‘Can anything be sadder than work left unfinished? Yes, work never begun,” said the poet Christina Rossetti. Sadly, when it comes to our homes, most of us are guilty of both.
Who hasn’t bought photo frames and left them in the drawer without putting photos in them, never mind actually displaying them? Or sourced that perfect piece of fabric to cover the vintage chair bought on an impulse in a charity shop, yet never combined the two? Or what about those fun drawer knobs that would turn a boring chest of drawers into an interesting piece of furniture, if only we got around to it?
Katrina Carroll is the exception. She never stops working on her house – sanding, painting, wallpapering. And when she’s done all that, she’s sourcing interesting pieces, upcycling them, covering them in bold and beautiful fabrics, giving them a whole new role in life, and generally turning the home she shares with her husband and their two little girls into a wild, exuberant haven, reflective of her extrovert, fun personality.
And that is her express intention. “So many people are afraid of colour; afraid to express themselves through their homes,” Katrina explains. “I want my home to represent my personality and my life. I’d be a very outgoing, bubbly person, so I want to show that in my home, and also the interests I have. I love vintage, I love second-hand; everything is from charity shops or flea markets. I’m giving a new lease to old pieces.”
Of course, Katrina isn’t unique in her love of vintage and upcycling, but what is unusual about her is that she does all the physical work involved herself, and posts it on her Instagram account; she does live videos of herself tackling the various jobs, many of which she’s trying for the first time. “When it goes wrong, as it often does, I get encouraging messages, and it makes me want to continue,” she says with a smile.
Katrina is so into DIY that she actually devotes a day a week to it – DIY Tuesday – and she has such a healthy following that paint and interior companies are clamouring to team up with her. A recent post was a collaboration with Johnstone’s Paints.
She is extremely creative – just one example is the way she painted old cassettes and videotapes in pastel colours and used them as decoration in her daughter Neansai’s 1980s-inspired bedroom – so it’s hard to believe that this Crumlin 30-something has no formal training, though she did show promise in secondary school.
“I loved art in school and my teacher wanted me to study graphic design, but I was also into beauty, so I opted for that, and trained with Coogan Bergin,” she says. She has no regrets. It was a good move for her; she loves her job as a beauty therapist. She is assistant manager of Therapie in Molesworth Street, and head of laser there. At the moment, she works three days a week. She has worked on and off with the company over the last 15 years, ever since she qualified, and she loves it.
“They’ve 20 clinics now. They’ve always looked after me, and I’ve worked hard for them. I’d never leave, even if my Instagram got really big,” Katrina says.
Back in her 20s, after a few years working with Therapie, Katrina decided to travel, and went to Australia for a year in 2009, with three friends, and got a job in a beauty salon in Melbourne. Shortly after moving there, she met her husband, Adam, a Londoner.
“He lived in the house next door with his mates. One night he came knocking at my door, looking for a hoover.” She adds with a laugh, “It was definitely a ploy. We invited them to a party that night, and he and his mates were the first to arrive.”
She and Adam ended up coming back to this side of the world at the same time. Katrina went back to Therapie and the couple commuted back and forth between Dublin and London for two years, before Katrina moved over to England full-time – they got married in 2013.
Katrina ran a laser clinic in Harley Street for four years, but when she became pregnant with Neansai, she and Adam, who is a quantity surveyor, came back to Ireland.
“I said to my husband, ‘I’m not coming over to live here in London forever. Please god, if we ever have kids, we’re coming back’,” she recalls. “Don’t get me wrong, I loved London, but it’s chaotic. Anyway, I wanted my kids to be Irish. I accidentally got pregnant and I said, ‘It’s time to go back’.”
Career-wise, it’s actually better for Adam in Dublin. He misses the banter with the boys, but otherwise he loves it. “It’s all worked out,” says Katrina. Neansai is now four, and they also have baby Bonnie, who is 13 months.
They rented for a while after coming back, and then in 2016, they bought their house. “I wanted a house to do up,” Katrina says. “I didn’t want a new build. I wanted a house with a bit of history – and for me to make it my own – that was really important.”
Adam has nothing to do with the DIY, but, in fairness, he was the one who found the house. However, Katrina wasn’t impressed initially. “He saw it on daft.ie and sent it to me and said, ‘Oh, Kat, this is our house’, but when we came to view it, I did cry,” Katrina says. “There was damp, there were broken tiles; it was awful.”
But she realised the house, which dates from 1962, was in the location they wanted – near her family home and in a quiet neighbourhood. She began to see its potential, and was thrilled when they finally got it.
Before moving in, they got builders in and gutted the whole house; they put in new sash windows and got all the walls replastered. The couple had a new floor laid in the living room, and they tiled the other downstairs rooms and got in a new kitchen.
“I always wanted a stable door, so I put a stable door between the kitchen and the back garden,” she says. They also got a new bathroom. Katrina was very particular about certain things; when the roll-top bath got damaged during the renovation works, she replaced it with another roll-top. She also put in a high cistern toilet – it was a priority for her.
When the electrician was re-wiring the house, Katrina wanted to keep the original light switches, but this was impossible from a health-and-safety aspect. However, she managed to source something similar very cheaply. Once the basics were done, she set about adding layer upon layer of colour, pattern and texture to each room. And interest – she has several vintage phones, all in working order.
It’s a compact house, but Katrina shows how the walls can be used to their maximum – they display many of her junk-shop and market finds.
She’s not afraid to show her sentimental side, and many of the things on display have significance – for example, she displays her grandfather’s pipes on the walls. There are lots of family photos, too.
“There’s my dad on his Communion day, it warms my heart,” Katrina enthuses, adding, “There’s my mum and dad at 16, taken by the photographer who used to be on O’Connell Bridge taking photos of people crossing over; and there’s a photo of Adam’s great-great-grandparents.”
Adam’s late grandmother’s clock is there, as is a Viennese mask, a souvenir of Adam’s proposal in Venice. “I had no clue he was going to propose,” she says. “We were in a gondola, he went to get down on his knee, and I said, ‘Adam, what are you doing? Sit down properly, the guy is going to give out to us’, and he said, ‘Shut up and listen to me’ and proposed, so then I started crying when I saw the ring.”
One thing that’s not on display, but is safely tucked away, is a card the couple received when they first moved into the house. Katrina’s 92-year-old next-door neighbour, whom she’s come to love, told the family who had once lived in the house about Katrina and her family, and they contacted herself and Adam on their first Christmas.
“They sent us a lovely card telling us it had been a very happy home. It was so nice. I take that card out every Christmas, it means so much,” she says.
It’s obvious that Katrina and Adam’s home is happy too, as well as being great fun and full of flair and fabulousness.
Edited by Mary O’Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
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