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Denise O’Connor’s Architecture & Nature

Denise O’Connor’s Architecture & Nature


Denise O’Connor 

Architecture and Interior design

Q. What’s your typical day ?

A typical day during these untypical times is all about managing work and family life from home. I’m an early riser so I’m up before everyone else. I love early mornings when the house is quiet and the sun is just coming up. I always start my day with a coffee listening to the bird song. 

All of my meetings are virtual at the moment so I try to schedule them all for the first half of the day and then keep the afternoons for any work that I have to do. I always make time for a walk during the day, I love walking and spending time outdoors, I’m lucky enought to live near a park which is lovely to spend time in. 

Evenings are spent cooking, I have 2 boys who always seem to be hungry, and helping my 11 year old with his homework. I try to avoid screens from 8pm. I find it really helps to get a good night’s sleep. I’ve never been much of a night owl and am usually in bed before 10pm.


Q. What are you working on right now?

We have a mixed projects at the moment , we are working on a number of new housing developments in Dublin as well as a number of private houses, some that I’m particularly excited about are the refurbishment and extension of a beautiful Arts & Crafts home in Greystones, the refurbishment of stunning period home in Donnybrook and a new build home in Orkney in Scotland. 

Q. What role does the wild and nature play in your work?

I’ve always tried to encourage clients to consider their outdoor space when planning a refurbishment or extension.  Not only because the garden is what you will look out onto but by connecting the two areas and treating the space directly outside as another living space not only will you be further extending your home but you will also be adding a lot more value.

I lived in New York and London and in both cities the creative use of whatever tiny patch of available outdoor space was incredible. From striking window boxes, to innovative use and adornment of even the most modest balcony or patio, using the outdoor space to extend the living area was the norm.

In Ireland I feel we are a little spoilt with our gardens. What is considered a small backyard here would be a rather generous plot in other parts of the world, so it’s not surprising that the trend to capitalize on this area of our home has taken a while to catch on. But over the last 12 months there has been a whole new appreciation for our outdoor spaces, Spending time in our gardens and outdoor spaces has been one of the few pleasures we’ve been able to indulge in. 

Denise Home

Q. Do you have any tips on bringing nature into the home?

The best way to bring nature into your home is to try to enhance the connection between inside and outside as much as possible. One way to do this is to create as unified as space as possible. Blurring the lines by continuing floor finishes, wall treatments and roof structures between the two areas so that you can’t easily define where one space ends and the other begins. Running the same or a similar floor tile from inside to outside is a great way to achieve this kind of flow but it’s important that the level from inside to outside is the same to really create a seamless connection.

When you extend your living space outside, you gain additional living space and by carrying the internal finishes outside you create the illusion of both your internal and external spaces feeling larger.

Custom built furniture such as benches will feel more integrated than more traditional patio furniture. This is a particularly good idea for smaller gardens and the space under a bench can be used for storage. Integrate planters and lighting to complete the look. 

When choosing colours for your interior taking inspiration from your garden really helps to bring the outside in. Green is a fantastic accent colour and works really well in any room, use it in cushions or art work to instantly give your space the feeling of connecting with the outdoors.  

Q. How do you personally connect to nature on an everyday basis?

I love spending time in my garden, during the warmer months of the year the doors between our living space and garden are permanently open. When we renovated our house a few years ago one of the most important parts of the redesign was to  maximise the connection between inside and outside. This meant making sure that the TV in the living space was not the sole focus. Too often rooms are laid out with all of the furniture facing a wall. So careful planning of  the furniture layout was critical. One of my favourite places to sit now is on the sofa looking out onto the garden. I also love house plants and have lots around the house which really bring the spaces to life.

Q. Do you think a connection to nature and the wild is important for us and if so why?

Connecting with nature is a powerful tool when designing environments that make people feel relaxed. Even a visual connection with nature has been proven to reduce stress levels, blood pressure and heart rate. Our ability to think more clearly improves too because we become more engaged and alert. And best of all our emotions, mood and happiness are all greatly enhanced.

Spending time in nature makes you happy and there’s a scientific reason why.

Studies suggest that inhaling M. vaccae, a healthy bacteria that lives in soil, can increase levels of serotonin and reduce anxiety. 

Q. What does your dream garden look like? Anything goes!

I love the gardens of Piet Oudlof,  lots of grasses and soft planting with washes of colour. 

Your top 3 favourite flowers/plants  

This is a tricky one as there are so many that I love. But if I had to choose I’d say

  • Wisteria
  • Lavender
  • Roses


About: Denise O’Connor runs Optimise Design, an award winning Architecture and Interior design company based in Dublin 2 which also features the ‘Optimise Home’ design service which  is an architecture & interior design service created specifically for homeowners.


Instagram @deniseao_connor


Thank you to all creatives who kindly shared their creative ideas and processes with me for this interview and supplied their wonderful imagery.

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