Decision-makers at Penneys, Dunnes and Meadows & Byrne share their interior design secrets

How often do we walk into a shop for homewares but never stop to think about who made the product choices informing the looks of our interiors? Behind every new collection, there’s someone bringing design talent or an eye for styling, while meeting the practical needs of those of us who love staying in.

Sinead McDonagh, head of design for home and lifestyle at Primark, is the woman who brings us affordable, fashionable home interior products.

So far this year, many of us who can’t resist a browse in Penneys will have caught her spring-summer collection and delighted in vintage tablewares and art deco napkin holders.

“We focused on the desire to create a simpler life and bring joy into our homes,” Sinead explains. “We did this by offering beautiful and affordable tableware ranges for both the indoors and outdoors so customers can do that easily.”

Sinead loves the seasonal-shaped candles in the Penneys range. Picture: Moya Nolan
Sinead loves the seasonal-shaped candles in the Penneys range. Picture: Moya Nolan

For autumn and winter, Sinead’s design imagination continues to focus on the theme of cosy togetherness, and in a new turn of events, she launched Primark’s first children’s range, The Happy Home, which includes chequerboard duvets and flower-shaped rugs for the youngster with design notions. “Our priority this winter is helping shoppers create comfortable, welcoming spaces in their homes where people can come together for small moments as well as bigger occasions,” she says. “Our latest range, Humble, is all about cosy brushed plaids on cushions, throws and bedding. “There are a variety of beautiful heritage-furnished florals, cottage-core crockery for tables and plenty of dried autumnal florals to easily update and dress your home.”

This is all good stuff for an established homebody, but what about someone setting up home for the first time, or in rental accommodation and wanting to introduce their own sense of home?

Autumn homeware at Penneys. Picture: Moya Nolan
Autumn homeware at Penneys. Picture: Moya Nolan

“Do not panic buy,” Sinead urges. “Don’t buy all your furniture and décor the first week you move in. If you do, you’ll likely feel stuck and might regret some expensive decisions. If you can, live in a place for a while before making any big purchases or choosing paint colour. Get a feel for your new home and you’ll tend to make better decisions. Invest in things you love only, so that you have them forever.”

To get started, she suggests four accessories.

“Plants turn a house into a home and add a sense of calm and tranquillity,” she says. “I use a mixture of real plants from garden centres and faux plants for places that don’t get much light.

“Invest in the best quality bedding you can afford, and you’ll get that hotel feel every night. The higher the thread count the closer to hotel quality. Primark Home’s Luxury Cotton T400 sheets are high quality and incredible value for money and are also made using 100% sustainable cotton which falls under our Primark Cares range.”

As well as rugs, she cites one of the latest interior trends, scentscaping, especially autumn-themed fragrances.

“I love our selection of seasonal-shaped candles from €2 as part of the Humble and Harvest range,” she says. “My favourites are the large pumpkin ones that come in orange and iridescent for only €3.50. They instantly give you that autumnal feel.”

Over at Dunnes Stores, Helen James, designer of its Considered range of homewares looks to everyday life and her own intuition for ideas rather than following the relentless stream of trends.

Helen James, designer of Considered range for Dunnes with her new homeware for AW22 at Dunnes Stores HQ on South Great Georges Street, Dublin. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos
Helen James, designer of Considered range for Dunnes with her new homeware for AW22 at Dunnes Stores HQ on South Great Georges Street, Dublin. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

“I am constantly being inspired,” she says. “It could be the shape of a cup in a restaurant, a stone on the beach or the colour of a dress in a film. The true constant is that, mostly, each collection starts from a palette and that is the foundation from which the season expands. That can come from anywhere.”

This has resulted in a look including what she describes as “calming greens, muted blues, and rusts” and natural materials like jute, wood, cotton and linen — and which she suggests adding to your home to make it feel like a sanctuary away from the chaos of the outside world. “All of my pieces are designed to last and continue to bring joy for seasons ahead,” she says. “A new cushion can update an existing sofa, and we have added in some real statement cushions with embroidery to really add a sense of freshness without spending a huge amount of money.

