Dermot Bannon shares advice on how to make our homes function better

EMMA CONNOLLY catches up with architect Dermot Bannon to talk about his love/ hate relationship with Instagram, how he spent his time during the pandemic, and why he is giving his time to the RIAI ‘Open Door’ fundraiser in aid of Simon Communities
Dermot Bannon shares advice on how to make our homes function better

Architect Dermot Bannon and Kathryn Meghen, CEO at RIAI, at the launch of a RIAI Simon Open Door in recent years. Picture: Colm Mahady / Fennells

PERFECTIONISM is Dermot Bannon’s pet peeve when it comes to houses. Anything styled to within an inch of its life will risk incurring the wrath of the country’s favourite celebrity architect.

“We’ve a puppy, and there’s a blanket in every corner and newspapers everywhere, and we’ve three kids, and it’s very messy. But it’s a happy mess, and I don’t feel frustrated by it when I walk in. My pet hate is when someone feels they have to have ‘a certain look’,” he said.

Houses and interiors are our national obsession, he says, but he wonders if we might be all taking it a bit too seriously.

“It’s a bit like how before we mightn’t have always felt that good about our bodies, I wonder is that happening now with our houses?”

And a lot of it could be down to Instagram, he says, even though there’s lots he loves about this space.

“Over the the last few years anyone who has done a big renovation job has documented it on Instagram and, most of the time, that’s great, and lots of people are very good at it, and at capturing that magazine shot. But can it make the rest of us feel inadequate about our homes? It probably can.”

But good architecture, he insists, is much deeper than a picture of a plant, and a lamp on a coffee table in the corner of a room, no matter how well photographed.

“A great space is something more — I don’t want homes to be just about pure aesthetics,” he said, talking a mile a minute and with his customary conviction.

“It isn’t about creating that magazine shot, it’s about creating a family space, that’s functional and well lit.”

Dermot compares it to someone who might have had plastic surgery, but still smokes 100 cigarettes a day, or someone who is more into their looks than their health.

“Our homes need to be full of our mementoes, bits and pieces and things that have meaning to us. 

"I’ve an old silver vase that my late Granny gave us which I have in our house, and which isn’t very architectural at all, but that’s not the point, it’s always going to be precious to me. And who is to say it doesn’t look right? Who are the Style Police?”

Lots might argue that he is, given his tendency to get his own way on his popular Room to Improve series on RTÉ series. And he has the good humour to laugh at such a suggestion!

The good news is that there’s a chance to get some of his straight-talking advice for your own house, as he’s an ambassador for the RIAI Simon Open Door, and along with some of the country’s architects, will offer professional help on home improvements in aid of the Simon Communities.

The RIAI (The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and the Simon Communities are calling on members of the public to support the 17th annual campaign which will run from Tuesday, May 4 to Friday, May 14.

In return for a €95 donation, homeowners will receive an hour-long consultation with an RIAI-registered architect to discuss building, rebuilding or renovating their homes.

All consultations take place online and all funds raised go directly to the Simon Communities to support their work in tackling homelessness.

Dermot Bannon.
Dermot Bannon.

Dermot said: “Lockdown has taught us all the value of our homes but also highlighted the issues within them. 

"We have all struggled with space and functionality over the last 12 months. Our homes have become not only the place we live but the place we work, teach, exercise, entertain ourselves and get some head space.”

Functionality (primarily a home office and utility) and storage, he feels, are the final hurdles for many homeowners to clear for comfortable living.

“We all had to look at all our s*** for so long during lockdown. Before, we could go out to work and leave behind the washing that was drying or those boxes you’d been meaning to clear, but suddenly we couldn’t. We used to have the good ‘dining room’ to put things into out of sight, but when we knocked down walls, we embraced open living so the final part of the reinvention of the Irish home is to get really good storage and function,” he said.

He was lucky to get into his own house, documented on the RTÉ series, not long before the pandemic hit.

“One of the reasons I chose to document it on the show was to keep the pressure on to get it finished, and if we were just a few months later we wouldn’t have made it and we’d have been stuck in a small rental killing each other,” he said.

Instead, his family, wife Louise and three kids aged 16, 13 and nine, by all accounts had a relatively idyllic time of it.

And for those wondering about the bath he has in his garden (well-documented in the series), it’s getting plenty of use.

“I put in a sauna in the shed, so we use the bath for cold showers. Saturday nights were sauna nights and we’d all head down to the end of the garden, it was a bit like going on holidays! The kids are getting older now so it was great to have them all around and spend time together.

“The amount of nights we sat around the fire pit, we didn’t even need to chat, the flames kept us company,” Dermot said.

He also joined the hordes of sea-swimmers, mainly for something to do: “But I’m nearly embarrassed to admit that. It’s like, how do you know someone is a vegan? They’ll tell you! It’s the same with swimmers.”

Schitt’s Creek on Netflix was another Lockdown pleasure: “I loved it. I watched it after Ozark so it was a bit of a palette cleanser!”

With regards to property shows, what does he watch?

“My favourite would be Grand Designs, the oldest and a classic. We’re the second oldest after that!”

He couldn’t stomach the Netflix reality property show Selling Sunset (“I tried it and hated it”), a bit like the Kardashians: “I’ve watched an episode or two but only to feel like a better person afterwards!”

Now that he’s settled in their new home, he wouldn’t change a thing about it: “Although my wife does think that, with the double height, where we have the mezzanine, it’s a bit noisy but I love it. And that’s the thing with families, nobody will agree with everything, it’s very hard to get consensus.”

There’s no date yet for the anticipated 13th season of Room to Improve, although filming for a slightly different style housing project is currently underway around the country, including Cork. Watch this space, says Dermot.

To book a consultation, go to simonopendoor.ie. RIAI Registered Architects can pledge to donate an hour of their time by signing up at simonopendoor.ie/architects

To get the most out of a consultation Dermot advises submitting plenty of images, a video, plans or even a quick sketch/diagram in advance.

“But really, it’s about keeping an open mind.. and doing whatever I suggest!”

TOP TIP FOR SUMMER

Dermot’s top tip when buying outside furniture is to remove all the cushions, parasols and everything else that comes with your set and see how it looks then. Why?

Because, unless you plan on storing it away out of sight, this is exactly how you’ll be seeing it for most of the year.

“If you’re still happy at what you’re looking out at, then go for it,” advises Dermot.

He also says to stick to simple shapes and lines his own preference is a chair with a footstool as opposed to a couch, and he stresses that you don’t have to spend a fortune on outdoor furniture: “We bought cheap wooden chairs around 20 years ago, with the option to oil them or not. They’ve now gone a silvery grey colour and look really nice.”

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