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How a Victorian villa came back to family life with clever design details

In part three of our Switch it Up series, we discover the inspiring transformation of a Victorian villa in Dublin 8. Now a bright and spacious three-bed family home, the renovation was something knitwear designer Laura Chambers “could not get her head around” but with the help of a talented architect and a skilled builder, who could bring her plans to life (and more), that’s exactly what she did.

Laura, who creates colourful hand-loomed cashmere knitwear under her Laura Chambers brand, lives in the striking period property with her husband Viv, children Emma and Evan and the family dog, Bailey, a rescue Cavachon.

The house wasn’t always a showpiece: when they bought it in 2014 it was dark, with lots of wooden panelling, a small scullery-style kitchen and insufficient bedrooms. It was also damp, meaning it needed to be completely dry-lined, and it had a poor layout. But it was in the area they wanted to live in, close to both work and Dublin’s cultural and entertainment hubs, so a renovation job was always on the cards to get the house to their dream home standard.

“A tiny extension had been put on the back of the property but other than that, structurally, very little had been done with it,” Laura recalls. “It was about 1,100 sq ft in size, which isn’t a tiny house, but the spaces just weren’t working.

“The house had a really good sized back garden, and I knew in order to extend we were going to lose a fair bit of that, which is a shame when you have kids. We needed to make the space bigger, but I still couldn’t get my head around how it would work,” she says.

A good architect proved to be the piece needed to finish the puzzle, and Laura worked with Jim Lawler of Melted Snow Architects to realise her wants and needs for her home.

“It’s such a lovely design and he brought a building that was really dated back into the modern era. We went from a very dark house to a property filled with light,” she says.

The plans saw them extend the house out into the back garden, putting two courtyards between the old house and the newer space. It’s something Laura says she wouldn’t have thought of and really showcases the benefit of working with a professional.

“I wanted a modern kitchen, something very open-plan, with a big communal living space. We now have an open-plan living, dining and kitchen area and it means I can look out at the kids in the back garden as I am cooking dinner, which is lovely,” she says.

One of the very few original features that Laura insisted on keeping is an old lilac tree situated in the back garden. It blooms each May and gives off “the most beautiful scent.”

“Every kid that comes in to the house dashes straight out to the back garden and climbs the tree. It’s amazing to have that in the city centre,” she adds.

To the front of the house, an attic has been opened above the formal sitting room and converted into a mezzanine office. Vertiginous shelving now scales the high walls in this space, and displays the couple’s vast collection of colour coordinated books.

“It’s an open airy space, and I can watch telly while Viv is working in the mezzanine. We felt if you sealed off the attic conversion, the room would have been quite small and lonely,” she says.

Upstairs, there are two bedrooms for the kids, while the master bedroom is on the ground floor and is in the location of the old kitchen.

Having completed the building work part of her home renovation, Laura says that when it came to decorating, she was so exhausted that she put little thought into colour schemes or tile choices and instead painted the entire property various shades of then on-trend off-whites and greys, totally unreflective of her personality. “My knitwear is very bright; I am all about colour, texture and print,” she points out.

That realisation led Laura to a phase two of her home re-do. “After a while I got sick of the lack of colour and I was nearly embarrassed when I opened the front door. The hall was grim, and of course this is the first place people see. So I called in the help of interior designer Elaine Verdon, who runs Leo + Cici. I was just supposed to do the hall but we clicked instantly, and she ended up doing a plan for the entire house. The pitch was called Joyful Maximalism. This was the look I’d always wanted,” she says.

Husband Viv had other ideas. “He decided he was a ‘joyful minimalist’ and when he saw the plans he was not impressed,” Laura laughs. “I was nervous as we were going from a very white house to a very dark house. But it doesn’t make the house darker at all, it makes it more homely,” she points out. “It’s a warmer, friendlier fun space, which is what I hope people see in my knitwear. I wear what my house is, I blend in.”

For a long time a home studio was on Laura’s wish list, but having toyed with the idea she has resigned herself to the fact it’s not a runner – though she has plenty of plans for other things she’d like to do in phase three of her home renovation journey.

“I’d like to break into the attic and move an en suite up there, or alternatively create a little walk-in wardrobe. That’s a few years away when the kids are big and bold,” she smiles. “For now I just love living here and being able to enjoy this gorgeous space.”

About Switch it Up

Switch it Up is a new 12-part series for those who might be considering switching mortgage provider to make savings on their monthly repayments. It is a follow-up to the award-winning Story of Home series, which explored the idea of home through the eyes of creative people who found their dream place to live.

Now, Switch it Up, which like Story of Home is supported by Ulster Bank, looks at helpful information on home improvements as well as renovators’ home tours. Plus, we’ve got helpful answers to your mortgage switching queries: from the incentives to how long it will take (not long!) and what’s involved in making a mortgage switch, read our Everything you need to know about switching your mortgage guide.

Perhaps now more than ever, we want our homes to suit the way we live and work, and being able to explore the potential in our homes offers us flexibility. This series is designed to unlock the ways in which we might Switch it Up in our homes as our wants and needs change.

Switching your mortgage could free up funds to help you make these changes. “At Ulster Bank, we want to be a part of the journey you take in making your home the best it can be,” says Sean Kellaghan, mobile mortgage manager at Ulster Bank.

“We want to make the mortgage switching process as simple and as hassle free as you do,” he adds. Kellaghan understands the stress that can come with making a switch, and he offers reassurance.

“We are here to help you, and the process is a lot shorter and a lot more straightforward than you might think. Get in touch today and we can talk you through the options and process.”

For more information, visit ulsterbank.ie

Ulster Bank Ireland DAC is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland

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