Sarah's Sunny Dublin Delight

Sarah's Sunny Dublin Delight

Name: Sarah Lafferty
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Size: 76 square meters (approx. 818 square feet)
Years lived in: 9 years; Owned

Interior designer Sarah Lafferty has created a space that's welcoming and warm despite the chilly Dublin winters. She pulled from her craft to renovate her home after a tragic fire, carving out a place that's uniquely hers without filling it with, as she puts it, "beautiful stuff." Not one to dwell on losing 80% of her possessions, Sarah saw the fire as an opportunity to start fresh, which says so much about her optimism and sunny, infectious personality.

Sarah discovered her home when working as an interior designer on a project in Dundrum. The project was building a town centre development, which she knew would have a huge impact on the area. While the development was being built, home prices in the area were still quite affordable, so when she found a home in poor condition but in an area she knew was up and coming, she purchased it. Dundrum is 13 minutes away from the city centre by light rail and now boasts excellent dining and shopping options. Sarah loves where she lives and is glad that she was not put off by the condition that the home was in when she purchased it.

After her purchase Sarah put quite a lot of work into fixing up her home, which makes the fire in 2005 all that more devastating. In her own her words, here are her thoughts about the fire and how that changed her perspective on her home:

In 2005 my house was destroyed in a fire. This is made all the more poignant by the fact that I am an interior designer — homes are my life and passion. I sense pity coming, but stop; actually it was the most positive thing to ever happen to me.

I lost most of my possessions, but what I realised was that I didn't need or particularly love about 80% of the things I lost. I had been pretty attached, in retrospect maybe a little defined by my stuff. I loved beautiful things. My house was coming down with them. I remember in the period just prior to the fire having an undefined irritation with the growing lack of space in my house!

As part of the insurance claim I had to itemise every single object that was in the house, and its value. During this process I discovered I had been the proud owner of 7 milk jugs, each individually beautiful, but collectively unnecessary. As I started to count up the cost of my 'beautiful things' a big lesson started to dawn. I could have traveled the world with the money I'd invested in 'stuff.' I should have traveled the world with the money I'd invested in stuff.

So the stuff took on a different meaning. I started to dislike the stuff, to recognise not only the waste of money it was, but also the waste of space. So what if much of it was well designed and aesthetically pleasing. I had purchased them out of a very human desire for newness and change. What I realised is that even the most beautiful objects become stale to the eye after a while, and then they just take up space and gather dust.

So I rebuilt my home, and before I moved in there was a quality of fullness in its emptiness, and I loved it. So I moved in but I kept the clutter out. The result is bright, spacious, calm and uplifting. I've started to really appreciate the beauty of a blank white wall, the spacious calm quality of no-thingness.

People don't realise how much space the clutter we all accumulate takes up. There is great truth in the expression 'what you own ends up owning you.' Everything you buy you have to store. If every year you fill another square metre of your average house, it's no surprise that people feel the need to move to a bigger home after five or ten years. In a lot of cases this isn't because their family has got bigger, they've just filled the house they have with too much 'stuff'.

And so I buy flowers. I love the ritual of it — choosing them, arranging, and placing them in the space. I love how, because they're a point of difference in the room, something that wasn't there the week before, they catch my attention. They have an unquestionable beauty, of course, but it's deeper than that. I watch them, watch them changing — reaching, expanding, opening, radiating — and then just as I'm getting tired of them, they die and disappear into the compost heap, so no waste.

I met Sarah while staying at her home, which I discovered on Airbnb. Sarah rents both the guest bedroom as well as the entire home. She loves to cook and is an incredible hostess; the care that she took in explaining elements of local food and history was excellent, and it's easy to see why her students love her (Sarah teaches 6 week long evening courses on interior decorating). Most of the time we spent chatting in the kitchen, and I could tell it's her favorite room in her home.

The space is so bright, and the pops of color against the white walls really stand out. Every piece of art is interesting and has a story behind it. Her home is feminine without being stuffy, and curated without feeling empty. Her green sensibilities go deeper than "greenwashing", and she lives them out by being thoughtful about purchases and striving to live in a way that's economically and environmentally responsible.

