COLOUR QUEEN

TV ar­chi­tect Cather­ine Crowe likes to keep her walls white or grey, but her bold use of colour else­where is an in­spi­ra­tion. Edited by Mary O’Sul­li­van. Pho­tog­ra­phy by Tony Gavin

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - MY FAVOURITE ROOM - Op­ti­mise De­sign, 65 Mer­rion Sq, D2, tel: (01) 661-9020, or see www.op­ti­mise-de­sign.com ‘The De­sign Doc­tors’, RTE One, Thurs­days, 8.30pm

The De­sign Doc­tors is only on our screens a few weeks, but al­ready view­ers will know that colour is a pas­sion of ar­chi­tect Cather­ine Crowe who, with fel­low ar­chi­tect and busi­ness part­ner Denise O’Con­nor, presents the weekly in­te­ri­ors pro­gramme.

We have tended to as­so­ciate mod­ern ar­chi­tects more with min­i­mal­ism and clean lines, rather than with splashes of bright colour, but Cather­ine is one of a grow­ing band of young prac­ti­tion­ers who be­lieve they are not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. She’s par­tic­u­larly keen on the use of bold, bright art pieces to en­hance a home — and her own lovely home in Dublin 8 is full of such pieces. It’s not sur­pris­ing, per­haps, con­sid­er­ing that she once con­tem­plated study­ing art and was given her first paint­ing when she was just a lit­tle girl. “My dad was al­ways in­ter­ested in art,” she says. “When I was eight, he gave me my first wa­ter­colour. Ever since then I’ve col­lected.”

Cather­ine was good at art and ap­plied to the National Col­lege of Art and De­sign, but changed her mind af­ter talk­ing to an ar­chi­tect friend of her dad’s. “He said if I did ar­chi­tec­ture I could al­ways do paint­ing as well and, at the last minute, I changed my mind and went to UCD. I’m glad I did. Ar­chi­tec­ture is very hands-on, mak­ing mod­els, draw­ing, a lot of stu­dio time, do­ing stuff by hand; I was happy do­ing that. I still like do­ing stuff with my hands,” she says. Cather­ine worked hard, but also man­aged to fit travel, ex­pe­ri­ence of other cul­tures and fun into her stu­dent days — all even­tu­ally in­form­ing her in­ter­est­ing ideas around the cre­ation of liv­ing and work­ing spa­ces.

Af­ter three years in UCD, she did an Eras­mus year in Aarhus in Den­mark, then a year in Barcelona. “Anne Marie, the girl I went to Aarhus with, was go­ing on to Barcelona. I had never been in Spain and I had no Span­ish, which was ridicu­lous, but I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll go too’. I did ev­ery­thing from clean­ing bed­rooms and wait­ress­ing to hand­ing out leaflets, then I got on a Leonardo pro­gramme, which is sim­i­lar to Eras­mus and was quite good at Span­ish by the end of it.” There was a Span­ish boyfriend in the mix for a while. “Th­ese things hap­pen when you’re 21!” she says.

The Span­ish fling played it­self out be­fore she came back to fin­ish her stud­ies in UCD, which was just as well, as she met her now hus­band, Gavin Wheat­ley, also an ar­chi­tec­tural stu­dent in UCD at the time, al­most im­me­di­ately.

Af­ter she fin­ished her stud­ies, she worked for four years with the Of­fice of Pub­lic Works (OPW), which pro­vided in­valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence. “It was around the time they had lots of money. They took on around 18 grad­u­ates and they were very much ‘throw you in at the deep end’, which was fan­tas­tic,” Cather­ine says. “One of the projects I worked on was the Cus­toms House in Cobh in Cork. We got an Opus Award for that and I did the rid­ing school at Collins Bar­racks; I was the site ar­chi­tect. It was very hands-on, it was great.” She moved from the OPW to HKR, a cor­po­rate firm and from there to Ma­honey

‘Ar­chi­tects build th­ese amaz­ing white boxes and walk away and peo­ple come in and go, “How am I meant to live in this?”’

Ar­chi­tec­ture, which she en­joyed, but she re­alised she wanted to work for her­self.

“I met Denise at her sis­ter’s hen party. I’d al­ways got on very well with Denise. When she was in fifth year in UCD, I was in first year and we used to chat in the morn­ing go­ing to lec­tures. Ac­tu­ally, it was be­cause we al­ways missed our first lec­tures and we’d end up in the cafe­te­ria to­gether! At the party, she told me she had an idea for what she wanted to do. I thought it sounded re­ally in­ter­est­ing and we de­cided to go for it to­gether,” Cather­ine re­calls. They started their prac­tice in 2006, in Denise’s bed­room in her par­ents’ home. Three months later they got an of­fice, and seven years on their prac­tice is thriv­ing.

