#interiorsblog

The Alchemist

I am rarely rendered speechless or lost for words. Wait, I shall rephrase that; I am never lost for words. Because even when I am, I always spout some sort of nonsense to fill the gap: it's a dreadful affliction to be honest... but anyway. When I walked through the doors of this impressive, seafront beauty there was a definite silent pause. A ‘pinch yourself’ moment too, because I couldn't quite believe it was real. It's like when you see the Manhattan skyline for the first time - you knew it was there all along, but you didn't really believe it was. Well it was just like that.

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And even if that grey October day, when I made the trip to Bangor to meet Peggy, owner and curator of this outstanding abode, had slightly dampened my spirits, one step inside this place and I was immediately uplifted, transported to a world filled with joyous, exotic colour. Hailing originally from Belfast, I wanted to know more about the road that had lead the seasoned city-slicker and her crew to this seaside gem in the heart of Ballyholme. “I was in Bangor to view a completely different house and noticed this one was for sale - a Victorian mid-terrace overlooking the water. I had no idea what condition it was inside, but my gut said that this was the one for me. We arranged a viewing and when I stepped inside the hall and saw the period features: ceiling rose, cornicing and deep skirting, that was it.”

 

And as you wander through the myriad of perfectly proportioned rooms, it’s clear to see exactly what she means, as those period features sing out from amidst the daring decor, tying together the opulent, decadent colour palettes which permeate the house.

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Beyond the captivating entrance hall, chock full of ornate antique mirrors and gallery walls theatrically covered in colourful paintings and artwork, is the anchor of this home, a vast, north-facing kitchen, with the Irish Sea right in it’s sights. And with it’s deep bay window and moody, dark colour palette, this room caters for practically every need imaginable. Indeed, it is Peggy’s favourite room in the house. “Our long, narrow kitchen with it’s snug at the back and stove for fires on cold days is undoubtedly my favourite spot. The opposite end has a dining table in the bay window overlooking the water. It is a hardworking room - snug, kitchen, diner - but I painted everyrhing out in black so it is fairly seamless and therefore quite restful for such a practical space.”

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Painting things out to suit her colour preferences is something this lady completes with relative ease. When asked about any DIY conquests that she’s particularly proud of, she references the extensive bar housed in that very same kitchen. “What is now the bar was originally cream kitchen shelving. I removed the shelves, added mirror to the back panel and installed glass shelves. Bottles and glasses that had been previously stored in cupboards were displayed and voilà! A home bar.” And her tipple of choice from said bar? ”I don't drink often enough to justify opening an full size bottle of wine (and Phil doesn't drink wine so I can't split a bottle) so I keep little quarter bottles of wine on the top shelf and treat myself to a nice Rioja the odd evening in front of the fire.”

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Stood in this snug little space, in what feels like the very centre of the whole house, you can envisage just how cosy an evening spent here would be. Any book recommendations to curl up with? “Don't get me started on books! I've recently finished reading everything by John Boyne. A must-read is his recent novel The Heart's Invisible Furies. I also love books exploring past lives and reincarnation. My favourite is Old Souls by Tom Shroder. I snuggle up on the sofa in front of the fire in the kitchen, with the aforementioned Rioja. Total bliss.” And it certainly sounds it. So whilst with all this talk of Rioja and blankets I could have happily just nestled down in that very corner, a tour of the rest of the house was being offered; an offer I couldn’t refuse.

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Onwards and upwards, we travelled to the first floor to witness the most decadent bathroom I have ever seen with my own two eyes, complete with freestanding roll-top bath, original fireplace and a luscious, black velvet chaise longue. If you’re partial to a theatrical interior, this room has the power to make you go weak at the knees; I may even have drooled a little bit as I stood staring in amazement. The adjoining sitting room, with it’s enviable sea view - the pièce de résistance in this equally opulent space - is a hostess’ dream, and with oversized Chesterfield sofas and a thoroughly inviting ambiance, it feels like a cocktail or two here must be the order of the day,.

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With a deft hand for a layered scheme, it’s clear this lady knows exactly how to build depth and also where to show suitable restraint, when it comes to styling the maximal way. “Balance is key” she says. “There's a fine line between layers of curated items and junk shop!” So in maximalist decor, if more is more, how do you know when enough is enough? “I feel it in my gut. When styling, I build up layers of items with varying heights and textures, usually several little groups of three. My internal monologue as I go sounds like this: ‘Better...better...better...Ugh! Rewind!’ “

 

Perhaps one of the most interesting things to note at this point, is that Peggy has only in recent times begun to showcase her skills in dark decor, having always favoured a more minimal approach in her previous homes; hard to imagine when she could give even the experts a lesson in maximalist style. “I will never be minimalist ever again! My minimalist era was before I found my confidence, when it was safer to stick to a neutral palette and keep everything pared back. My maximalism came from having confidence in my own tastes, allowing myself to be heart-led and my personality to come to the fore.” Confidence in reflecting your own personality in your home; there’s a definite lesson in there...