Contrary to many stereotypes about Irish design and architecture, Sarah's home is very open, sunny, and warm. She's created a space that feels homey without being cluttered and modern with a nice nod to the past. Her office space is well situated, and the way that she blends home and work is exemplary. Sarah loves to host, and while it would be impossible for her to host everyone and cook for them while supplying the story of each item in her home, she's doing the next best thing, a House Tour.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Light, uncluttered, cheerful and contemporary, yet tactile and soft.
I don't like design that is superficial, keeping up with the Joneses kind of stuff. I believe in functionality. As the car manufacturer Volvo says, 'Good design isn't a matter of styling the surface, if it's not functional it can't be beautiful.' I create homes that don't just look good, but more importantly function in a way that fits the lifestyles of my clients, and I believe that more than anything enhances the quality of their daily lives

Inspiration: Scandinavian design and the design philosophy of William Morris, but more than anything I'm inspired by the people I design for. When people let you into their homes, they're letting you into their lives. It's personal, and it's a privilege. Every home I design is very different because every client is unique. I spend a lot of time listening to their unique needs and distinctive tastes, and I hope the finished piece reflects them as individuals and not my ego as a designer.

Favorite Element: The curved stainless steel handrail on the staircase in the bedroom. I spent a lot of time getting a very particular curve on it, and actually had it redone when the manufacturer didn't interpret it exactly. It's such a simple piece, just one piece of tubular steel flowing from the bottom of the stairs to the top, so it was vital that the curve was smooth and effortless looking. There's an almost musical relationship between it and the zigzag of the floating staircase. I'm so happy with it I put a photo of it on my business card.

Also the underfloor heating. It feels amazing in winter to be standing in your kitchen, warm and barefoot, looking out at snowy weather.

Biggest Challenge: Getting an ensuite bathroom into a very small space on the mezzanine above the main bedroom. It's a very small space so there was some very careful space planning to make it work. The ensuite bathroom is a wet room with a very clever corner toilet that fits perfectly in the corner, and recessed shelving built in above. There's the tinniest window the manufacturers could make. That looks out onto a honey bee hive I now have on the roof; it's great to watch the bees busily coming and going in summer, and now they never come in the window. They're too busy collecting pollen. We just got our first harvest of honey, and it's the best honey I've ever tasted. The sink sits outside the ensuite to maximize usable space. The mirrored wall behind it really opens up this tiny corner, which really is very tight.

What Friends Say: 'Wow, it's so bright in here,' 'I always feel really calm in this house,' and 'It feels bigger than it is.'

Biggest Embarrassment: I really can't think of any! I guess I'd been working as a designer for quite a few years when I renovated my own home, so the learning curve of making mistakes probably happened in other people's homes, unfortunately for them! I think I would have made my wardrobe space a little bigger, but maybe I just need to buy less clothes!

Proudest DIY: Using simple Ikea blinds instead of going to the trouble and expense of designing and installing proper cupboard doors on the recess that holds the electrics in the hall, and similarly in front of the laundry area outside the main bathroom. It was really quick and cheap to do, and in the end I think a better solution than traditional cupboard doors. Though I have to admit it wasn't completely 'do it yourself.' Truthfully, my Dad did most of the work, I was merely his assistant. Thanks Dad!

Biggest Indulgence: My biggest indulgence was the bespoke designed stainless steel ladder that links the kitchen to the mezzanine studio. It's a bit of a folly really. There are only two occasions when it gets used. When children visit, they spot it immediately and want to play on it. Secondly, and similarly, when grown-ups get childish at parties and also want to play on it. The real access to the studio comes from the staircase in my bedroom, through the dressing room, but when working on the concept design I just always felt the two spaces needed to link in some way. Another staircase would have been ridiculous, so I arrived at the ladder idea and, as much as it isn't particularly useful, the house wouldn't be the same without it.

Best Advice: The best interior design advice I've ever heard comes from William Morris, the British designer/libertarian socialist behind the English arts and crafts movement. He said, way back in the 1880's, 'Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.' I think it's genius as a rule because there's absolutely no one it's not relevant to. It's so simple, so true, and also magically timeless. Consider it every time an object is about to pass your threshold and you'll find you let a lot less stuff in the door.

