Seven years ago, Noreen and Chris Edmonds decided to make a dramatic lifestyle change and take early retirement – Noreen from her job as a school teacher and Chris from the motor trade. Both keen hill-walkers, they planned to sell their modern home in Curtlestown, County Wicklow and fi nd a house in their dream location in the mountains.
‘Once we had decided to go ahead with our new lifestyle, we packed our camper van and planned weekend trips around the country to search for our ideal countryside retreat,’ explains Noreen. ‘We travelled all around the Republic of Ireland, from Cork to Galway to Donegal, but somehow we kept being drawn back to the mountains here in Carlow, particularly the Blackstairs, which was an area we knew really well from going hill-walking.’
The owners: Noreen and Chris Edmonds, who are both retired
When Noreen and Chris stumbled upon a dilapidated and abandoned farmhouse, nestled in the foothills of the Blackstairs Mountains, the location won them over. The property was derelict and in a bad state of repair; an ugly concrete porch had been added to the front of it, while the middle section, which comprised the original cottage, was structurally unstable.
Despite these drawbacks, the couple were instantly smitten with the place. ‘It was our dream location,’ admits Noreen. ‘And, although the house was in very poor condition, it had a lovely feel. I could see its potential and we were both very excited by the prospect of restoring the building and bringing it back to life.’
Veteran campers, the Edmonds weren’t put off by the idea of living in a mobile home while the building work was completed, so they decided to live on site, planning to tackle the project in stages. Stage one would involve completely renovating the main house; stage two of the project, the middle section of the property, would mean demolishing and rebuilding what was the original cottage; and fi nally, stage three would be the conversion of the pig barn to fit a new bathroom and a home office. The original granite walls of the pig barn would be left intact, but the space needed to be modernised, re-roofed and incorporated into the main house.
The couple were determined to be sympathetic to the original footprint of the house and therefore didn’t want to add a large, modern extension. ‘We were keen to keep to the original layout as far as possible, so we decided to simply add a small kitchen extension at the back of the house, while on the left-hand side of the house we planned a small lean-to extension to create more storage space,’ explains Noreen.
Due to slight delays with planning permission, which related to the couple’s choice of roofi ng for the former pig barn, Noreen and Chris lived on site in the mobile home for 18 months during one of the coldest winters on record. ‘Despite the hardship, it was a really happy time for us,’ says Noreen. ‘We were so excited about our dream house, and being on site meant we could be hands on with the project. While we waited for the planning issues to be resolved, we spent the time gutting the house, chipping back the lime plaster and lifting the floors in order to prepare everything for the builders to start work as soon as possible. Ultimately, this saved us both time and money, so in a way it was sort of a blessing in disguise.’
It took just over three months for the couple to finally receive permission for their project, having finally won round the planners about their choice of a galvanised curved roof for the pig barn. ‘We wanted the house to look interesting and not just to have a series of pitched roofs, so we decided to model this section of the house on a barn and use a galvanised roof,’ says Noreen. ‘We were really surprised that this was the element of the build the local planners were unsure about, particularly when you consider that this type of roof is seen on farm buildings all over the country and certainly wouldn’t detract from the farmhouse style of the property. Thankfully, they eventually came round to our way of thinking, but it took quite a lot of persuasion.’
The contentious roof was also one of the most costly elements of the build. It was made on the ground using five sheets of laminated ply, which were bent and shaped to fit over a form to make an arch profi le, and was then mechanically lifted into place before the galvanised steel sheeting was rolled and shaped to fit on top of the ply frame.
With the planning permission in place, the builders, who the couple found through previous contacts, could finally start work on the empty building, removing all the roofs and demolishing the middle section of the property then rebuilding it. The remaining walls of the house were all underpinned and heavily insulated, then the roofs were all replaced using Bangor blue slates on the main house and former cottage, creating a striking contrast to the curved galvanised roof. The new glazed annexe that would be home to the couple’s kitchen was also added to the rear.
All the windows throughout the house needed replacing, and, eager to maintain the traditional style of the building, the couple had new hardwood sash windows with brass fittings made. ‘Even though all the windows are quite small, the new designs were hugely expensive, so a lot of our budget went on them,’ says Noreen. ‘It was definitely a worthwhile expense though, as anything plastic just wouldn’t have looked right.’
Once the main structural work was complete, the couple could turn their attention to the interior finishes. ‘The beautiful granite stonework was the main attraction for us as far as the house was concerned, so we decided to keep some exposed stone and use traditional lime plaster throughout,’ explains Noreen. ‘For practical reasons, we opted for hardwearing black slate flooring throughout the ground floor.’
The couple also had to source new internal doors throughout the house, and again chose a traditional-style design. ‘We wanted old latch-style doors, but all the openings were odd sizes so they had to be specially made to fit,’ adds Noreen. ‘Luckily our fabulous builder is a carpenter by trade, so he made them all and I sourced the fittings from Clayton Munroe in the UK.’
For their glazed kitchen extension, Noreen and Chris decided to go for simple, light-coloured units that wouldn’t detract from the spectacular views of the mountain that they love so much. Despite the extension, there was still relatively little space to play with, so the kitchen was specially designed to make the most of every inch. ‘There’s a lot of storage, a lovely Belfast sink, and the large beech worktops provide us with plenty of room for food preparation,’ explains Noreen.
Leading off the kitchen, the dining area features a wood-burning stove in the new arched alcove to ensure that it’s a warm, inviting space throughout the year. ‘There was a huge chimney in this area, which took up a great deal of space not only in here, but also in the upstairs bedroom,’ Noreen continues. ‘We decided to remove it and fit the stove instead. That was one of our best decisions, as in addition to heating this room it warms up the first floor, too.’
Once all the major building work had been completed, Noreen was able to turn her attention to the décor and furnishings, opting for a pared-back design scheme. ‘Both Chris and I hate having lots of clutter around the house, so we kept the interior schemes as simply furnished as possible,’ she explains. ‘When it came to deciding the décor, the stonework throughout the house infl uenced our choice of colour palette. We stuck to shades of off-white as they complement the stonework, as well as making the house feel light and airy.’
It took the builders eight months to turn the once derelict property into a comfortable home, and Noreen and Chris’ design has been successfully achieved without losing any of the charm that was inherent in the original buildings.
With all the hard work finally over, the couple are already thinking about whether they would take on a new project. ‘With everything that we’ve learnt from this experience, we certainly feel as though we’d be happy to do it all over again,’ says Noreen. ‘You never know, it might be time for us to get back in the camper van for a while and go on another adventure!’
|Labour and building work||£188,000|
|Decorating and furnishings||£4,200|