How an artist uses colour and vintage finds to make her house a home

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How An Artist Uses Colour And Vintage Finds To Make Her House A Home How An Artist Uses Colour And Vintage Finds To Make Her House A Home
In their spacious back garden, Paula McGurdy and husband Roly Miller are joined by children Elijah and Caoimhe, and dog Robyn. Photographs: Al Higgins. Styling: Sophie McKenna
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Artist Paula McGurdy (@paulamcgurdyart) has become known for her mixed media technique of layering painting with drawing to create something that is completely unique. Her south Dublin home is an extension of this creative philosophy: a fusion of the old and new, it features contemporary artwork, vintage furniture, and bold, bright colours, all of which combine to craft a wholly original living space.

After studying and living in London for more than a decade, McGurdy returned to Ireland in 2016 with her husband, Roly Miller, and two children, Elijah (now 11) and Caoimhe (8). They bought their home in Ballinteer that year, and dog Robyn joined them in 2020.

The couple has since more than doubled their living space in the “two up, two down 1930s house”, thanks to a contemporary extension that resulted in two more bedrooms, and an open-plan kitchen diner area at the back of the property.

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An open plan kitchen diner area at the back of the property has plenty of space for all the family.

“We have a huge garden, so the plan was always to build out. It doesn’t even really affect much of our garden, which is amazing,” says McGurdy. “When we bought the house we knew we wanted to extend, so we started talking to architects to try and get an idea of everything, from costing to length of time.”

But it wasn’t all plain sailing and the build took nearly three years to complete – the project had to be put on pause for a year before the family finally moved in to their new home in the summer of 2019.

Art and creativity are baked into the bones of this house. “We’ve always had this vision of it being a place where it’s about family and entertaining and being able to work,” she says of her desire to have a home that fulfils all their needs.

Contemporary and vintage furnishings blend beautifully in the sitting room, accented by pops of colour provided by McGurdy's artworks on the walls - as well as that wonderful reclaimed gym floor

“The idea was always to have some kind of studio space for myself, and I guess as a mum with two younger kids at home, to be able to be in that environment and for it to be an easy transition for me to be able to work, and go pick the kids up from school is great,” she elaborates.

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Since the pandemic, her husband has turned the spare bedroom into an office, and although both of them working from home was never part of the plan, they’ve made it work.

“It has worked out very well for us. It’s an open-plan house, and the old part of the house has a living room and the front room, which is my studio space. It’s a small room, but it does the job for me. I’m able to close the door and work away, but then the rest of the house flows really well.”

Above a metal locker on the upper landing hangs several of McGurdy's pieces

McGurdy’s own works are an integral part of the interior decor and can be seen dotted throughout the rooms. She says they’re constantly in transit, depending on whether a piece has sold or if she’s in the process of finishing it.

“Our kitchen diner is almost like a showcase of my works. I like living with them and change them around quite a bit. If I’m working on a piece, I might move that around to see how I feel about it before I go back and finish it off.”

She approached the decorating process in much the same manner.

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“The idea was always to have some kind of studio space for myself,” McGurdy says of her workspace, located in the older part of the house, to the front

“I think it’s about a vision. When we first started looking into the house, I had a sketchbook and it was kind of like a vision board, and I had so many different bits and pieces that I liked, be it a sink or wardrobe or kitchen. It comes back to me being an artist. I do that within my own work anyway, so it comes as second nature to me.”

That intuitive approach can also be seen in the palette used throughout the space. “I didn’t really think or sit down with swatches of colour and pore over them to decide. I remember the decorator saying to me, ‘You need to decide in the next few days’, and it was all very fast so I went for colours that I like.

“I painted a few of the walls downstairs yellow, and it was never really the plan to do that. I don’t know where it came from, but my work in itself is quite colourful, so that leads into our home being colourful in a way as well,” she says.

“The walls for the most part are white within the house, but we have a few areas where there are strong pops of colour – blue in our bedroom, to the yellows that we have in our stairwell and windowsills.”

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While McGurdy’s own work currently dominates the walls, she’s “slowly but surely” adding to her collection of works by other artists. Recent purchases include Irish painter Bernadette Doolin and New Zealand abstract artist Helen Dean.

A penchant for vintage pieces can be seen in the reclaimed gym floor, shipped over from the UK, that covers the downstairs of the house and a mid-century display cabinet that originally sat in her aunt Vera’s women’s clothing shop.

“The walls for the most part are white within the house, but we have a few areas where there are strong pops of colour – blue in our bedroom, to the yellows that we have in our stairwell and windowsills”

“Her cabinet is now full of old teacups that my mother-in-law has given to me, and I use it to display my own work. I love curiosities – whether it’s an old coffee maker on a shelf or prints I’ve picked up in a charity shop. It is little trinkets that make it slightly different. I quite like things that are mismatched.”

“It’s kind of that mixture of the old vintage style with a contemporary build,” she says of her style.

“I love the clash of the two, and there is something about the history of items and pieces of furniture that you know have been loved elsewhere, and you’re giving them a new lease of life – perhaps in a completely different way.”


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