The real wow factor in a home is evident when you step beyond the front door of a regular house in a neighbourhood that's probably just like your own — and you see imagination has been given complete free rein.
And that’s exactly what made tonight’s finalist on RTÉ’s Home of the Year such a hit.
The third through to the grand finale is the second Munster home to win the weekly top spot this year. It follows David O’Brien’s Cork dormer bungalow in the opening episode, and Jen Sheahan’s renovated Dublin cottage last week.
Saara and Mike McLoughlin live in a semi-detached home in an estate in Limerick.
Their love of music and fun is evident throughout the colourful interior.
“It’s your absolute standard four-bed semi-d built in the middle of an estate with 180 other identical houses — but I know there’s not another house out there that looks like this when you walk in,” says Mike.
“It’s one of a kind and I love that.”
When they bought their semi-detached family home in 2008, it was “very beige and magnolia with cream carpets everywhere” and “lacked character”.
Beige and magnolia: Begone! Imagine instead leaping into the sort of fabulous Technicolor rooms that might result were Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton to join forces and decide to try their hand at interior design.
“Saara arrived home one day with a teal candle from town and I’d say it’s the most expensive candle that we ever bought because nothing in the house ever matched the candle so everything in the house had to be changed to match the candle — so yeah, that’s where it all kicked off,” says Mike.
They have since taken out all the carpets and installed laminate flooring as well as painted every single surface in the house.
They added their own colourful and eclectic style with a touch of bohemian and Scandi influences, teamed with a mix of modern and mid-century furniture.
Saara takes up the tale, indicating their favourite spot, the snug attic space: “The big job for 2020 was doing the attic. We were missing somewhere to do the laundry, and Mike’s workspace — it’s the one area of the house that we have been able to design from scratch.
"This is our favourite spot it’s the area we retreat to at the end of the day,” she adds. “The room feels like a warm glove that just wraps itself around you.
“I love coming home because it just lifts me up.”
They like to blend old and new to create a warm and more interesting finish than having everything new.
They undertook the design and most of the work themselves and love it reflects their personalities.
It’s a “joyful and playful house that is an unexpected surprise behind a suburban façade” agrees judge an interior designer Suzie McAdam.
“Although there’s a lot to take in you cannot deny the homeowners’ dedication to transforming this home into something that’s packed full of personality and creativity,” she says.
And you know, you just know, the moment they open the lime-green front door, Suzie and architect and fellow judge Hugh Wallace are gazing into their very own version of wonderland.
“My goodness, my eyes are alive. Isn’t this just extraordinary? I don’t know where to look,” blinks Hugh.
Suzie strolls into the mint-green kitchen — and it’s like she’s jived back in time. “I almost feel like I’m in a diner from the 1950s,” she breathes.
But architect Amanda Bone is not quite as convinced: “I’m going to have to be honest here. It’s not an overly large space. There’s too much going on. I couldn’t stay in here very much longer.”
And fair is fair. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and that’s what makes the series compulsive viewing.
While she admires the connection to the garden, the converted attic space and children’s room, Amanda did state at the outset of the programme that in general her tastes run to homes “where your eye isn’t assaulted by objects”.
Amanda muses that the house expresses the homeowners’ personalities and tastes “but it’s just not for me”. “I just don’t find it restful because of all the colours and all the patterns,” she says.
She adds: “It doesn’t feel effortless. For me, it feels forced. They’re definitely trying to recreate a certain type of style."
Hugh and Suzie disagree. “I don’t think it’s forced. It’s considered. And good design is considered,” says Hugh.
Amanda’s calm, cool, measured response? It's one I think really should be printed on T-shirts: “Well, I love how we’re all different but you’re all wrong.”
The judges gave it a score of 25.
The first home the judges visited was Lydia Mudge’s converted mill apartment in Co Antrim, above.
It was in good condition when she bought it in 2018 and it was a blank canvas with the colour magnolia on every wall.
The 1800s property was used as a cotton mill, then moved to manufacture linen and was converted into apartments in 2003.
Lydia loves colour and expressing her personality through décor. She describes her style as “eclectic, industrial with mid-century touches”.
Lydia decorated her home herself. Her dad has built several pieces of furniture that she helped to design (coffee table, coat rack, box seating in the nook and loft bed and more!).
One of the big changes was to add the loft bed in the spare room to add more floor space. Lydia loves the exposed brick, the high ceilings and windows.
The judges gave it a score of 23.
The second home was Olive Wilson’s home in Co Louth, above — a renovation of her old family home. Olive and her husband Fergal took on a total renovation of the 1970s bungalow from 2018 to 2019 resulting in their new contemporary home.
They only kept the front and two side walls of the original bungalow. The rest was demolished, and all internal walls knocked down.
They then extended both up and back, increasing the floor space.
The kitchen, dining and living room are all part of the one space, and there is a nod to mid-century style here.
The front of the house is northeast-facing so with little natural light flowing in, they have styled these rooms a bit differently with stronger, dark colours, using some older furniture.
Olive describes their style as a mix of both old and new.
She likes a number of different styles and has always loved the mid-century look plus she likes colour and character too.
Olive works as an interior designer and in her own home she wanted to create a look that is individual to her own taste.
The judges gave it a score of 21.
- Home of the Year airs on Tuesday nights on RTÉ One at 8.30pm or catch up on RTÉ Player, www.rte.ie