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On up to the second floor, location of the master bedroom and children's rooms, each decorated to cater to the preferences of a child, whilst still maintaining the level of style achieved throughout the rest of the home. A feat in itself, since often people struggle to create stylish schemes in children’s bedrooms whilst still making these spaces a stimulating, child-friendly environment. The master suite houses another Victorian fireplace with an original marble surround that only be described as majestic. Along with several other nooks, rooms and crannies that we got a peek into along the way, this area of the main bedroom is still a work in progress - Peggy has recently found another perfect mirror for above the fireplace and her current project involves getting this painted and up onto the wall.

 

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A self-confessed pro at scouring Buy and Sell sites and Used Furniture shops, her penchant for collectible items doesn’t end at mirrors, “I always have my eyes peeled for blue and white ginger jars. They are neutral and go with everything.” A love of a home bargain is something I think all of us interior lovers appreciate, so the pre-loved approach in a home finished to this standard is refreshing to hear. But in her opinion, what's worth splurging on? “Something you absolutely love. There are some pieces that you just know you will always love, pieces that when you first see them, your heart rate speeds up, pieces that you are still thinking of a week later. Those are worth splurging on, because they will make you happy every single time you see them.”

 

To be inspired further, follow Peggy on Instagram @interior_alchemy

 

Apartment Therapy

When I met Darcie for the first time, she and her husband Gary were on their way to paper the sitting room of their Carnlough caravan in wall-to-wall pink flamingos. I knew right there and then that we'd get along. Her work in the design and marketing industry infers a natural link to creativity, whilst Gary's job as a yoga, fitness and wellbeing coach brings the balance.

Said Flamingo wallpaper by Albany

Said Flamingo wallpaper by Albany

Theirs is a home which blends personality and style in such a joyous, exuberant way. And not the sort of forced, faux personality that we sometimes see in interiors; rather, a true ability to display objects which are meaningful to them in a quirky, stylish fashion. I stopped by their Belfast abode to talk lifestyle, city love and caravan living.

Dining set from Betty’s Lounge, Belfast

Dining set from Betty’s Lounge, Belfast


Your home is a total hidden gem. How did you discover it?

Chest of drawers by Betty’s Lounge, Belfast

Chest of drawers by Betty’s Lounge, Belfast

I’d lived in Belfast since going to university, but had then been away for a number of years living in Stockholm, Glasgow and New York - amazing experiences which also definitely prepared me for living lighter. When it came to laying roots here, I was looking for somewhere central, with a bit of character. I looked at loads of places and none were floating my boat. I’d probably just fallen for the character of the old tenements I’d lived in in Stockholm and Glasgow, or the walk-up I lived in, right in the madness of St Mark’s Place in New York.

And then this place came up. It was a one bedroom apartment, on the second floor of the building, without a lift or parking space. It had been sort of half-finished, which was weird for apartments in Belfast which are generally turn-key, perhaps bigger, with on-site parking, maybe some outdoor space and definitely a lift! BUT this place had gorgeous original brickwork, high ceilings, big windows, so much natural light and was right in the middle of everything, exactly where we wanted to be, so we snapped it up!

It was a bit of a project, but we absolutely love it - and now I basically have a one minute commute via the stairs to work, so the absence of a lift actually helps keep me fit!

Bertie tiles, available at Homebase

Bertie tiles, available at Homebase

The secret to apartment living is...

Clear-outs, clear-outs, clear-outs! A ‘one in, one out’ policy on non-sentimental things like hoodies and jeans and trackies and jammies!

 

Aelfie cushion, available at Salle

Aelfie cushion, available at Salle

Other than that, it’s probably storage. We got some full height shelving made when we moved in, which holds a surprising amount of the graphic design & fashion mags I accumulate, and the wrestling paraphernalia that Gary accumulates - sorry, collects! There are under-bed boxes of wrestling t-shirts and clutch bags, built-in shelves full of heels & Nike Air Max, and there’s a big communal storage room downstairs for the suitcases of summer clothes or winter coats, so we do ok. And if in doubt, more clear-outs!


