Architect’s home renovation taught him to make room for life

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Creating extra space for a refrigerator forced Denise O’Connor to make a design and living decision. The architect and interior designer faced a dilemma that many homeowners face at one time or another.

She was surveying her own interiors from where she stood, in the middle of the kitchen, eight years after she and her husband bought their 1950s home.

The kitchen of Denise’s house. Photo: Ruth Maria Photography

“When we moved in, we didn’t do anything with it because our children were small,” she says.

“Then in 2016 I decided I needed a bigger fridge.”

So Denise called on a builder to talk about expanding the kitchen a bit, to accommodate the said refrigerator.

The builder, Florin of Robuild, confronted Denise with the facts. “He said, ‘Stop right now. Stopped.’

“We had wanted to expand the kitchen, steal some space in the garage to make a bigger space, and Florin just said, ‘No, you have to do the heavy lifting now and grit your teeth,'” Denise explains.

The exterior of Denise O'Connor's house.  Photo: Donald Murphy
The exterior of Denise O’Connor’s house. Photo: Donald Murphy

“And it was great – the kids were at a really good age for that [the renovation].”

And here we come to the life lesson.

Denise in her
Denise in her “happy space”. Photo: Ruth Maria Photography

“Because if you procrastinate, and I see that with a lot of my clients, you wake up one day and find the kids are ready to leave the house. And you never got to enjoy the house.

Denise and her husband have two sons aged 16 and 12 and lived and worked in London for several years before moving back to Dublin.

Denise O'Connor.  Photo: Mark Nixon
Denise O’Connor. Photo: Mark Nixon

Only one other family had lived on this property, in Goatstown, before. “There’s a fabulous garden, that’s what attracted us – and then the area also appealed to us, because it’s very close to where I grew up,” says Denise.

“I had been away for several years and we loved the idea of ​​the kids being close to their grandparents so they could walk to visit.”

Today, following the redesign, the kitchen/living room open to the rear, glazed, overlooking this garden, is Denise’s “happy space”.

“I love my garden and I always enjoy spending time there.

“We’re the kind of house where the doors and windows are always open, even when it’s raining, so it feels like we’re sitting outside.

“I also really like to cook and now it’s the house where the family comes for Christmas. It’s just amazing for everyone to be able to do that.”

Denise has always had a passion for art and design.

“It’s funny, I’ve always wanted to be an architect since I was little,” she says. “I loved art in school and I loved making things. I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to do and I started. And I just loved the course.

Indoor-outdoor space.  Photo: Donald Murphy
Indoor-outdoor space. Photo: Donald Murphy

“When I graduated I worked in Ireland for a year, then moved to London when my husband got a job there.

“It’s funny; I moved when everyone was coming back, just during the boom.

A view of the garden.  Photo: Ruth Maria Photography
A view of the garden. Photo: Ruth Maria Photography

In London, Denise experienced “so many different types of practice,” she adds. There, a company she worked with combined architecture and interior design. “For me, it was so liberating – that you designed the building but you had to fit it in and you had to think about how people occupied the space; it was a more complete way of working,” she adds. “You think about where the furniture goes when planning the living space.”

Back in Ireland, she worked for another company, then created Optimize Design. Then the recession hit. “I had to think very quickly on my feet,” she adds.

Denise worked for private residential clients. “A lot of people were calling me and saying they didn’t go with an architect to save money.” She says she saw a niche in the market to “give people the right advice early on.”

A room in Denise's house in Goatstown.  Photo: Ruth Maria Photography
A room in Denise’s house in Goatstown. Photo: Ruth Maria Photography

“People were terrified, just very cautious about spending. And so I set up Optimize. I would go out, I would give them advice, I would draw everything in 3D, I would give them a list of artisans. It just took off and 90% of those projects turned into full jobs for us. Now we bundle all architecture and interior design services together and that means we can customize the service. »

In the renovation of Denise’s home, she retained all four bedrooms, but made them more spacious, and the work involved an attic conversion, which adds to the family’s dream living space. “We now have four double bedrooms where previously we had two bedrooms and two storage rooms. We could have made it five bedrooms, but it was much better to have four very good bedrooms”, explains Denise.

Which is an interesting concept in Ireland. “People think it’s the number of bedrooms that counts, but it’s actually the usable space,” says Denise. “You walk into houses and there are rooms where you can’t even put the bed in, it’s just crazy.”

Denise O'Connor at home.  Photo: Ruth Maria Photography
Denise O’Connor at home. Photo: Ruth Maria Photography

She’s bringing her 25 years of project management expertise and personal experience in her own home renovation in the form of the new Home Renovation Planner, which will launch at tsb’s permanent Ideal Home show next weekend.

The open space.  Photo: Ruth Maria Photography
The open space. Photo: Ruth Maria Photography

the Optimize Home Renovation Planner is designed as a working guide to accompany homeowners throughout the renovation process. It gives homeowners the tools they need to avoid some of the costly construction or renovation pitfalls that many fall into.

Denise will be joined by Quantity Surveyor Patricia Power at the DFS Interiors Theater on Friday, April 1, to give visitors a first look at the book.

Denise believes that a planner should take the form of a paper ‘bible’: “It just has to be written down on paper, that’s the only way. Forget apps. »

  • the Optimize Home Renovation Planner is published by Optimize Design, at the price of 25€, and available exclusively onoptimise-home.com
  • The tsb Salon Maison Idéale will take place from Friday April 1 to Sunday April 3 at RDS Simmonscourt; early bird tickets are free online up to three weeks before the show and will then be €15 pp, seniors €10 pp, children under 12 are free; www.idealhome.ie
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