Dream Sources:

Irish Design Shop:
Located in Bow Lane, in Dublin 2, they stock quality, design-led products, all produced by makers living in Ireland. Lots of fresh ideas from recent graduates from the National College of Art. It's great to support them whenever I can.

On Essex St West, at the far end of Temple Bar, independent Dublin based store, offering an evolving collection of carefully curated objects, furniture and wares for the home and everyday life. Some are new, some are old, some industrial and some recycled. All are hand chosen for their beauty, function, quality and uniqueness. There's always something new and different in stock.

Dille & Kamille:
It's not local, but I love this home-ware store. They have outlets in Belgium and the Netherlands. I first came across it in Bruges. They sell a great range of very functional, but really beautiful objects for the home, kitchen and garden. The emphasis is on simply designed, good quality pieces made from natural materials. I love their collection of miniature items, like miniature clothes pegs. You can be really creative with how you use their stuff

Resources of Note:


    • Dulux matte white emulsion everywhere

People always express surprise when they walk through my front door. The exterior of the house has been restored with period features to retain its original Georgian Dublin charm, but when you walk in it opens into a large, bright and very contemporary space, and yet it works. There's no sense of one look clashing against the other. The hall is simple, lots of natural light from an overhead rooflight, and at night rotatable downlights highlight the artwork on the walls.

    • Italian limestone specially cut and laid in herringbone pattern by Italian Stone & Tile Company. 00353 1 4924891
    • ILED lighting

The ceiling height in the living area is a more standard 2.6 metres, compared to the double height of the kitchen, with a step up to create an intimate corner. The floor is limed solid oak parquet which echoes the pattern in the adjoining herringbone design of the kitchen floor. I designed an extra deep, U-shaped sofa to fit the space. I wanted something that you could really lounge on, like a Moroccan day bed. The space has no vertical glazing, so potentially it could have felt quite enclosed, but it's effectively uplifted by the generous light well above the sofa. The artwork on the wall below this is all my own. I have a degree from the National College of Art and Design. Orla Kiely, the bag designer, was a few years ahead of me. I still paint occasionally. The piece 'Photo and Jar' is by the artist Adam Fearon, my cousin, who was recently shortlisted for the John Moore prize. The alabaster duck egg blue jug was one of my parents' wedding presents. They never liked it, but I really love it, particularly the colour. I made the yellow cushions myself from silk bought on eBay. The television is deliberately not a permanent feature of the living area. It is pulled out of the spare room when required, but more often I watch TV on my laptop.

    • Sofa custom made by Sherlock Sofas, Navan. 046 - 9076932
    • Frames Ikea Ribba frames
    • Yellow silk cushions DIY
    • Pink cushion Ikea Renate
    • Textured photo and jar by artist Adam Fearon

At the top of the stairs there is a sliding door into the studio that overlooks the kitchen. Removed from the main living area, it's very easy to concentrate in this hidden little space. The light is beautiful in this space. There is a large expanse of roof glazing above it, through which you can see nothing but the sky and the top of a neighbour's oak tree. There's a stainless ladder from the kitchen to the studio mezzanine above. The main access to the studio is from the staircase in the master bedroom. The custom made brushed stainless ladder to the mezzanine studio above the kitchen serves as an interesting vertical link between the two spaces without taking up the kind of space a conventional staircase would require.

    • Frames by Ikea
    • Shelving/storage in studio by Ikea, Besta Burs
    • Desk: Ikea Vika Gruvan/Vika Fagerlid
    • Ikea Gregor Chair
    • Frameless glass balustrade and brushed stainless steel ladder by OMC Engineering

The most important room in the house was always going to be the kitchen. Even though it's a north facing room, by using lots of white in the walls and kitchen units, even on a dark November day it is incredibly bright. It's a very uplifting space to be in.

The space planning of most homes is so dull and uncreative. I love the open, uplifting feel of the double height ceilings and mezzanines. I love cooking, and the kitchen really inspires creativity. I've definitely become a better cook since moving into the house. When friends call over, I love feeding them around the big kitchen table that can fit eight or squeeze ten.

