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Image / Living / Interiors
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“As a child I saw a colour for each day of the week” interior designer Louise Gallagher of Guanihlo Design, shares her career journey

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By IMAGE Interiors & Living
24th Nov 2022
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“As a child I saw a colour for each day of the week” interior designer Louise Gallagher of Guanihlo Design, shares her career journey

Interior designer Louise Gallagher took the leap to take on a new career challenge at a time when others might be thinking more of retirement. A role which has led her to the envious place of splitting her time between Ireland and Portugal, working on beautiful interior projects for a variety of clients.

Guanilho Design
Louise Gallagher and Francisco Guanilho Duarte of Guanilho Design

As a child I saw a colour for each day of the week. In fact, I see everything in terms of shape, colour and form – and the infinite combinations that can be obtained is endless. For example, bringing lovely pieces together, be they furniture, fabrics, a piece of art or sculpture, to create a harmonious composition, makes me so happy. 

Graduating from my various studies (UCD degree in history of European painting, followed by three years postgraduate studies in Paris at the Sorbonne studying art restoration and conservation and a fourth year at the Ecole du Louvre studying museum science), I returned to Ireland to work in the conservation department of the National Gallery and Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. Then cupid struck and I moved to London with my new husband and soon became a mother of two. 

I loved London. We lived there for six years. It was a wonderful period, discovering the sales rooms of South Kensington where the interior designers flocked to in droves. The availability and variety of fabrics and accessories in London was inspirational and formative. 

Guanhilo Design

A move back to the Irish countryside – and two more children followed, so they became my full time job but I continued to be involved in building projects all along outside of decorating our two homes in London and a country house upon our return. 

I enjoyed returning to my original career as a conservator when I was invited back by Sergio Benedetti (former head curator and keeper of the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland) to help restore some of the works that were being rehung. 

My background in art history and picture restoration has a huge influence on my interior design work. Apart from the academic side, it is a source of pleasure to look in depth at a painting to understand how the various elements work together to produce a thing of beauty.

In interior design it is the same: one colour beside another, one texture alongside another, an unexpected object in a new setting, as in an antique mirror or piece of furniture in a contemporary pared-back setting is not only sustainable but striking. 

I returned to study after a tragedy in my life and had the good fortune to return to UCD to complete another masters in history of art but this time with an emphasis on the history of architecture. My supervisor, Dr Chrisine Casey, directed me to research some mural paintings in a Georgian townhouse in Dublin.

This permitted me to deepen my knowledge and appreciation on an academic level of interior architecture, decoration and colour from antiquity through Renaissance times to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, all of which feeds into my work and an interior designer.

My connection to Guanilho Design stems back to February 2017 when I met Francisco for the first time. Although the company wasn’t set up for a further two years, I was working on my own project in Dublin having downsized from a family home that was no longer filled with the voices of the family. At this point my four children were forging their own paths.

Having had a longtime love of, and association with, Portugal I decided that I would like to incorporate some of the wonderful materials from Portugal, notably the stone and marble, into my design projects. (A very old and stately olive tree even travelled to Ireland for a client.)

Some friends of mine here in Portugal had a company supplying spas, bathrooms and kitchens and I asked them to become involved in the project. Francisco, a young architect at the time, had just returned to Portugal after seven years working in Angola and was assigned to work alongside our architect, Peter Clarke. I was so impressed with Francisco’s professionalism and attention to detail. A little later Francisco decided to go out on his own and set up his own practice.

As he set up the studio in Almancil, Francisco asked me to join the company. I was tentative at my age and stage in life when retirement is the buzzword of my contemporaries but I embraced the challenge for a number of reasons. In Francisco I recognised real talent for design, both of spaces and the shapes and forms that inhabit them and a very good eye for colour. The partnership was born and in the overlap of our different experiences and cultural backgrounds – southern exuberance and northern restraint – a wonderful symbiosis has emerged. We are artistically completely aligned.

My connection to Portugal goes back a long way. I first came in the eighties but my husband had travelled to Portugal as a child. We often travelled by car with our four children from Ireland which allowed us to experience the country’s rich culture and history. I have always been a great admirer of their craftsmanship.

Our approach is very simple, we aim to deliver “affordable luxury”, and something unique to each client. Every project we undertake is customised. We don’t carry stock, we treat each project as unique and everything is designed and manufactured for that particular project. We make sure we fully understand our clients needs, and deliver something with a little twist that lifts it out of the ordinary.  

We work on every kind of project, both residential and commercial. We are currently working on a 500 square metre restaurant build and fitout, a partial refurbishment of a home involving designing and building a new kitchen, and another client has asked us to remodel bedrooms and ensuites.

Earlier this year, we completely refitted a small studio of 55 square metres. It really is across the board, whether it be from the ground up or a simple refresh of bathrooms. 

Following and indeed during the pandemic there was a growing awareness of people’s surroundings and a greater focus on their homes, both the functionality of the spaces and their personal comfort.

Designing a house is straightforward, but delivering a stylish home that meets their expectations is another matter, and it is there that we have to pay very close attention to their likes and dislikes and interpret their taste in colour, texture and furnishings. We don’t take for granted that a client can visualise what a project will look like or what we mean by describing colour combinations or the shape of a piece of furniture in a room.

 We meet with clients many times to establish their taste and style. We often ask clients to create a picture library using sites such as Pinterest or Houzz or show us an image from a magazine and point out what they like in it, or not, as the case may be. 

On presentation of a 3D image of the design, the client can then add or remove and replace elements they like or dislike. It’s all about the client taking ownership of their project in such a way that it is their vision and not ours imposed upon them. 

When we get it right and see the client’s pleasure with what we have produced through teamwork, that is what makes the whole process worth it.

guanilho.com