they want their own personality stamped on it.

What’s your favourite trend, at the moment (if you have any)?

I stay away from them. I try not to be trend-led, but the new colours from Colourtrend this winter — purples and mauves and greys — are really good, strong colours. There are some really nice accent tones, which bring a vibrancy to the room.

What’s your most treasured possession?

A painting by Terry Searle — I bought it 25 years ago. I love it. It’s predominantly red; you are lying in a field looking through grass. It’s very minimalist, but you can tell what it is. If the house was burning, it’s the one thing I would grab.

Design/life: Terry O’Driscoll, Interior Designer of Penisula Life and Design

Who would be your favourite designer, or style inspiration?

There are a lot of good people out there. I love Kelly Hoppen. She started the whole monochromatic thing, which I love. I actually quite like that whole look. 

I love a minimalistic look with the splashes of colour, and lots of neutrals, and I don’t think you could ever go wrong with her type of style.

My own house would be about 80% white. If you keep it fairly neutral and want to change, then you can leave the white and use a change of colour in a feature wall.

If you have a colour in the kitchen, but you move it to the sitting room, because of the light levels, etc, the colour will look different. 

When you move colours around the house, sometimes three or four colours are enough for the whole house. And you can accessorise it up with throws, cushions, paintings, some artwork. There’s a lot more flexibility.

People might think ‘oh, that will look boring’ and then we do it and it looks great. Everyone’s busy now, and you come home in the evening and there is a psychological impact from colour; the quieter it is, the calmer you feel. 

Having those strong accent colours, as splashes here and there, works really well. And if you get tired of them, you can change them.

Design/life: Terry O’Driscoll, Interior Designer of Penisula Life and Design

What would be a dream project/design for you to work on?

As I mentioned before, I do a design review and upgrade of the Pongwe Beach Hotel every year. I like doing that. I like doing boutique-style hotels, or a restaurant, where you bring your personality into it, so would like to continue with that work.

I am normally in Zanzibar, twice a year, the first time to have a look and decide what we will work on that year. It all depends on budget and supplies. This year, we worked on a bar-lounge by a pool. 

When I go there to work, it’s pouring rain, because the place is closed and you are cooking on a bunsen burner, because the kitchen has been taken out! 

I have been working on it for the last five years, having gone there for the previous five years as a guest.

Any design tips for us?

If in doubt, ‘no’ — if you’re doubting anything, it’s a no. And with your fixtures and fitting, and tiling, for example, try to keep it simple. Try to keep it classical, so that it won’t date and you won’t get tired of it. 

For example, if you’re doing a bathroom and you’re tiling it, use simple tiles. You can change the paint colour quite easily, and you’re not restricting yourself.


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