A Moody-Hued Sandymount Home
When designer Carla Benedetti and her partner photographer Jason Clarke bought their rundown home in Sandymount, Dublin, they could see beyond its ramshackle state. They conceived a magical transformation and today their elegant home is a lesson in the clever use of dark colours.
"It was rundown and had a stench that made it hard to love,” says Carla ruefully, recalling the first time she stepped foot in the dank and uninviting house. “It was only after a few viewings – and taking advice from professionals – that convinced us our vision was attainable.”
The 1849 house, however, did have an elegance that was typical of the period and Carla knew it had potential – it was bathed in natural light and the rooms had lovely proportions. “We wanted to restore the house to its original design but with a modern and personal twist.”
The most striking departure from the look of the mid-1800s is the colour. Grey has been used with a confident panache. And we are not talking about a lily-livered light grey here, but huge swathes of rich, deep and dark grey that stridently sets the tone. Farrow & Ball’s Downpipe has star billing with Railings in a supporting role.
“Grey for me transforms a space,” Carla explains. “It gives a sense of cosiness and sophistication. I love the way dark colours are especially intriguing when the light falls at dusk and shadows are cast by lamps and low lights.
“Dark hues also allow artwork and personal pieces to stand out and become the highlight of a room,” she adds. “They are a fantastic base for contrasting a pop of neon or a contrasting bright colour. I love the combination of grey and ochre yellow.”
The accepted interior design rule is that light colours make a room feel larger – hence the liberal use of white, but Carla is a non-believer. “I don’t believe that at all,” she says. “In fact, as I started to get to know the house, I changed at least three of the rooms from paler colours to darker hues because they didn’t feel right.”
Her bedroom is one of her favourite spaces in the house. Initially, it was pale grey and mauve, but she knew it wasn’t working and, after attending London designer Abigail Aherne’s colour masterclass, changed it to a distinctive shade of brown. “It has transformed our bedroom from a pretty room into a rich, sophisticated space that looks particularly tantalising in the evening with lamps, candles and twinkling string lights.”
Light, of course, is vital for bringing out the lushness of the rich colours and making them sing. The house was already blessed with large windows but the impressive two-storey extension to the rear of the house has allowed even more light to flood in. “I love the natural light that flows throughout the house,” Carla says. “The colour in each room can look completely different depending on the light at different times of day. I also love the way the double height glass extension opens up to the garden — which is my latest obsession. It is like my own personal oasis.”
Carla has the confidence of someone who works in interior design. She did a Masters in design at DIT and, while teaching at Colaiste Dhulaigh, Raheny, founded her company Designetc in 2003. It specialises in design for print and the web but has diversified into interiors. “I wanted to satisfy my passion for providing tips on leading trends and offering practical advice on how to transform your space,” Carla explains.
The palette of strong greys creates a very consistent backdrop for the rest of the interior design, which is eclectic and quirky, a mix of antiques, industrial finds and contemporary pieces. Antique and bric-a-brac shops are favourites. There is a wonderful variety of modern paintings, textured rugs, fresh flowers, piles of design tomes and bold patterned wallpaper.
“Throughout the house I created little still-lives as areas of interest,” she explains. “I wanted to create rooms that were visually intriguing, but I also wanted a relaxed vibe and nothing too up-tight or formal.”
Furniture that made the journey from previous homes was upcycled with a coat of paint or a change of fabric to suit the new interior. With a strong vision of the look she wanted to create, sourcing the rest was relatively simple as she could easily envisage where each potential piece would go. She was a regular visitor to Article and Industry in Dublin, and surfed sites like Etsy, Ebay, Rockett St. George, Skinflint, Atelier Abigail Ahern, and the Conran Shop. She made quite a name for herself. “Bronwyn, the owner of Mira Mira, a local shop, calls me when she knows I’ll love a new piece she has in!” Carla jokes.
Carla is delighted with the use of grey in the house and believes more people should be brave and give it a try. It’s time to banish the remorseless – and boring – use of white and other insipid light tones. Her message is simple: don’t be afraid of the dark. “It just needs a bit of courage to go for it!” she says with a challenging smile.
PHOTOGRAPHY Mark Scott // WORDS Ben Webb // STYLING Amanda Cochrane