I'm smitten with Susan McGowan’s super-practical yet fabulous attitude.
The Athlone-based interior architect’s design advice says it all: “Only bring what you absolutely love into your home, as anything else is clutter. That’s also life advice!”
As we speak, Susan is putting the finishing touches to her own decorations — right on schedule to meet her personal deadline, RTÉ’s.
And, as exquisite as they are, they still tie in with her love for comfort and minimalism. Susan and her husband Liam have three children, Julianne, eight; Jacob, five; and Brody, two.
“When I first moved into this house, I couldn’t get the decorations up early enough. Now it’s mainly for the children that I put them up. The Toy Show is the deadline,” she says.
“Last year we went to Center Parcs and when we came back, we didn’t have the decorations up and it was such an anti-climax.”
As a design professional, what’s her golden rule for a Yuletide ambience? “For me, it’s all about comfort, so we go extra on the cushions, throws, and blankets.
This, combined with candlelight, firelight, and a few twinkling lights, can be all that is needed to create an inherent sense of warmth and comfort — even if the festive decor is very minimal,” she says.
The post-Christmas look is every bit as important: “The decorations come down on January 1,” adds Susan, who is founder and creative director of Ashen and Cloud in Co. Westmeath.
Susan’s Instagram account is followed by 45,500 design enthusiasts, many of whom have watched her chart her own self-build from the very foundations. That story began in 2014, when Susan and Liam’s daughter Julianne was born, and they decided to relocate from their Dublin apartment to their native midlands.
Her festive focus is clear: “We have a busy house with three children and a new dog, so to be honest, the goal this year is to come out of it as unscathed as possible!
"I was definitely a little more pedantic about Christmas decor before I had children, and followed Pinterest carefully for all the beautiful ideas, but now, I just want everybody to feel happy and at home, so the perfect decorations are combined with the sentimental ones that are made in pre-school, and it’s generally more relaxed and nostalgic. And that makes me very happy.”
Our sitting room has a large chaise-end sofa (the Long Beach from DFS), which we all cuddle up in to watch movies and relax.
I always find this question difficult because I like to mix styles, and I think the expertise of an interior designer is brought to the fore when interior styles are successfully mixed, layered, and combined. I have some classical pieces in my home, and I also have a lot of contemporary elements.
- Susan McGowan is the founder and creative director of Ashen and Cloud