“Zones”, “pit stops” and being a “bouncer” – interior decoration for a changed world
Laura de Barra, all shiny black hair, red lipstick and glittering gold jewelry, is on a zoom call from her home in Hackney, London. We exchange greetings, but in reality I glance over the shoulder of this interior and DIY guru from Cork trying to figure out the aesthetic of the apartment she shares with her partner. I spot tasteful glassware on a shelf and minimalist art on the walls before it shatters the illusion of showing me a sleek and decidedly kitsch black ornament in the shape of a cat who swear- it, is more revealing of its style of interior decoration. âI use this space for zoom calls at work, but my house is really full of knickknacks and leopard prints. If anyone saw him they would think I was running a brothel, âshe laughs.
We’re here to talk about his new book DÃ©cor Galore, a book that will be catnip for anyone struggling to get the most out of their home, which is a lot of us. âI’m glad I wrote it during the pandemic,â she says. âBecause I discovered, like many people, that during all the blockages, my perception of the house completely changed. “
Decor Galore is a natural sequel to De Barra’s first bestselling book, Gaff Goddess, which contained “Simple Tips and Tricks to Help You Manage Your Home”. It was full of down-to-earth advice from this savvy Irish Times contributor, covering everything from dishwasher maintenance and drilling to fixing a dripping faucet. She was a smart, pragmatic, and tireless guide to tackling repair jobs and eliminating the fear of DIY, or as Barra’s proud handyman calls her She-IY. It came from the frustration she experienced as a property management consultant preparing homes for new tenants. While learning to do simple repair jobs in apartments rather than ‘calling in a man’, she encountered patronizing attitudes in London DIY stores. She was considered a “silly and fluffy” woman out of her depth, but there were also men in these stores that she noticed, considered “useless” because they did not know the drills. “I wrote Gaff Goddess for women like me and these men.”
We stayed inside, we confined ourselves, we appreciated our spaces more. It made her think a lot more about the senses and tactile experiences at home.
De Barra has an interesting theory on how the pandemic has changed our perceptions of our bodies and also of our homes. From discussions with friends, she says she realized that âsince the pandemic we now see our bodies as something that takes care of us. And our house is the same. I was so grateful for both during this time. When it comes to houses and bodies, and you’re less likely to complain about it, when you find joy or security there. In the last time we have come to know our homes as a safe place, a sanctuary. We stayed inside, we locked ourselves in, we appreciated our spaces more. This made her think a lot more about the senses and tactile experiences at home. She reflected on how, in the absence of a commute, “bare feet on a rug and other sensual experiences were important in creating a warm and safe environment.”
âOur anxiety was at its peak, we were worried, so it was interesting to write the book at a time when I had developed a new mindset about what the house stood for now. And I really didn’t want to write an aesthetic book. Some people are like [adopts posh voice] well, ‘I’m going to write a style book. And then it’s like, âWell, Claudia, I don’t want my house to look like yoursâ¦â so it’s not a book about how you get my style, because I’m sure that few people want a house full of shiny cats and leopard prints.
So what is the book about? âWell, some style books just want to give people fish,â she says, and by fish she means brilliant images of perfect sofas or aesthetic lamps and a really long list of things to buy. âI want to teach people to fish. She’s more interested in helping readers with technique and understanding what they need out of their home, which is why she has a problem with programs like Relaunched Locker Rooms and even Queer Eye for A Straight Guy. “They’re like, don’t like your life?” All you have to do is change yourself physically and change your surroundings and my point is no. There are steps to feel happier in spaces. And the first step is to find out who you are and what makes you happy.
She says there are traditionally two attitudes towards interior design: âJust throw it all away and start over or get rich,â she says. âAnd none of these are practical. Plus, it can sometimes seem like the people with a lot of money are better than you, but in reality, they’re just paying people to do everything.
There is an evangelical zeal in de Barra when she talks about the knowledge she wants to impart and the ways she wants people to feel empowered to make changes, big and small, to their homes. She talks about Zoning – the art of dividing rooms into zones of use, from a place to read to a skin care zone. She says that all the pieces have âroutes, the most traveled paths through space. These routes may seem unimportant, but they are an essential element when it comes to decoration. They will dictate where the furniture is best placed, what kind of carpet will fall, what materials are best to avoid. “
And then there are the pit stops. âThese are generally surfaces or storage spaces. It could be a hook that holds a dressing gown … Pit stops, if placed intelligently, can improve the use of a room as well as your day, saving you time and money. making your life a little sweeter.
