Cork woman launches book helping people to style their home on any budget

Douglas-born Laura De Barra, the queen of She-IY, has a new book out called Décor Galore. EMMA CONNOLLY finds out what she’s been up to
Cork woman launches book helping people to style their home on any budget

Laura De Barr, author of 'The Gaff Goddess and new book, Décor Galore.

IN this digital era of being constantly sold to, we all need to get a whole lot smarter.

That’s the advice of Cork woman Laura De Barra, who in her newly-published book Décor Galore, is teaching us that the aesthetics of our homes need to come last.

The book is a like a tour through the home, stopping in each room to gain a deeper understanding of its true function, as well as how to get the best out of the space and its contents.

“My aim is to open up your mind to a new way of thinking about your home and arm you with all the information you need to create a space that is tailored to those who live there,” she writes.

“It’s about gathering all the information to make the consumer smarter, save money and help the environment.”

Known for coining the now widely used phrase ‘She-IY’, Laura’s debut book Gaff Goddess was designed to take away the fear factor for women (and men) when it came to DIY jobs around the home.

Décor Galore, by Laura De Barra.
Décor Galore, by Laura De Barra.

This book came about, she said, because she had so much more useful information to share, and also because of the really emotional reaction readers had to a chapter in it called ‘Décor Galore’. She started writing it before lockdown, and actually wrote it around three times because the world kept changing.

“We started seeing our bodies and our homes as safety places and cocoons and things that protect us and put a different value on them.

“One of my friends spent lockdown on a pink velour couch wondering why she bought the piece! We’re starting to realise that the aesthetics have to come last. The thing is that data is coming from our phones at all times, presenting us with things that we think we should be getting next. Even if you don’t watch a single influencer, we still browse the internet, and those websites are giving data to someone who will target you.”

Laura, who grew up in Douglas, studied fashion and worked as a designer for a high-street supplier in London for around six years. When she decided it had become less about fashion and more about consumption, she sought something else. But her boss wasn’t prepared to lose her and offered her a job managing his property portfolio. This involved sourcing investment properties for him, sealing the deals, and getting them ready to rent. The four and a bit years working there were hectic.

“It was seven days a week, being on call to tenants, waking up to messages about anything from leaking washing machines to holes in ceilings.

She’s recently started working for a new property company which involves more reno work, in a different area in London.

“It’s using more of my skills and life is much more balanced now. It wasn’t until recently that I started to realise it was ridiculous, that just because she can, a woman shouldn’t be working herself to the bone to prove herself. That’s what I was trying to do, prove I could handle it all.

“I took a step back, and realised the people I admire are those who do good, solid work and look after themselves. Living well isn’t working yourself to the ground for a Gucci handbag; living well is being able to have relationships, take a step back and admire your work - I was blindly working for ages.”

Laura De Barra who is the queen of She-IY.
Laura De Barra who is the queen of She-IY.

Laura also runs her own consultancy company, consulting for landlords, developers and companies.

“So it’s for people who want to sell or rent their property; or it could be a brand working how to communicate with customers around the home.”

Typically, she may have a landlord who wants her to use a black leather couch for durability: “But I’d be no, this is a one-bed, so it has to be a sleeper couch, with washable covers, nice to look at and comfortable. I’ll always decorate with the tenant in mind!”

So that’s a day job, two books under her (tool) belt, and her own consultancy company, but she loves nothing more than to get her hands dirty.

“I want to flat pack build every day, that’s what I love. That’s my deal! I get to go and play house, but I just won’t be doing seven days a week on call to 70 tenants.”

She’s engaged to Shane Linehan, from Ovens, and the pandemic has meant they’ve had to cancel their wedding three times.

“Unless there’s a plague or if the world doesn’t explode, we’ll get married next July in London!” she said.

Lockdown was hard, she admits, as she didn’t get to go home for almost two years to see her mum and sisters in Cork. But she’s still loving living in London.

“If I’m not enjoying something, within reason, I don’t do it. Things are a lot quieter now, there’s a lot more space on trains and on the street, and you don’t have to queue as much, which is one advantage. The social side is very risky though, I haven’t been in a club. I’m not doing it, and I don’t eat that much indoors. I’m not as carefree as I was.”

Not surprisingly, with her wealth of knowledge and panache, she’s had her share of TV offers.

“I’m asked quite often to do bits, just I haven’t found the right fit yet. I’m just very picky abut it. To do TV you give up a lot of your own privacy and for me privacy is the chicest thing around. That’s why I’ll never monetise my Instagram, and make it a job. I will work on my own terms with boundaries, and one of my boundaries is privacy.”

If she was ever to do something, she has some set ideas: “It would need to be gender neutral, with a seat for everyone at the table, it couldn’t be property porn where you’d laugh at how somebody lives; or it couldn’t give off the impression that if you make everything aesthetically more beautiful, your life is better; the way Queer Eye does.

“It has to be relatable and it has to be stunning … oh, and there has to be room to be fabulous and for people to have fun!”

For now, she’s concentrating on brushing up on some of the few DIY skills she has yet to perfect – including painting!

“I’ll admit I hate it so much, I’ve a new technique that I’m enjoying and want to practice that and I want to learn to enjoy other DIY bits that I hate! I’m good at sharing things I learn along the way, and to do that the learning has to happen.”

She also wants do dial down people’s thinking around gender stereotyping when it comes to home care and maintenance, and encourage more of an eco approach.

“No one is doing the educational thing anymore, everyone is online to either make money or to get famous. I obviously have to earn money too, but I’m not going to make money making people add to their home, because it’s not ethically sound.

“If I knew in my lifetime that I contributed positively on the internet, and it wasn’t me at the centre stage, but people learning, then I’m happy.”

LAURA’S TIPS FOR MAKING WORKING FROM HOME…WORK

Greens are stunning for calm and decision-making. Pink can actually be too calming. Yellow can bring on a great creative spark, while red will get your adrenaline going.

Get a plant. It’s a gorgeous addition to a working area, but another is their air-purifying qualities, which help reduce the toxins in your space. Spider plant, aloe vera and peace lily are some low-maintenance plants that will also work on gently cleaning the air while they serve some aesthetic joy. Plants also require routine, so a morning spritz can really add to your switch-on.

Laura says our desks don’t need to look like something from Pinterest but we can still elevate the ordinary. 

“For example, if you are going to have water on your desk, make a ‘meauxment’ of it. Do I like mine in a minimal pitcher on a gold tray for practical reasons? No. But I drink a lot more water now than when it was in the plastic bottle I use for workouts. ‘Workout’ me occupies a different headspace from ‘work’ me and their water breaks are treated accordingly.” 

She also wants her desk things to feel different from elsewhere in the home. 

“The tray is only for work water, a certain mug is only for work coffee. They don’t get used on weekends, so I associate them with work and it doesn’t all feel the same. Try it.”

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