What bonded them was their love of in­te­ri­ors, colour, and paint, but they’ve evolved a lot. De­spite the re­ces­sion, they’ve been busy. They started in com­mer­cial, then went mainly into res­i­den­tial and cre­ated a pack­age called Op­ti­mise Home, which gives peo­ple a de­sign pack­age at a fixed price. It in­cludes ideas, and a list of sources and trades­men. It doesn’t in­clude the ser­vices of an ar­chi­tect be­yond the ini­tial ideas. As the many house projects on their web­site show, it’s been a huge suc­cess with cash-strapped home­own­ers want­ing to im­prove their liv­ing spa­ces. They are now find­ing that as well as res­i­den­tial projects, there is again a de­mand for com­mer­cial.

An­other chal­lenge was the film­ing of the TV se­ries The De­sign Doc­tors, in which home own­ers who wanted to im­prove their homes were se­lected to ex­pe­ri­ence the ser­vices of Cather­ine and Denise, and be filmed while do­ing so. “It’s in­te­ri­ors-based. It’s about the psy­chol­ogy of peo­ple and their houses, why they love them, or hate them,” she ex­plains. “It’s all about peo­ple, and fus­ing ar­chi­tec­ture and in­te­ri­ors. So much of the time, ar­chi­tects build th­ese amaz­ing white boxes and walk away and peo­ple come in and go, ‘How am I meant to live in this?’ The idea is about the in­di­vid­ual and how they can use the space and use it bet­ter.”

Cather­ine and Gavin, who mar­ried in 2006, use the space in their own home re­ally well. It is com­pact but clev­erly de­signed by both to max­imise light and the func­tions of the rooms. When they first bought the house, a red-bricked ter­race house in Por­to­bello, it was not a

pretty sight. “It had been derelict for about 20 years. No one had been in it and you could see the piles of wood­worm dust. There was a clap­board ex­ten­sion, the ground floor had fallen in and there was an out­side loo,” Cather­ine re­calls.

They were both heav­ily in­volved in the new de­sign, but did di­vide up some of the tasks; Gavin looked af­ter is­sues like in­su­la­tion, while Cather­ine did most of the in­te­rior de­sign. While there are two small liv­ing rooms to the front of the dou­ble-fronted house — one is a mu­sic room and the other a sit­ting room — the main liv­ing area is the kitchen/din­ing room at the back. The rear of the house was dark, so the cou­ple light­ened it with white walls, white porce­lain tiles and floor-to-ceil­ing glass doors open­ing on to the court­yard planted with ferns and bam­boo. “I wanted the look of a rain­for­est,” Cather­ine ex­plains.

Up­stairs there are three bed­rooms, one of which is en suite, and a bath­room. The main bed­room is at the back while one of the front bed­rooms is used by her 17-year-old step­daugh­ter Caoimhe and the other by her daugh­ter Is­abelle, four, and son Arthur, 15 months.

Though Cather­ine loves bright colour, she uses it mainly in ac­ces­sories — she con­fines the colour of walls to white and dif­fer­ent shades of grey. But ev­ery room has its own splashes of colour; in the mu­sic room, she ma­jors in or­ange, while yel­low is a theme in the sit­ting room and there’s lots of blue in the kitchen.

When Cather­ine and Gavin bought the house, they in­tended to sell it af­ter do­ing it up but, six years later, they’re still there be­cause they love both the house and the neigh­bour­hood.

Ob­vi­ously the medicine this de­sign doc­tor used on her own home worked.

Top right Art works are a big fea­ture of the liv­ing room, in­clud­ing sculp­tures by Cather­ine’s un­cle, the noted sculp­tor John Coll

Mid­dle right One of the rooms is de­voted to mu­sic ‘Gavin is in a band. Caoimhe is a fan­tas­tic mu­si­cian and she is in two bands,’ Cather­ine notes

Left The white units in the kitchen are from Ikea. Cather­ine adds in­ter­est with a wooden work­top and the touch of blue in the Le Creuset casseroles on the shelves Above Cather­ine in the din­ing area of her kitchen/din­ing room. Her grand­mother gave her the money to buy din­ing-room chairs, but was slightly taken aback when she saw that they were plas­tic

Bot­tom right The main colours in the kids’ room are green and red

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