“In the same way pieces for your table can change the way you interact, we have some lovely wooden tabletop items coming in which are meant for multi-functional use, and I’m very excited about a beautiful new tableware range in cream with a dark edge that includes serving pieces and was developed from my most popular ripple shape mug. I think it will become a new customer favourite.”

Calming greens and muted blues featured in Helen's Considered range for Dunnes. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos
Calming greens and muted blues featured in Helen’s Considered range for Dunnes. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

At a time when the cost of living is rising, something Helen is conscious of, she says. “There is so much you can do without having to spend a huge amount. One area that is often overlooked is lighting but changing your lighting has a profound effect on the feeling of a space, especially coming into winter. “Adding a floor lamp and two side lamps to your living room will make it feel so much cosier. Then throw in some candles and the atmosphere is instantly improved.”

For renters who want to put their own stamp on their home, she suggests investing in small furniture items that you can take with you when you move.

“My marble and wooden tables are also a great thing to purchase,” she says. They can be used in any room really; beside your sofa, or even your bed so you’re not tied to using them in one way and can adjust as your life adjusts too.”

Adding lamps 'changes the atmosphere', according to Helen James, designer of the Considered Range for Dunnes, above. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos
Adding lamps ‘changes the atmosphere’, according to Helen James, designer of the Considered Range for Dunnes, above. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

Meanwhile, Helen O’Dwyer-Coughlan, retailer director at Meadows & Byrne, is busy unpacking deliveries of new products for the season ahead,

with timelessness being a core element in her buying choices.

“We’re not a trend-driven store,” she says. “Our look is relaxed Scandi with a hint of warmth. Our colours are taken from the natural world: earthy, rustic tones.

 Helen O'Dwyer-Coughlan, Meadows & Byrne retail director relaxes on the Jasmine boucle chair at Blarney Woolen Mills, Co Cork.
Helen O’Dwyer-Coughlan, Meadows & Byrne retail director relaxes on the Jasmine boucle chair at Blarney Woolen Mills, Co Cork.

“We’re easy with natural colours in Ireland and we like to bring them into our homes. Green is a big part of what we’re presenting with walnut and beiges. There’s still a bit of grey, too, but it’s rich and dark.”

Overall, she predicts a return to the heartland of the home with the cost of living rising, and an emphasis on comfort and softness, something she refers to cosily as a home hug.

 Early autumn tablescape at Meadows & Byrne at Blarney Woollen Mills, Co Cork. Picture: Larry Cummins
Early autumn tablescape at Meadows & Byrne at Blarney Woollen Mills, Co Cork. Picture: Larry Cummins

To get the look, she cites soft leather sofas so deep your feet won’t touch the ground, and chairs upholstered in bouclé fabric.

“Texture is very important to avoid blandness when you are using natural tones,” she says. “It’s important that everything blends and you don’t buy things that will push you down a road that in six months you are so over.

“Continuance of a look is important long-term. We want to sell you something that is in the trenches, getting plenty of use and you’ll get at least ten to 15 years out of it.”

Among her star buys this year is the Milan sofa featuring a long back cushion so no one is falling into a gap. There’s also the Jasmine chair which she describes as a low-level urban piece, finished in that cosy bouclé upholstery we’re seeing emerging.

 Coloured cushions of varying styles and fabric at Meadows & Byrne at Blarney Woollen Mills, Co Cork. Picture: Larry Cummins
Coloured cushions of varying styles and fabric at Meadows & Byrne at Blarney Woollen Mills, Co Cork. Picture: Larry Cummins

“I’ve had everyone in Meadows & Byrne sit on it, including the financial director,” she says. “It just wants you to stay sitting on it, enveloped.”

Sounds perfect for a cold winter’s evening to give that home hug.