Interior designer Denise Ryan’s best bits of Brussels and the French Riviera

Designer Denise Ryan set up Fineline Interiors in Ireland in 2000 before moving to London, where she stayed for three years before upping sticks to Luxembourg five years ago with her husband. There, they have Europe tantalisingly at their doorstep, being within 30 minutes of Belgium, France and Germany.

One of your most recent projects is Le Bateleur, pictured, on Nice’s Cours Saleya. What was the biggest challenge? The buildings on the Cours Saleya have historical listings, so the challenge was getting an awkward 300 sqm space to work while upgrading it for compliance with current local regulations. Spatial planning is a bit like putting a jigsaw together and there is huge satisfaction when it does come together.

Your top three French Riviera hotspots? Having designed three Ma Nolans Pubs in Nice Old Town, Nice Port and in Cannes, I am duty bound to mention them! Those aside, I love La Cave de Mougins, a wine bar in the hills above Cannes. Certainly, Beefbar on the stunning marina in Monaco is an experience, not just for its mouth-watering beef but for its no-expense-spared design.

You also fly in and out of Brussels regularly. Any favourite haunts? I try to stay at Les Chambres des Martin. The rooms are beautifully designed and it gives me a good excuse to go to the nearby Café du Sablon. They do takeout coffee, which is nice for walking around the antiques shops or the weekend antiques market. For lunch I recommend Claire Fontaine delicatessen – it’s hard to come away without stocking up on preserves – followed by window shopping (and chocolates) at the 19th-century arcade Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. For dinner, I’m a fan of sustainable seafood restaurant Bia Mara by Irish duo Barry Wallace and Simon Whiteside. The decor is simple but the food is far from it – I recommend their lime and lemongrass tempura with seaweed salted chips, paired with any local Belgian beer.

La Bateleur, Nice. Photo credit: Julie Dunin

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Do any specific design eras or movements inspire you? Since moving abroad eight years ago I’ve become more appreciative of Irish craft and design. When I lived in Ireland I looked outwards, to see what was happening elsewhere. Now I recognise that Europeans regard the Irish very highly for integrating design, innately and subconsciously.

Have you had any particularly farcical language-barrier fails? I’ve studied French, German and Spanish over the years but I need immersion to maintain them – and in Luxembourg, you can be exposed to at least four languages in a day. Once, when consulting on a café installation in an art gallery in Luxembourg, I introduced myself in French at the reception. The German receptionist consulted with her colleague in Luxembourgish. She then phoned the business owner in German, while her colleague began to converse with me in French. When she got off the phone we began to speak in French again, at which stage my mind had shut down, but she asked, “Do you speak English? My French isn’t so good!”

Where do you visit in Ireland? As soon as I land at Dublin Airport, I need a fix of sea air. I have family in Sutton, so a walk along Strand Road or around Howth Head does the trick. A bite to eat at The Brass Monkey on Howth Pier is a nice finish. On my most recent trip back, we went to Catch 22 on Clarendon Street and enjoyed a cocktail at Peruke & Periwig beforehand, finishing the evening in McDaids – without which no trip home would be complete.

What do you stock up on in Ireland that you can’t buy in Luxembourg? The thing I miss most is what you can’t buy. If I could bottle the warmth and the humour to take back with me, I would.

This feature is in the February/March 2018 issue of Cara magazine, the inflight publication of Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com). Follow Denise on Instagram at @isey.ryan. Feature photo credit: Julie Dunin

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