Alannah Monks is the first to agree that living with an interior designer can pose certain challenges. Her husband Patrick jokes that she has reduced the square footage of the house by repainting it so often. “The walls are getting thicker by the coat,” she laughs. But she has no regrets. “The day I stop being creative in my own home is the day I die,” she says. “Homes are constantly evolving spaces and shouldn’t ever be a time capsule.”
The couple live with their two daughters in north county Dublin in a house they built 10 years ago. That process was a bit of a blur. “I was pregnant, and we were living in a rented house with a bad mould problem, so we had to get out quickly.” Within six months, they had built, and moved into their house.
Planning guidelines meant they didn’t have much scope in designing the exterior of the house, which she describes a “a bog-standard dormer bungalow”. But it’s a different story when you step inside, into the double height entrance hall, flooded with light. The hall is also home to the piano and a few other stringed instruments. “It’s a really lovely space to have instruments because the acoustics are great with the double height ceiling,” she says.
If their house looks familiar, it may be because it was selected to take part in the Home of the Year series on RTÉ in 2020. Offering your home up for such public criticism may be daunting but she heartily recommends it, despite the 5am start on the morning of the judges’ visit. “It was nice and terrifying in equal measure, but it was a lot of fun.”
She also found herself agreeing with some of the judges’ criticism. “I remember one of the judges [Deirdre Whelan] commented about the position of the spotlights over the counter tops and she was right. Had I had more time when we were building, I would have asked the builders to move that spotlight one foot to the right. I don’t mind criticism and to be honest, so much about interiors is subjective. You can’t dwell too long on how other people view your home. After all they don’t have to live there.”
Their experience of living in the house brought the realisation that they should have done some things differently. “We didn’t have a lot of money and we tried to do a lot ourselves, including project managing it,’’ she recalls. The builder would come and say he needed the sockets, or wall lights, and we’d pick ones, but they’d be out of stock for six weeks, so we’d go with what was in stock. If I was doing it again, I would be a lot more detail-orientated.
“But if someone asks what sort of door hinges you want and you’re eight months pregnant and rushing to get into the house, all you want is a hinge that opens the door.”
Her advice to anyone building a house is to focus on things that matter. “Don’t get hung up on things like sofas because you can change them, but take your time thinking about where you want your electrical points and light switches and what kind of flooring can you live with. Think about the radiators and the type of stairs you want because these are really costly things to change.”
But she has no qualms changing certain things in the house and she has continued that since the house was featured on the Home of the Year. The oak kitchen was originally grey, and then navy before she took out the paintbrushes again to turn it green.
But the biggest change is the conversion of a junk room into a bar and entertainment space. “During the Covid lockdown we were all cooped up in the house and felt we needed another space to get away from each other. We got the dart board and brought the games console here and installed the Guinness tap.”
The couple built the bar themselves, over three weeks. “It was a steep learning curve. Other than the electrics, we did everything, the keg system, the tiling, carpentry and painting. I was going for that cocktail bar feel – a friend described it as a hotel lounge which I take as a compliment. It’s a mix of mid-century pieces that I do love.”
She says it’s the perfect place for family gatherings but it’s also well-used by the children for video gaming, and by Patrick when he wants to watch football in peace.
The large artwork behind the sofa was painted by Alannah, when she couldn’t find what she was looking for within her budget. She also created the wall murals dotted around the house.
Building their own home brought an unexpected but welcome side effect. She was a fashion writer at the time, but working on the house helped her find her true calling. She left journalism and became an interior designer. “I worked in a few places and found my niche in creative direction for interior photography styling,” she says. She is now the creative director of Oriana B, an eclectic furniture and homewares shop in Dublin’s Fairview.
It’s safe to assume that her work is not done in this house. “Oh, you are never done. The sittingroom is on its last legs in terms of aesthetic, so I have lots of ideas for that space. I feel that we might have outgrown the pink and the colourful shapes that were very stimulating for the kids when they were smaller. Maybe we can now have something a little more grown up,” she says.
“I definitely see my home as an extension of my creative side. I’ll only stop if I lose inspiration and then maybe that will be a sign that I need to move.”
“Turning our hands to DIY showed us all these skills that we didn’t realise we had. There’s a great sense of satisfaction that comes with it. But most importantly, doing the house changed my life because I found my passion, career-wise.”
“Building the house in a rush and not thinking through decisions that were irreversible, or costly to fix. Things like the flooring, and where you put electrical points. You think you’ll change it later, but you don’t.”