The advice in the book is all delivered in a friendly, sometimes irreverent manner, think of de Barra as a stylish best friend who you have cocktails with and who helps you fall in love with your home again.
Gone are the days of just throwing stuff out and putting it in the charity shop. Instead, we ask questions: What is it made of? How long will it last? Does it suit my needs?
The main point is that she wants you to understand your space before you fill it with things that won’t necessarily work in your home. âEverything about interiors is based on the fact that the person doesn’t have a clue or tells him all the things that are missing. “
This is not de Barra’s approach. Instead, she encourages people to look around and see how they can reuse the items they already own. âI want people to see themselves as the keeper of their home. Like the most amazing bouncer, look all the way up and down and see if he deserves to be there and what he should be doing there.
âGone are the days of just throwing stuff out and putting it in the charity shop. Instead, we ask questions: What is it made of? How long will it last? Does it suit my needs? And it’s not like I’m telling people not to buy from department stores, because I buy from department stores and that’s where most people’s budget is. But how can you buy on a budget but also buy things that will last?
It’s no surprise to hear that as a âcopper-boldâ kid who grew up in Cork, de Barra always created and did. She was a shrewd young artist, with a slot machine on The Den as a teenager. She launches into fashion, studying patterns and textiles first in Cork and then in Edinburgh. Working for a Turkish company in London, she was responsible for men’s clothing there, designing clothing for retailers such as Primark.
” I learned a lot. But then the fashion changed. These were clothes you used to wear, clothes with zippers that didn’t work and pockets you couldn’t put your hands in.
Disillusioned with fast fashion, she moved into real estate, decorating apartments that eventually evolved into her overhaul and repair properties. She still does it as a day job, while writing is a creative outlet. Her first book Gaff Goddess was born when she was creating something of a handbook for tenants, a PDF explaining how to operate their ovens or other appliances or quick fixes in apartments. She was spotted by Penguin when she started posting her repair tips and home tips on a private Instagram account, mostly for friends. That account grew dramatically after Gaff Goddess posted, but she’s very keen on her Instagram not being transactional.
âI never make Instagram my boss. I don’t do sponsored content. I want it to be fun and show people how to do things, âshe says. âI want this to remain a source of joy for me.
During the pandemic, she has called off her marriage three times and hopes to finally get married next summer. It will be a She-IY wedding. Despite all the “interesting” trends offered by the place. Apparently a âfirst bounceâ is one thing, where a bouncy castle is erected on the dance floor for the couple and their guests. âI prefer to jump into the river,â she says.
Alpacas are also included in many wedding packages these days. âIt’s a huge trend,â she laughs. âThey bring alpacas dressed in a veil and a bow tie. A petting zoo is also on the list. And space hoppers. she lists them, each trend more ridiculous than the next.
Her own wedding âdecor galoreâ will be made of paper. âI’m going to wet a lot of it and make paper sculptures and paper flower decorations hanging from the ceiling,â she says. âI want it to be really simple, really calm. I don’t do âparty favorsâ. I tell my friends that I am already doing you the greatest favor by buying your dinner the same day.
I think de Barra should write his next book on She-IY weddings; she applies her pragmatic attitude and flair to it like she does everything else. âSometimes weddings are interrupted at a crucial moment by a man dressed as a Peaky Blinder distributing ice cream. Or the alpacas that come in during the speeches. Now she cracks again.
But back to his approach to the house. It’s an elusive concept for a lot of people right now, I say. âI know. And I see a lot of my friends at different stages of the housing crisis in Ireland. This book is not written with someone in mind in an upscale apartment or house. For me, the house is a sense. It should take care of you. This is where you feel most secure. And the book is for everyone, even if you only have your own shared room.
“I want people to really think, without forcing themselves, about the concept of a house, and I want them to know how to make their space work really well for them, whatever that space is.”
DÃ©cor Galore is published by Transworld Ireland and is now available