Five Minutes with Interior Architect Aoife Tobin
April 12, 2021 By Alanna McCarey
We recently caught up with Aoife Tobin - an Irish interior architect. Aoife runs an online interior design service called Style So Simple that brings affordable interior design solutions to a range of clients.
Aoife has kindly shared some insightful design tips with us and tells us more about her creative process.
1. Aoife, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hello, my name is Aoife. I am a Kerry woman now living in Cork with my fabulous fiancé Barry and our fur baby Flump.
I am an Interior Architect and have been working in interiors for about eight years now. I run an online interior design company called Style So Simple.
2. What inspired you to pursue a career in interior design?
Honestly, my career guidance councillor in school pushed me towards it. I wasn’t going to go to college or anything like that after secondary school as I was more artsy than academic.
I didn’t really see the point in going or finding a course that would work for me. But my guidance councillor actually found the interior course that I studied. I can still remember being in his office and him explaining to me what interior design was. I was like ‘What? You mean people actually pay other people to pick their furniture and colours?’.
Once I started the course, I just loved it. I couldn’t believe that this was college. I got to study colour theory, design history and learnt about exceptionally creative people like Gaudi and Frank Gehry. I just loved it from the get-go.
Bathroom design of Kingdom 1795 restaurant in Kerry by Style So Simple. Photography by Mike O' Leary.
3. How did you start building your design portfolio?
In college they gear projects towards you that are suitable to your work portfolio in order to have something to showcase when approaching your first clients.
Once I started working in the fit-out space in Dublin, I really got to dig my hands into designs for clients. This helped me build my portfolio and showcase work I contributed to and team projects I worked on at the fit-out company.
However, it wasn’t until I set up on my own business and started to work on my own projects that I got to build my own personal design portfolio. This was and still is my most important portfolio as the designs are completely my own.
4. What questions do you typically ask your clients before getting to work, and how do the answers factor into your design decisions?
Brief, Budget, Timeline. Always my first questions :)
It's all in this; the clients want and needs. Are they traditional and classic? Or are they super contemporary? Do they have children? Or is this space going to be just for them?
These questions lead to different design schemes. It really is so bespoke for each client’s home. It is their sanctuary. I find that asking clients about how they work and live in the space the most valuable type of question as this really tells a lot about what needs to be achieved in the design scheme.
What do they want to feel in this space?
For example, some people want their kitchen to be their zone - no children, no guests. A place where they can cook and make a mess. Others want it to be the heart of the home. They want their children to gather around the island doing homework or colouring while they are cooking. Both options lead to very different designs.
For commercial design it’s obviously completely different as it's all about their corporate image and what they want their business to represent within the design.
In this instance, you would be asking about logos, corporate colours and most importantly what the business does; how can we translate this into the design and interior?
We all have one and it is going to have an impact on any design.
It's important to establish this at the start and to know where we can invest in pieces for the home and where we may have to look at more economical options.
For example, I would never ever skimp on areas such as joinery, flooring or key furniture items like the sofas or pendant lights as these are items in the home that will be a lasting feature.
You don’t want to have to change these items in the next 5-10 years. Whereas the side table or smaller décor items don’t have to be a lasting feature. We may change them every two years or even seasonally so I would suggest going for an economical option here if needed.
This is so important to establish at the start as good products and tradespeople all have lead-in times. I understand that and always advise clients to plan ahead and be prepared to hold out and wait. It's going to benefit them and their designs in the long run.
Ravens hair salon by Style So Simple. Photography by Mike O' Leary.
5. What do you like most about working on someone’s home?
You know I only started working on people's homes when I started Style So Simple. Before that, I had always been working in the commercial design space and the two are so different.
The thing I loved and still love the most about working on someone's home is that it's so personal to them; it's their space. As a designer, I am really only there to translate their style and ideas into reality. I love that.
I love being able to bring something to life for a client that they have wanted or imagined. It is really rewarding.
6. What is the best way to pick out standalone lighting (floor lamps, table lamps) for a room?
For standalone items, it is really about linking them into either the new design scheme or an existing space. I would look at the finishes and style.
Can we link them into the interior colour and materials scheme? Or does the light need to be a focal feature? If so, it's still important to make it cohesive with the overall look.
I find either linking the material finish to something else in the room or the style is usually a good starting point. For example, a very rustic chandelier will not always work in a very minimal clean-lined interior.
7. In your opinion, what interior trends can we expect to see in 2021? Are there any you are excited about?
Oh yes! I am loving the trend of the refined curve. I love a good, curved sofa and also love that earthy hues are making a comeback. They're so warm and cosy, which is perfect for us here in Ireland.
8. How important is it to incorporate sustainability in new designs and do you have any tips for people who want to be more eco-friendly in their makeover projects?
Sustainability is so important! It's great to see how prevalent this in on sites now, especially in new builds.
For example, a current client's home is being fitted with a partial heat recovery system, which is amazing. We recently discussed going a little further and investing in the full heat recovery system. Yes, it may cost a little more now but you're not only playing your part for the environment but you’re also future-proofing your home for the next generation.
It's so lovely to see people engaging with this now and having such strong positive feelings about it.
For revamps and home makeovers, it can be as simple as buying vintage or using reclaimed furniture and researching the companies you are purchasing from.
Are they being conscious of their environmental impact? This is going to be something that will dictate so many decisions and not just in design. It's so important to have it in the back of our minds when designing.
Residential hallway makeover by Style So Simple. Photography by Mike O' Leary.
9. Which section of your portfolio are you most proud of? What does it reflect in you as an interior designer?
I always say this one but it's definitely my design for Kingdom 1795. It was the first commercial build I did when I started Style So Simple and it's also located in my hometown in Kerry.
It reflects a lot of my business ‘firsts’ as well as design ‘firsts’. It's very special to me.
10. Last but not least, would you recommend Mullan Lighting?
Absolutely! I can easily say that Mullan Lighting is one of the best lighting providers for Irish interior designers.
The quality and designs are second to none. The staff are super helpful and best of all, they are a family-run business in a small Irish village. You're not just supporting Irish with Mullan you are supporting the local community too.
Great design, great service and local. As a designer and Irish business owner, Mullan Lighting ticks all the right boxes.
Thank you, Aoife for giving us an insight into your work and for providing some important styling tips.