Interior design whizz Suzie McAdam shares the secrets of how she turned her own house upside down

Suzie McAdam has turned her house upside down. Literally.

The house is Victorian, built in 1870 with the traditional configuration of bedrooms upstairs, the living area below, and a glimpse of the sea from the upstairs bathroom window. A sea view is a wonderful thing, but less so if you’re peering at it through frosted glass. McAdam and her husband decided that they could do better than that, and flipped the orientation of the house. “We extended the first floor to create a living area with a view of the sea,” she explains. “The bedrooms are down below.”

As an interior designer, McAdam knows how challenging a project on this scale can be – major upheaval and major expense are par for the course – but renovating her home has taken her understanding to a whole new level. “It’s been huge,” she admits. “I’ve done projects like this for my clients but it’s very different when it’s your own house. It has been incredibly stressful, both financially and in terms of time.” McAdam is one of the keynote speakers on the Inspiration Stage at House, Ireland’s biggest home and interior design show running this weekend at the RDS.

“I’m going to share my guidelines for delivering a really perfect interior,” she says. The secret is planning. And more planning. With a bit of extra planning behind it.”

Robert Baden-Powell devised the Scout motto – Be Prepared – and published it in Scouting for Boys in 1908. Sooner or later, someone asked the inevitable question: “Be prepared for what?” “Why, for any old thing!” Baden-Powell replied. That’s McAdam’s methodology in a nutshell. Preparation is everything.

“This is not about managing a self-build, it’s about creating a seamless interior, but the best way of achieving that is to engage with the project at the building stage. It gets a much better result and avoids costly mistakes. If you don’t engage, and come in at the end with lots of issues, you won’t get the result that you want.”

While it may seem counter-intuitive to be choosing light fittings and taps before the first brick is laid, this is exactly what she recommends. “One of the major pitfalls is not having key decisions made early on,” she says. “Pick all of your finishes – the wood flooring and the tiles – while the project is in the planning stage.” Doing this in advance will help to create a flow between different parts of the house. “It can be hard to have that level of decisiveness when you’re being asked to make so many other decisions, but I like detail and I’d hate to have a different floor level going from one room to another.”

Window treatments, likewise, should not be an afterthought. “Planning is very important. When people don’t plan their window treatments in advance they might be left with a window built up to the ceiling and no room to hang a curtain. You can fit a blind into the window frame but that’s never ideal.” Curtains are McAdam’s favourite window treatment. “I’ve been dreaming of amazing decorative fabrics after two years of dusty building,” she says.

Her other tip is to get to know your contractor. “It’s really important that you have a strong relationship, so work with someone that you can trust. Talk to them, and get them to understand your vision at the outset but listen to their opinion as well. I was really keen on the idea of putting in a decorative fireplace but I was worried about it. My contractor convinced me that it could be done, and now it’s one of the key features in the house.”

As well as the nitty-gritty of working with contractors, McAdam will also talk about how to understand your own interior style so that you can make decisions with confidence. “Pinterest and Instagram are great, but they’re making interiors become repetitive. I want to help people be braver and more creative. It gets a much better result.”

McAdam’s showroom, The Design Seeker, is due to open on Monkstown Crescent, Dublin, later in the year. In the meantime, House is bursting at the seams with non-normative interiors inspiration.

For many of the exhibitors, the show is an opportunity to launch something new. Zelouf + Bell have a stunning Makassar ebony cabinet inlaid with a wrap-around burr walnut branch, a marquetry crow, and a mahogany and bolivar jaguar with mother-of-pearl teeth. Inside, the cabinet has a shagreen bar-top and absinthe bottles tattooed on its interior drawers. The design is wild. So is the price, but a cat can look at a queen (or a jaguar at a crow).

Céadogán’s ongoing collaborations with Irish artists and designers are always interesting and their new series of Irish handmade rugs includes several designs by printmaker Deirdre Breen (from €1,545) whose simple striking graphics translate well into knotted wool. The Wexford-based company have also made a rug to a design by James Earley, who has a background in street art, stained glass, and graphic design. The spectacular rug, The Widening Gyre, is made in an edition of three (€9,850 each). If that’s not your price range, Woo Design has a good range of European brands like Zuiver whose leafy Palm carpet (€279 to €409) shows just how easy to live with a tropical print can be.

Paint, according to McAdam, is the one thing that you can leave until the end of a project, although this too requires a bit of planning. “Build a paint schedule,” she says. “It’s important to see how the light works within the room and how the colour changes with the light.” Denise O’Connor’s new Signature Collection by Dulux (from €72.95 for five litres of Diamond Matt) is arranged in “harmonising trios” of colours that will definitely look good together and are designed for the Irish light. Using them from room to room will create a sense of flow. Other paint companies at House include Fleetwood Paints, sponsors of the Inspiration Stage, and The Paintmaker’s House whose hand-mixed colours are designed for painting furniture.

Some of the House exhibitors – including Hedgeroe Home, CA Design, and Mokum Interiors – combine furniture retail and interior design expertise. Their stands will be a source of useful information but for advice that’s specific to a particular project, the Design Clinic at House offers one-to-one sessions with designers from the Interiors Association. The sessions are free and can be booked online. To make the most of 15 minutes, bring whatever pictures, samples, or floorplans you have. It’s all in the planning.

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