What happens when ridiculously talented wedding planner Kate O'Dowd of love & gatherings gets a home of her own to play with? Expect magic, fun and games, as well as plenty of ideas to plunder.
Kate O'Dowd and her husband Brian Price bought their house in 2012, when she was seven months pregnant with their eldest son, Teddy. "The house was in pretty good nick," she recalls, but it still wasn't "quite the bright, spacious, modern refurb we'd been dreaming of."
Nevertheless, it was "warm, dry and had enough space for us and a couple of chizzlers." The layout wasn't perfect for the couple, who had been living in an apartment ("great for parties, not great for babies"). But, says Kate, "we loved the bones of the building: the high ceilings and original floors, and the fact that the garden was long enough for us to grow into. Plus, it just felt nice."
The first step was to paint over pretty much everything. The house itself dates to the 1870s; it is on an Edwardian terrace, having first been home to a naval engineer and his family. "We've loved uncovering snippets of the house's past," says Kate. While working on the bay window, Brian discovered that gaps had been stuffed with newspapers from 1903. "Another time, we found a 1980s Valentine's card in the attic."
Living in a house which has been loved, but never completely gutted, by different people over the generations has, as Kate describes it, its drawbacks, "but there's also something about its imperfections that I love. Our under-stairs storage cupboard is like a time machine; you catch a glimpse of the 1940s in the wallpaper every time you open the door." When they moved in, a neighbour came by to tell stories of the house and the street. "Plus, he promised me there are no ghosts, which I value, highly!"
With Teddy on the way, Kate and Brian stuck to superficial work, which essentially meant painting layers and layers of white over the dark-coloured walls. It's a simple refresher and is your first and best option when time (and budget) are tight. But how do you get from a white backdrop to a house that pops with a sense of fun, possibility and magic like this one does?
Simple, says Kate. "The white allows for bringing as much colour as we liked into each room, through furniture and accessories, which we swap and update regularly." The family have decided to leave a full-on revamp of the kitchen that came with the house "until our kids are a little more self-sufficient - and in a way, it's nice not to care if someone floods the bathroom or uses the kitchen cabinets as a scooter torpedo target?"
This laid-back attitude to family living makes for a wonderfully relaxing home. The house is also a great space for Teddy, young brother Albert, and Mo the cat to spread out. "I've come to learn that there's no benefit in trying to work the life of a child around your ideal home design," says Kate. "It has to be the other way around, or you'll find yourself in a constant battle with small plastic things." Simple, robust storage is the solution, including shelving, "which allows toys to be displayed, rather than hidden - if everything goes into a big chest, everything gets tipped out of a big chest."
She also brilliantly makes tidying up into a game, by encouraging Teddy and Albert (though not Mo, of course) to hang their play masks as busts, arrange their books and toys on the shelves - all as part of the fun. "Teddy is at an industrious age, and needs space to paint, build or realise the little movies that play out in his mind; so he uses his 'work desk' a lot."
Meanwhile, younger brother Albert is at the age where he likes to wander about, and hide, "so his playtent is his own little lair, in which he can store his collection of stolen Lego people." And what is Kate's biggest tip for making a house that children can love, grow and thrive in? Put all your precious things above waist level.
Her other suggestion is, if you can, keep their play area near where you spend your (non-working) time. "It makes sense for it to be adjoined to our grown-up area. We have an archway between the two spaces, which allows for a mental division and a physical marker for sweeping toys over to their side, come sundown." Kate also places a lot of value on a good sofa - for winding down at the end of a long day. Theirs is from BoConcept, "a splurge when we first moved in". To add to the relaxing vibe, the couple like to light the fire, and Kate's favourite scented candles from Dyflin and Cloon Keen Atelier, then sit back to let the evening settle in.
It's no surprise, given all this creativity, to discover Kate's background: she previously edited BASH magazine, and now runs love & gatherings, a wedding planning and styling studio. It's a warm, accessible take on wedding planning and event styling, that gets rid of the austere approach that some traditional planners take. "After all," says Kate, "many people end up having the wedding they think they ought to have, not the one they want."
The powerhouse for all these ideas is the loft space in Kate's home. "I often find great DIY ideas through working on event installations," she says. "The flower wall in my studio took all of 20 minutes and a maximum of €20, spent on fake flowers and white tack, to create. It brightens up my days no end."
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