 

 

 

 

 

 What's the most treasured object in your home?

Gary would definitely say it’s his signed Hulk Hogan figure (boxed, mint condition ;)), or his dartboard! For me, it’s all the little bits that are sentimental - the Summer Slam folding chairs from when we got married, the photos, the boxes of cards… not even pretty, but definitely treasure.

Gary’s treasured Summer Slam chairs, bought in New York, where they were married

Gary’s treasured Summer Slam chairs, bought in New York, where they were married

Perfect Sunday routine?

Now that we are caravan dwellers, we’re usually on the sunny/blustery/rainy but always gorgeous North coast on a Sunday. And as long as there’s some coffee, some pints, some chips and Netflix, in no particular order, then that’s a pretty good one in our book.

Strandmon wingback armchair, Ikea

Strandmon wingback armchair, Ikea

When it comes to homewares, are you happy with high street or inspired by indie?

A little post-wedding souvenir on this coffee table from Gumtree

A little post-wedding souvenir on this coffee table from Gumtree

If I’m honest, I can be a bit lazy about picking indie things up - especially when we were in the throes of renovating this place. We had loads of work going on and it just needed to get done. There are some great online places - BlueSunTree, MADE, CB2, Amazon, WallpaperDirect and Tile Fire. Then in real life, BHS for lights, ASDA Home for all sorts, House of Fraser where we got our sofa and bed. And then there were A LOT of IKEA trips. It’s probably not a very cool interiors thing to say, but I love IKEA - it gets a bad rap. We designed our whole kitchen there - Gary’s territory - complete with all the wee interior bits and bobs that I love. I think a it’s great place to shop!


 

 

 

When that all slowed down, and the major things were in place, it was great to choose some special little pieces - our bedside table from Oscar & Oscar and the chest of drawers and dining set from Betty’s Lounge; both great, Belfast-based, vintage furniture dealers. Some art from artist friends Lyndsey McDougall & Hannah Casey finished things off and, of course, the gorgeous, unique pieces from Salle Homeware - it’s like you’ve built the stock just for me; dangerous! 

This living area is filled with light, thanks to the apartment’s large windows and double doors

This living area is filled with light, thanks to the apartment’s large windows and double doors

Gary, did you get involved with the interior details or was it more of a one-woman show?

Superstylin’ courtesy of Ms. Graham

Superstylin’ courtesy of Ms. Graham

No way! I helped Darcie make all the decisions! In all honesty though, I love Darcie’s style. She was very organised from the get-go, but I was always there and felt my opinion was fully valued.

Financially, I perhaps acted as the yin to her yang, as I knew deep down that Darcie’s indulgence on gold radiators would need to be balanced by my passion for a bargain. And so, Gumtree for coffee tables at a tenner, and Betty’s Lounge for dining tables were very much my idea.



 

 

 

 

 

 

Favourite city?

Stockholm - definitely Stockholm. Beautiful in spring when it hits the early 20s, and even more beautiful in winter in the sub 20s. The mix of offbeat people - including friends! - beautiful spaces and incredible vegan food means that we’ll undoubtedly return again and again, for many years to come.

Hallway papered in Parrots wallpaper by Albany

Hallway papered in Parrots wallpaper by Albany

You both work and live in the city. Do you enjoy being in the heart of the buzzing Cathedral Quarter, or do you sometimes feel the need to escape the busy-ness of city life?

Totally! During the week, Belfast city centre is filled with culture, business and smiling faces, and is exactly where we want to be. Gary’s business is built around the schedules of the city centre workforce, and my workplace is literally yards from our home. We’ve positioned ourselves so that both of our working lives can function without the added stress of a daily commute, and it’s absolutely perfect. And at weekends, we’re placed wonderfully for coffees, bars and brunches!

Hairpin leg bedside table from Oscar & Oscar, Belfast

Hairpin leg bedside table from Oscar & Oscar, Belfast

But sometimes, it’s nice to disappear from all of that, unwind and spend time together, which is why we invested in a little coastal get-away project - a caravan! I’ll be honest, Gary was the driver of this one. I was pretty cynical, despite having had great memories of them as a kid - I thought they were a bit ‘old people’! Anyhow - he’s proved me wrong, and like the apartment, after a pretty thorough rip out, paint job, and IKEA bonanza, it’s a total wee home from home. Chippy chips and pints at the seaside are hard to beat.

Original brickwork, exposed in all it’s glory

Original brickwork, exposed in all it’s glory