Careers in Cork: I got my dream career as a designer - eventually

As he continues his Careers in Cork series, TIMOTHY O’MAHONY catches up with Cathy O’Donoghue, who explains how her school education diverted her away from her chosen career - until she ended up starting her own interior design business
Careers in Cork: I got my dream career as a designer - eventually

Cathy O'Donoghue, interior designer.

CATHY O’Donoghue is a self-employed interior designer and interior architect, her business is Flamingo Interior Design and she is based just outside the city in Waterfall.

When my wife and I moved into our home a few years ago, we needed some professional help to renovate and modernise our kitchen and living space.

Cathy took us through her vision and reimagined the space as a modern, open gathering area, moving everything around and creating a beautiful modern space that has become the heart of the home.

Cathy had a stint in UCC where she studied Arts, but dropped out after a few months. She felt a bit lost since she was told to give up the things in school that she loved. Here, she explains how her career path went...

School Expectations

“At that age, you are impressionable and you lose direction and you’re told to just make money, get a job,” says Cathy. “You’re not told to do what you love.

“School can manipulate you or brainwash you into thinking that you should be doing this, this and this to get points. I dropped all the things I loved like music and art after third year because I was told that I wouldn’t get a high mark, which was so discouraging.”

The Beginnings of a Career

“I started on this career path when I began studying Interior Architecture in CIT back in 2004.

“It was a three-year degree course and I absolutely loved every minute of it. But I think my interest in this area really began in my childhood.

“My parents renovated a beautiful old farmhouse that I grew up in so I always had an appreciation and eye for interior design and architecture.

“My dad was also a builder and I remember asking him to build us a first-floor extension onto our treehouse and showing him a drawing I had come up with for him to work off. I think it would have needed planning permission if he had actually gone ahead with it!

“After finishing college, I worked in kitchen design for over a year.”

One of Cathy O’Donoghue’s residential projects.
One of Cathy O’Donoghue’s residential projects.

“After that, I opened a vintage shop in the city, as well as online, but in the back of my mind I was always hoping to return to interior design.

“After a few friends asked for my help with their own homes, I decided to take the plunge and I started up Flamingo Interior Design in 2016 and I haven’t looked back since.”

A Varied Routine

‘The best thing about my work is that every project and client brief is unique, so every design is different, which makes my work very interesting.

“Saying that, there is a little bit of pressure to constantly have the creative juices flowing, but recognising that challenge and focusing on something else like admin work when I feel uninspired is the trick to not getting myself into a creative rut.

“I also love that my day can be quite varied and no week is the same. It could be a site visit, followed by a home consultation, or sourcing items locally, and then a few hours in my home office in the afternoon.”

The Day to Day

“I design spaces for both residential and commercial settings, so I could be working on a three-bed semi-detached home design at the same time as a restaurant or hair salon design,” says Cathy.

“I offer a range of services from online or home consultations to room design packages.

“Some clients feel they need someone to manage and organise the installation, so I offer project management also. This is always such an exciting and rewarding part of the job as I get to see the progress and witness the design go from vision boards and floor plans to the finished result.’

Clients, Customers, People

“I would deal with lots of tradespeople and local suppliers every week. It’s important to establish a good relationship with these people as they get to know your style and how you work which can make my job easier.

“My clients can be anyone from a young family to business owners. The relationship with my clients is really important. Understanding their needs and then gaining their trust are the biggest factors involved to achieve a great design that works functionally too.’

The Challenging Parts

‘Trying to stick to a 9-to-5 structure can be very hard when you’re self-employed. If I have a lot of projects on the go or I’m under pressure with a deadline, I tend to work late at night after a full day’s work, and I find it hard to switch off during those really busy periods. I’m often dreaming about floor plans and colour schemes!

“In the first few years of business, I also worked at weekends as I felt it was needed, but I now treat weekends as precious time off to relax and spend with my family and friends.”


“One of my favourite ways to unwind is a sea swim, followed by a hot chocolate,” says Cathy. “I haven’t been in weeks, but I don’t mind too much at this time of year!

“In the evenings, a cosy night in with the fire lighting and something true crime-related on the TV is my ideal way to relax.’

An interior design of Cathy’s.
An interior design of Cathy’s.


“A great weekend would be a visit to Mother Jones Flea Market or the Marina Market, followed by a road trip somewhere west with my family for the day.

“I’m looking forward to the summer to spend more time outdoors and hopefully we can squeeze in a few camping trips too.’

A Tribe of People on the same page

“I work with some very talented and patient tradespeople who are also great to chat to about self-employment, as well as a group of fellow Cork interior designers who are great to bounce ideas off and share advice with.

“Self-employment can be lonely sometimes so I think it’s really important to have people to talk to who are in the same boat as you.’

What are your ambitions for the future?

“Over the years, my outlook has changed a lot regarding my career goals. The pandemic in particular changed how I want my career to grow.

“In the first few years of business, I was eager to grow my business and take on more clients and bigger projects, but that route comes with many sacrifices.

“These days, my aim is to create a better work life balance. Slow and steady growth with a focus on good design and good quality services is my goal these days and I think clients see that and appreciate the personal approach.’”

What are you working on at the moment?

“Right now, I am working on a few smaller residential projects, along with an exciting restaurant design in the city that’s in the very early stages at the moment.”

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