Nuala’s locker room: Belfast businesswoman found surprise new career as interior designer
From the pitch black ceiling in the chic living room to the gold leaf staircase steps in the hallway, a Belfast woman proves that bold interiors can be incredible even in the humblest terraced house.
uala Campbell accidentally discovered two years ago that she had a passion and natural talent for interiors when she bought a period terrace property to renovate in South Belfast to renovate and rent it out in as Airbnb.
After stripping the house down, she enjoyed the transformation so much that she wanted to redo everything and bought the house next door.
And while the Number 18 Whitehall Gardens wowed with its beautifully styled and calming interior, for the Number 20, Nuala let her creativity run wild to push the boundaries of design.
The result is a decadent boutique style vacation rental that exudes opulence and yet was cleverly created on a very tight budget.
What was initially planned as a one-time investment when she bought number 18 two years ago launched this creative businesswoman on a whole new career as an interior designer.
Photos of her stunning interiors on social media led to a flood of orders and she recently signed on to design the interiors of a number of apartments for a local rental company.
“It’s really taken off and I can’t help but feel a little bit like impostor syndrome,” she says.
“So many people want me to do their houses and apartments but I am not qualified!
“A local real estate agent had me make rooms they were trying to rent that were pretty drab and boring and had been empty for a while.
“I made them and each one of them has been rented and now they don’t have any rooms in their books anymore.
“A new rental company in Belfast, McCullough Residential, made me two apartments and they have 30 more coming up that they also hired me to.
“I worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week to finish number 20 and run my other businesses.
“I love interiors and never would have thought of doing them for a living, so now I have to re-evaluate my job and maybe bring in people to help me run my other business.”
Unsurprisingly, his other businesses are also in the creative industry.
Nuala (39) runs Titanic FX, supplying professional prosthetic materials to movie sets and TV shows as well as industrial customers around the world.
She also gives back through her non-profit company Titanic Creative Education, which trains young people in the art of cinema and cinematographic prostheses.
Her husband Frankie (45), who also takes care of the renovations, runs The Cutting Edge hair salon on Ormeau Road.
Creating stunning bedrooms on a tight budget has become a Belfast woman’s strong suit.
For her latest project, she achieved a luxurious and sophisticated look using mostly second-hand furniture that she herself recycled.
She explains her approach: “In number 18 I kept everything neutral, but this time I just thought, ‘Who said you have to keep everything neutral?’ so I decided to go for it really.
“This is all a little bit daring, and people thought I was mad at some of the things I did. I love that boutique hotel feel where things are put together that people wouldn’t normally do and that’s what I did in number 20. “
To stay on budget, Nuala spent many hours scouring the internet for cheap accessories and furniture, scooping them up for as little as £ 1 for a vase on eBay.
In fact, the entire four bedroom, three story property was fully furnished for just £ 6,500!
She says, “Most of the furniture was bought from Facebook Marketplace, then repaired and painted by me.
“I got wardrobes for the bedrooms at £ 40 and a chest of drawers at £ 20 and even £ 10.
“A friend also donated a beautiful vintage dressing table that I received for free!
“The living room seats are new but the dining table and chairs are used.
“Brexit was a major issue as a lot of the companies I would have dealt with in England struggled to deliver to Northern Ireland.
“I had my heart thrown on a gorgeous £ 600 pink sofa, but they were asking £ 350 to deliver it and that wasn’t going to happen.
“I get a lot of accessories from Amazon, Wayfair, Cult Furniture, Bothy Blue, and eBay.
“I also love supporting small businesses so I would use Etsy a lot too and I have a lot of creative friends and try to use what I can of them to keep it local as well.
“You have to be prepared to spend hours looking, but you can save a fortune. “
A second-hand vintage dresser that cost £ 80 on the Facebook Marketplace was his best buy.
Nuala has totally transformed it into a magnificent black and gold vanity unit topped with a fabulous round golden sink in the bathroom.
The bathroom wallpaper was her most extravagant purchase and she agonized over as it cost £ 195 a roll and she needed two rolls!
She says, “The vanity unit is my find and the bathroom is very daring as it is all lavishly colored with a gold sink.
“It’s probably my favorite room in the house. I really wondered about the wallpaper and had to sit down for a while to convince myself to buy it.
“I had that vision in mind and although it was my most extravagant purchase, I think it was worth it.”
From the second you step through the doorstep, Nuala’s bold decor packs a punch.
The staircase steps have been carefully covered in gold leaf and look great on a black carpet.
Getting there took two full days of backbreaking work, but Nuala is thrilled with the end result.
She says, “I had refurbished a dresser with gold leaf before, and she got such an amazing response online.
“I still had a pot of it and wondered what to do with it.
“Everyone paints the side of the stairs white or cream and it can be really boring so I decided to use the gold leaf.
“My builder thought I was crazy but the end result is fantastic. The light bounces off the gold leaf and it’s magic.
The living room proved to be a particular challenge when Nuala discovered that the previous owners had lowered what was originally a high period ceiling.
It took a lot of work to restore it and she celebrated the return to the original by boldly painting it black. The result even shocked its old-fashioned builder!
She says, “I worked with a builder, Brendan Neeson from Magherafelt, and he was really amazing. I couldn’t have done it without him.
“The house was supposed to have been renovated but we found out that it had not been.
“Originally, Brendan was only supposed to be with me for a week, but there were so many complications and things to do that he ended up staying with me for six months!
“The new ceiling took so much work that he almost had a seizure when I said I was painting it black and asked me not to. When he saw it he thought it was great.
Good workers lightened much of the burden and Nuala paid tribute to Michael Hegarty of HD Plumbing in Maghera and his painter Eamon Coney who went “above and beyond” to help finish the house.
Rolling up her sleeves to do as much work as she could on her own, six months later, she has completely transformed what was a dilapidated three-story terraced house into an inspiring home that is causing a sensation on the streets.
She said, “I had people come to the door to ask if they could just come in and see it. A man asked me if it was the setting for a movie!
“The response has been fantastic and people seem to like it.”
And will she do it again? She adds: “At the moment no, but I can’t stop looking at what’s for sale online!
You can see full images of Nuala’s transformation at Nuala Campbell on Facebook or www.instagram.com/oh.for.the.love.of.furniture