Deirdre Whelan is an associate with Scott Tallon Walker Architects. She is currently working on a project at the Old Head Golf Links Kinsale, and is also a judge on RTÉ’s Home of the Year. She lives in Dublin with her husband, architect Paul Kelly, and their daughter Anna-May. She talks to Katy McGuinness about her home.
Where and in what kind of house did you grow up?
I was born in The Netherlands – my mum was Dutch – and lived in an architect-designed house that my parents commissioned in the 1970s, it was open-plan downstairs. People in the area used to call it The Bunker because it was grey and there were no windows facing onto the street, so nobody had a clue what was going on inside. That used to upset me. When I was in my teens we moved to Ireland and into a typical Irish bungalow, with a long corridor and the bedrooms at one end.
Where was your own first home?
It’s the house that I live in now. My husband, Paul Kelly, is an architect with FKL and he and Dermot Boyd of Boyd Cody designed a terrace of three small houses in Rathmines on the site of what was a commercial shed. When one of our neighbours moved, we split the third house between two of us. The bedrooms are on the ground floor and the living space upstairs.
What was the worst place you ever lived?
I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never lived anywhere awful. In London, a group of us shared a house in Catford. It wasn’t the most salubrious of areas, but the house was fine. When we moved back to Dublin we lived in a lovely flat on Wellington Road, and then we bought the site. I look at some of the photos of flats for rent and wonder how landlords sleep at night. Some of those places are dreadful.
What’s the best thing about your home?
The light is amazing – it’s very bright, almost like being outside. When people come to the house, it’s the first thing they comment on.
And the worst?
I would love a decent utility room, somewhere to put the boots and coats and swimming gear. When we split the third house, there was a lot of discussion about what we’d do with the extra space, but we ended up deciding on an office.
How would you describe your interior style?
I liked a pared-back look that’s timeless but modern. I don’t follow trends and buy good quality pieces that are not frivolous and will last. At home, we save up for good things; we waited for four years to get the dining chairs that we really wanted – by Gio Ponti for Cassina. It makes me nervous when guests tilt back and balance on two legs as I know they’d feel terrible if they broke one.
Which architect do you most admire?
I love John Pawson’s work – it’s pure minimalism that’s almost monastic, executed with subtlety and attention to detail.
What is the worst design mistake you’ve ever made?
In Finland I saw beautiful woven paper used as upholstery on rigid wooden chairs. I bought it for loose cushions on a sofa and they looked good but kept slipping off.
What’s your next purchase?
Curtains. At the moment we have roller blinds in the living area and drapes would make it cosier, I think a little softness is required for the winter months. I’ve chosen a Danish fabric but we’re still debating about the colour – I’d go for something subdued but my husband would like something brighter.
Money no object, where would you live and in what kind of house?
I love where I live and wouldn’t change it, but if I could have a second house, it would be a little place by the sea in Deia, Majorca.
What one thing would you save from a house fire?
After my family and our dog, Moon, it would be photo albums and artwork.
Minimalist or maximalist?
I like when objects have space to breathe, so I am a minimalist although I do enjoy other people’s houses that are a bit bonkers. Even as a child I was keen on order and discipline – I didn’t like when people touched my things. I have mellowed since.
Has Covid-19 made you think about your home differently?
I worked from home at times pre-Covid and found it difficult – having a work space in your house is a constant reminder of what needs to be done. For me, having a shed in the garden, or somewhere separate, if you have the room, is preferable. Personally I would prefer to go to an office.
We have a forecourt in front of our house and Covid has inspired us to turn it from parking space into a communal garden, making the car secondary rather than primary.
Do you DIY?
I’m quite into DIY but I draw the line at plumbing. My husband is pretty good too – he installed the decking at the back.