As an interior designer, it’s hugely important to have a keen eye for trends. Thankfully, Ireland-based Helen Kilmartin doesn’t have to worry on that front, spending time working for dress designer John Hegarty before effortlessly segueing into the world of interiors some years later. Today, she owns Minima, a furniture, lighting and interior consultancy – and she’s supplied to a raft of companies, including Google’s new European headquarters in Dublin.
Today on the blog, we’re bringing you a light-hearted interview with the lady herself. She tells all about her time in the fashion industry, as well as letting us in on a few of her most notable projects. Read on…
Distinctive Chesterfields (DC): Your background is in fashion retailing, what was it that led you into interior designing?
Helen: Living and working in London at 20 for dress designer John Hegarty was the start of my path towards interior design. I travelled to Paris and Milan to look at fabrics and this was so inspirational. However, I was more attracted to the stunning architecture and the design and interior shops than the fashion boutiques. Fashion was taking second place in my world.
I returned to Dublin and opened a home accessories and gift store, Presents of Mind. Soon after I was renovating and re-decorating my first home and found Dublin lacking in choice. Design shops were non-existent, so I decided to open MINIMA Furniture and Lighting in 1996.
I visited furniture and fabric fairs in Italy, France, Germany and the US. Many manufacturers I approached had not supplied to the Irish market so I was able to secure exclusive brands such as Promemoria, Flexform, Mdf Italia and Cassina.
My architect and lecturer, Ross Cahill O’Brien encouraged me to do interior design. I found I was very comfortable walking into a room and visualising how it should look. I already understood scale and calculating quantities from measuring clients. I spent a lot of time researching fabrics and finishes and reading about designers Gray, Knoll, Eames, Le Corbusier, Colombo, Zanusso, Francis Bacon and Antionio Citterio.
DC: We’d love to know a little more about some of your clients; what’s been a personal highlight project-wise?
Helen: My home became my platform as an interior consultant. I received calls from photographers, locators where my home was used in films, fashion shoots and adverts. My subsequent home, a Georgian townhouse on Dublin’s Herbert Place, which I renovated and decorated in a dramatic way led to me finding a steady stream of clients with period houses who liked my daring colour schemes and unique finishes. Furniture in Galuchat, Bronze, Wenge and lacquers on rugs in linen and silk with lighting in Murano glass, and Silk.
There is no one type of client. Some clients will want to be very involved with choosing every element. Others may want you to make the decision for them, and some will know the products already and just require a supply service. Possibilities are infinite, so understanding what your client is comfortable with is essential.
The Dublin showroom works closely with other designers supplying them for their projects.
“Possibilities are infinite, so understanding what your client is comfortable with is essential.”
DC: What would you say was your most notable project and why? And what was the specific focus of said project?
Helen: Some of my most notable projects are the beautiful private houses I have worked on, but often they cannot be photographed due to my client’s wish for privacy. There isn’t necessarily a focus to these projects other than delivering a home which is respectful to the architecture and comfortable for the client and their personal taste.
For the contract supply side of my business, furnishing an office building in Dublin for Communicorp was a very exciting project. I worked with esteemed architect John Meagher; recently I have worked with them on Digicel Jamaica. Other notable projects my company Minima has supplied are Google’s new European headquarters in Dublin, The Four Seasons Residences, Aghadoe Heights Hotel, and MasterCard.
Above: A Minima project
DC: How has your company ethos changed since it began?
Helen: Modern, timeless but with a contemporary feel. My clients often have antique pieces they wish to keep but want to update and mix with modern lighting and furniture. This is my forte and my ethos hasn’t changed.
DC: You have a rare day off from work, how do you spend it?
Helen: I like to cook. It’s my relaxation and I like to entertain informally. I usually invite friends at the last minute, my daughter and some of her friends.
DC: What three qualities/personality traits do you believe you need to succeed in the industry?
Helen: To succeed in this industry you need to be able to work with all types of personalities. Regardless of your beautiful products or interior design ability, you must be able to develop a rapport with you clients. People are inviting you into their personal space and they must be comfortable having you and your team there. You need lots of energy and to be convincing, then you need the people to carry out the work perfectly.
DC: And what’s your own home like, décor-wise? Have you managed to incorporate any of 2014’s key trends into it?
Helen: My personal decor style is always evolving. I am drawn to art deco, but dislike if it’s too evident or over used. Lately I am looking more for antique sculpture, which I want to incorporate into my interiors. I am constantly researching; getting to know about the latest materials and how to use them.
DC: Are you a fan of the Chesterfield sofa? If so, would you choose a traditional leather design, or something more modern like a velvet or linen piece?
Helen: I like Chesterfields for hotels and public spaces in leather. I’m thinking a black waxed linen one would be beautiful.
DC: Finally, what’s in the pipeline for yourself and the company?
Helen: I have always worked a little in the UK. Due to client demands and word of mouth since the end of 2012 I found myself spending more time in the UK. To provide the best service I made the decision to spend more time in the UK as my business in Dublin is well established. In 2013 I found myself living in an airport; it was best to set up a base in Central London where my career and love of interiors began. I commence next week on project in a period property in London, which I can’t wait to get my teeth stuck in to, and 2014 sees me launching Minima’s latest website which has being a really rewarding project.
“My husband’s work is also taking him to London, the writing was on the wall to expand here.”
Delving in to e-commerce with my online store really excites me, the future is exciting for me and my brand Minima.
Thank you to Helen for taking time out of her busy week to speak to us. Don’t forget to keep an eye on our blog for more interviews like this. In the meantime, please join us over on Facebook where we share pictures of customers’ Chesterfields, interiors tips and photos daily.