The Italian limestone was specially cut in longer stripes and laid in a herringbone pattern to give a softer, more domestic feel to the stone. I used grey grout with the kitchen tiles instead of the usual white to emphasize the brick wall pattern. The kitchen unit doors are deliberately simple and handleless to blend in with the white walls. I love the industrial feel of the stainless steel worktop, which I had custom made. A shelf is created out of an architectural feature in the kitchen to hold my cookery books and a collection of tin boxes. One whole wall of the kitchen opens up into the courtyard, and it feels like an extra room in the summer. It's easy to pull the kitchen table outside and dine al fresco. The flower beds that form part of the decking double as bench seating. This summer, I had a full back wall of 9 ft high sunflowers. It was really beautiful and very private so I was always out there.
I specified the cylindrical cooker hood as a statement piece. Most cooker hoods are quite ugly.

    • Kitchen table from Habitat Radius
    • Dining chairs: Ikea Urban chair
    • Tiles by Homebase (metro 100 x 75mm)
    • China plate on wall designed by London graphic designers Pony (London) and Cake Café owner Michelle Darmody
    • Framed posters from the 'They are Us' exhibition in Dublin, a collaboration between graffiti artist Maser and musician Damian Dempsey

Master Bedroom. The room is at the front of the house. The window is a preproduction of the original Georgian sash window. During the renovation, the interior surround was gently angled in the period style to allow for maximum light. The window is so beautiful that I didn't want to clutter it with drapes, so I hung a simple cotton voile blind instead. The huge stainless steel surround mirror was grabbed from a skip on a clothes shop renovation I was working on. I associate clutter with stress, so the room is deliberately quite bare. I wanted it to feel like a boutique hotel room so all the stuff is kept upstairs in the dressing room. There's a hidden downlight over the bed. The Italian plaster plaque is a subtle feature during the day, but lit up at night, it really comes to life. The framed photos on the wall were both taken on the beach I lived beside when I was a young child. One was taken when I was three years old and the other 30 years later. I kept the space beside the beds deliberately uncluttered, and it's nice not to need a side lamp, as there's a slim line hidden downlight over the bed. I installed double light switch panels so that I can control all the lights in the room without getting out of bed. I spent a lot of time designing the staircase to get it just right. I love the way it feels quite domestic, with its fan of triangular oak parquet steps, but then it's juxtaposed against a clean lined stainless steel handrail which is just one piece of tubular steel bent into the most beautiful curve. I found the pendant light in my bedroom abandoned and dusty in the corner of a lighting shop. It's a globe of metal wires, the same wiring that's used for making coat hangers, with tiny lights worked through it. The dappled light from it creates a beautiful texture on the white walls.

    • Italian limestone especially cut and laid in herringbone pattern by Italian Stone & Tile Company. 00353 1 4924891
    • Double glazed period reproduction sash window by Munster Joinery. 00353 64 7751151
    • Side tables Ligne Roset Good Morning table in brilliant chrome ph 0870 7777 202.
    • Bedlinen by French brand Jalla and Dorma
    • Full height Mirror vintage
    • Floor lamp BIANCA 30 from Modiss.
    • Art by Brid McCarthy
    • Wardrobe by Laura Ashley
    • Window blind by Ikea
    • Italian plaster plaque by

I used the same metro tiles that are used in the kitchen. As I previously worked as a textile designer, I love creating repeat patterns. I used two different size tiles and created a very French looking pattern with them on the walls. I used grey grout instead of the usual white to enhance the pattern (also it's easier to clean!). The floor and the side of the bath are in a beautiful green marble mosaic. You can justify the expense of materials like this when you're putting them in such a small space. I used a mirror on one wall to open up the space. It sits really neatly between the tiles, and I got a hole put in the middle of the mirror so that I can hang a painting in the middle of the mirrored wall to break it up. It sits really nicely around the painting. The Provencale wardrobe from Laura Ashley was the only piece of furniture salvaged after the fire. It's still slightly smoke stained, but this gives it an attractive vintage look.

    • Tiles by Homebase (Biselado Metro Wall Tile - Perla - 15x8cm - Pack 22 £10.29)
    • Floor tiles - Green marble mosaic from Tilestyle
    • Bathtub - Shires
    • Shower head - B&Q (end of line)
    • Shower curtain rail - eBay find

Thanks, Sarah!

(Images: Joelle Alcaidinho)

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