Photographs by James Fennell.
When it comes to renovation, sometimes the only answer is to remove everything and start from scratch. Fashion designer Laura Bradshaw and solicitor Joe Stanley purchased this Sandymount property in 1994. The three-storey townhouse was formerly a servants quarters; a doorway leading to the next-door house was later found on the second floor during the restoration. They initially hoped they'd get away with just removing the plasterwork and floorboards. "However, it turned out that the joisting was so rotten that we ended up completely gutting the house, taking everything out, window surrounds, fireplaces, everything", explained Laura. Joe had assigned himself the task of redesigning the house; the hollowed out shell offered him a good perspective to consider the options. Within a year, the couple had transformed the building into an enchanting home that they are now much enamoured of.
"It wasn't easy to do a job like this in 1994. A lot of things you get today weren't readily available then. And we were just married so we didn't want to spend a fortune". One of the first major steps they took was to build an extension on to the back of the house so that the potentially cramped nature of the house would no longer be an issue. This extension allowed for a particularly fine open living room / kitchen area on the ground floor. "We spend all our time in here. When the day is done you just want to chill out and this is the perfect place to do so", explains Laura. After a career that took in three years at Selfridges of London and another three as a translator in Spain, Laura opened Aura in Sandymount in 1999, bringing out her own unique range of scarfs, throws, slippers and covers. She is also busy raising a small boy called PJ.
Laura confesses a fear that the design might look a bit too Eighties, "a bit too Kajagoogoo". She need fear not. The colour scheme works delightfully well, especially where the playful multicoloured tiled kitchen floor is mirrored in a chequered rug from Minima in front of the living room fire and again by an abundant collection of colourful cushions, many from Vietnam, and an Italian rabbit fur rug draped over the sofa. On the walls hang works of modern art that further enhance the colour scheme, including a piece by William Crozier and, above the stove, a commissioned wedding gift by Alan Ardiff (the snail and fish). Two botanical paintings by Cliona Doyle hang to the left of a sturdy silver Ariston fridge which reflects the colours once again. In summertime, the kitchen opens out to a small garden. In winter, attention is transferred to the impressive fire stove, built by Henshaw's of Dublin in 1890. The effect is one of fun loving and the sturdy fire stove is the focal point; not the TV set which can be discreetly wheeled away when not desired. A bookcase full of contemporary novels, histories, biographies and interiors lends a learned ambience to the room; a tall collection of acid jazz, hip hop and other CDs adds to the groove.
Opposite the kitchen is another, smaller white-walled room, the Study, which doubles as a guest room, courtesy of a grey Linea Rossey (check spelling) sofa-bed from France. In one corner stands a handsome oriental cabinet purchased on a recent trip to Hong Kong. "Because of my business I'm not intimidated by the idea of shipping things home", says Laura. "And Joe and I also find that being abroad is the only time we ever have to mooch around looking at things together. We've never rushed into buying things, which is why the house might look a bit minimalist in parts. But we are always adding new things when we find the right ones. It takes time". Above the sofa is an early painting by Robert Ryan; a second of his works depicting a one legged girl is on the upstairs landing . On the pinewood floor is a fine handmade Indian woollen rug.
The drawing room on the first floor overlooks Tritonville Road itself and tends to be the least used of the three. However, complete with 8-inch thick oak floorboards, it is nonetheless a fine room, boosted by Cliona Doyle's "Pink Orchid" above the fireplace and by some handsome flower vases by Salviati of Venice. Two armchairs stand sentry by the fire; they date to the 1930s and formerly belonged to a gentleman's club in London. The doors date to the 1930s and came from a mental institution in Waterford. The cushions and throws are in the main from Vietnam. By the front door is the original of Paki Smith's "The Hedge that Surrounds Everything" from his acclaimed exhibition, "The Rose Hedge".
The two bedrooms are simple and unpretentious. Laura's scarves, throws and slippers tumble from a closet though she herself admits to being finicky for neatness. A print by Joan Miro of "Llama en El Espacio Y Mujer Desnuda" hangs by the closet. James Allen's "Interior With Uncle" stands opposite. In the child's' room is a fun painting from the Apollo Gallery on Dawson Street by TCM. An impressive tapestry, purchased in New York, hangs down the staircase; its creator unknown.
The kitchen and study both have French doors which lead out to the garden, a jungle of rubble and greenery until a few years ago and now a small lawn edged by rhododendrons, bamboos, a rose arbour, a cherry blossom and a red berried holly tree. On a patio beside the kitchen is a table and chairs shipped over from Spain and a barbecue. The exterior at the rear of the house has been painted camel colour.
Laura and Joe were sensitive to the fact the house itself was Georgian but their improvisations have succeeded. This is a colourful and comfortable house with plenty of room. The interior is flooded with light. It pours in through big wooden framed windows and skylights installed by Rational. Although they spend a good deal of time at their other house in Rosslare, Laura says she'll never leave Sandymount. "But I wouldn't mind an avenue!".
This article appeared in Irish Tatler in December 2004.