IT’S shaping up to be a pretty massive year for Gaff Goddess Laura de Barra, who is basking in the rave reviews of her book of that name.
Packed with tips and tricks on how to run a home (everything from how to clean a fridge to hang a picture), people are lapping up everything the fiesty Cork woman has to say.
Not that the 35-year old has had much time to bask in anything, with a hectic publicity schedule, including a recent Late Late Show appearance, and the small matter of making her wedding dress for her summer nuptials.
And of course there’s the day to day demands of her London-based job which includes everything from snapping up investment property, to unblocking toilets and drains.
This She-IYer (her phrase) is as comfortable brandishing a drill as she is her trademark red lipstick and is as likely to be seen in a power suit as she is a boiler suit (just accessorised with a leopard print belt).
Safe to say Laura is not someone who is afraid of hard work — and she typically works seven days a week.
Talking a mile a minute, she says: “I realised while studying fashion design at university and working three jobs to pay for rent and fabric that I could ‘do it’ — just with a bit of hard work.”
Growing up in Douglas, she went to Christ King Girls’ Secondary School and after doing a fashion course in the College of Commerce, moved to Edinburgh, and on to London to pursue her fashion studies.
She then worked as a designer for a high-street supplier, but when it became less about fashion and more about consumption, with a dawning realisation that everything was going to end up in the bin anyway, she sought something else.
Her boss wasn’t prepared to let this driven Cork woman off his pay-roll though, and offered her a job managing his property portfolio. This involves sourcing investment properties for him, sealing the deals, and getting them ready to rent.
“That could involve a complete overhaul or just some ‘zhuzhing’ up — you don’t know until you open the door,” she says.
She’s lived in London for seven years and now thinks of it as home, but always thinks of little touches to help ‘newbies’ settle in.
“I think about things like can the person turn off the bedroom lights while in bed; and I put a throw on the couch; and sparkling water in the fridge for them when they move in!
“There are lots of newbies in London and I like to think of them sitting on the couch on their first night and calling their mum and I want them to be able to say they’ve a nice home,” she says.
It was through this part of her work that she realised how useful it would be to be able to do things for herself and not have to wait for tradesmen to come, or potentially have them pull a fast one on her because she’s female.
Having said that though, it’s always been quite normal for her to deal with things herself.
Her parents divorced, and while her dad was around, she remembers her mum doing exactly that — seeing to whatever needed seeing to.
But through visiting DIY shops, asking questions, and learning on the job, she began to empower herself and started sharing what she was learning on her Instagram page, which ultimately led to the book offer by publishers Penguin.
“So, in a way, the content for this was being written for years in my notebooks, and from learning from my mistakes. I was always doing up notes for my clients and I used to give PDFs to friends who were moving into new houses on how to run their home,” she said.
Doing the illustrations as well as the content, it was still a huge amount of work but she says she enjoyed the project so much she never wanted to take a day off.
From the outset, Laura was adamant it wouldn’t be “a book for girls; some dummies guide to DIY in a degrading pink — I wanted smart men and smart women to buy this, to be confident to put it down on the shop counter and become a Gaff Goddess.
“It’s about taking away the fear factor. None of this stuff needs to be scary. It’s all easily learned — it’s just about sharing it.”
Laura is on a countdown to her wedding this July, to Shane Linehan from Ovens.
They met through mutual friends and dated digitally for three months before finally meeting and hitting if off immediately.
He works in digital marketing and was Dublin-based before moving to London. They’ve recently moved into a modern apartment, a purpose-built block in Hackney.
“We were living in a house dating from the 1860s and it felt every inch of it. We’ve a dishwasher now for the first time!” She insists they’re not your ‘typical bride and groom’.
“We don’t want to go into that wedding bubble where you come smack down to earth the next day. We want to sort of glide into it,” she says.
Getting a little emotional, she says she is most looking forward to their lives together afterwards: “But having said that, I’ll probably be the most stressful person in Ireland the week before!”
The name is something of her trademark, as Laura already has a greeting card business called ‘Thoughtful Goddess’.
“I also have a Goddess Hour every Sunday, which is something that makes my week ahead easier. It could be something like sitting in silence in a space that feels great; lighting a candle, or some mindfulness.”
A quick scroll through her Instagram page and you’ll get an impression this Goddess is also a bit of a bad-ass.
She laughs at the suggestion: “My comfort zone is being with people who don’t set limits for me.”
She feels that ‘everyone has been through f***** up times’ when it comes to things like jobs and relationship hardships, but feels ‘it’s about learning to enjoy the tough times for the lessons you can learn in the future’.
In other words, she says she doesn’t sweat the small stuff like having just a few months to make her dress for her wedding in Clare, which, going by her signature style, will be anything but standard.
The couple’s ultimate plan is to move back to Ireland for “the food, sense of community and standard of living to raise kids”, but for now London is where it’s happening.
Going forward, there are lots of exciting offers coming in for her. But Laura insists this isn’t what it was all about when she started out: “This was only ever about helping people because She-IYers helped me and I just want to enhance that.”
Amen to that.
Gaff Goddess; €15.99 Penguin.