Television shows might have you convinced gutting your home to a shell and slapping an edgy glass box on the back is the only way to have a space-efficient, modern home, not helped by our tendency to have myopia regarding the potential of our property as it stands.
It’s something Cork-based couple Nicola-Marie and James realised when they looked to improve their 1970s three-bedroom semi-detached house where they’ve lived with daughter Clara (seven) since 2018.
“When we first moved in, we painted the walls magnolia and put down flooring which cost €4.99 a yard, just to make it clean,” Nicola-Marie says, as we sit in her now beautifully revamped house tucked away on a quiet avenue in the north city neighbourhood of Ballyvolane.
“It looked like it hadn’t been touched since the '70s,” she explains, while James tells of uncovering three layers of skirting boards in the house and wires for the phone and alarm everywhere.
Starting in 2021 they took a DIY approach, installing an Ikea kitchen in sage green, with echoes of another era in the smoked glass wall unit doors.
Nicola-Marie tackled the plumbing herself using YouTube tutorials, with Dad double-checking her work and sealing it with approval.
But when it came to the living-cum-dining room, running from the front to the back of the house, and the hall, stairs and bathroom, they sought professional input.
“When you bring in someone with fresh eyes, he can visualise it empty,” says James. “That’s very hard to do in your own home.”
The fresh eyes in this case belong to interior designer David O’Brien who collaborated with Nicola-Marie and James on the project, with RJ O’Brien Building Contractors doing the hard graft.
“We wanted a mid-century look, not garish; rooms relatively plain and as much black as possible in a small house," says Nicola-Marie.
Adds James: "But furniture and floors to do most of the talking."
So, if the new living-dining room floor could speak it might describe itself as double-smoked oak herringbone engineered, rimmed by walls in a stone white paint hue.
It’s a stylish pared-back look, interrupted by a cheeky green velvet sofa and matching ottoman complementing greenery from the garden, now accessible by French doors which replace a small window.
But a star shy of the limelight is a teak dining table.
Urged by the interior designer who saw its potential, the couple bought the dilapidated table from Facebook Marketplace for €50.
Now restored after diligent cleaning by Nicola-Marie, it’s surrounded by vintage chairs sourced from The Workshop in Ballygarvan, with the addition of another of Nicola-Marie’s projects — a banquette seat with storage underneath for Clara’s treasures — upholstered in hardwearing Moquette, the fabric of choice for London Underground train seats.
London is a place close to their hearts and one of several citations around the home reflecting their personal interests: Cork-themed art and print work and space exploration being others, giving the home a lived-in feel even though they returned just last month after staying with Nicola-Marie’s parents while work was carried out.
Following the herringbone floor out to the hallway, patterned stairs carpet — loved by 1980s homemakers — has been replaced by chic black painted treads and bannisters, and the dreaded strewing of shoes in the hall now accommodated in a compact cabinet with extra space for post and car keys.
Storage solutions are clever all round, determined by what Nicola-Marie calls her organising paradigm. “I let the house get messy to see where the problem areas were.”
Upstairs the tricky bathroom shape is resolved with a roomy shower enclosure and streamlined storage filling what had been unusable space over the stairwell. But roll out the red carpet please for the flooring treatment, a terrazzo tiling delight in a crushed raspberry hue, carried up the shower enclosure walls.
In addition to all this style, full advantage was taken of floors being pulled up to replace oil central heating with electric radiators; and the installation of insulated plasterboards — thanks to a retired plasterer in the family — has mitigated helped with heat-retention shortcomings of '70s breezeblock construction.
In just a few months, without a centimetre added but meticulous design planning, the home has had “a full reset”, as James put it, and is ready for modern family living.