Meet Mr and Mrs Fix-It
Les and Sue Corbett devised some ingenious ways to transform their Victorian home, writes ALANNA GALLAGHER
Husband and wife team Les and Sue Corbett see potential in everything. With imagination and a lot of elbow grease they turned their three-storey Victorian property in Bray, Co Wicklow, from bleak house to cheap chic home.
Scavenging, skip hunting, auctioneering and antiquing is all part of quotidian life for Les and Sue. They forage for furniture in the way some foodies forage for food. Their enamel bath, for example, they found in a field in Co Waterford.
The couple met Down Under. Les is Australasian and imbued with an un-put-downable pragmatism. They bought the terraced redbrick in 1998 when it was still in flats and bedsits and moved in, working their way up through the house, one room at a time, to make it habitable.
The surveyor told them that the house had all the problems you could think of. Dry rot, rising damp and all the windows needed replacing, Les explains.
The house had three kitchens and three bathrooms but there was very little that was salvageable save the doors. “Much of the stripped-out timber was used as firewood during the first winter as there was no central heating,” recalls Des.
At the time Sue’s three daughters from her first marriage, Sophie, Carly and Abi, respectively 16, 18 and 20, were living in the house along with Les and Sue’s son, Jack, who was five at the time.
The work took the best part of a year. Sue earned the money needed to pay for the refurbishment. Les juggled being a stay-at-home dad and being Mr Fix-It, subbing out specialist jobs such as plastering, electricity and plumbing to reclaim the house.
He learned his handyman skills in Sydney apprenticing as a carpenter and working as a panel beater. He also trained as a cardiothoracic nurse.
If you don’t count his time, Les estimates the refurbishment work cost €50,000. It’s a small sum by today’s standards but 14 years ago it was considerable.
The lime-green kitchen has drawers salvaged from the Cockatoo Dockyard in Sydney, where Les once worked as a health and safety officer. The free-standing cupboards were procured from a Bray tattoo parlour that shut up shop. The old units have been wrapped in a stainless-steel countertop and splashback. The country-style kitchen table has a scrubbed oak top and painted frame. It came from the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, where Les now works. It was too big so he cut it down to size. In the far corner of the kitchen there is a turquoise-covered sofa and multicoloured shelving unit.
A freestanding bookshelf has a steel spine and metal shelves constructed in his local sheet metal works. The shelving was designed to house their ever-expanding collection of cookery books.
The house is full of original features. In the front room there is a black marble fireplace. Above it is a reimagined mantle mirror decorated with pastel pops of colour. A cast-iron table pedestal has been painted Barbie pink and the couple are still trying to figure out what to do with it. Oak office shelving looks out towards the bay front window where floor to ceiling purple curtains hang. In one of the nooks on either side of the fireplace is a 1960s glass-fronted cabinet with acrylic piping to the front. Originally, the sliding glass doors were ornamentally decorated in silver swirls. Les carefully removed the mercury-based paint and painted the entire piece a gallery white. He lined the interior with a floral print wallpaper to add colour.
At the loft, a floating set of steps made of dockyard staging planks form the threads of the stairs that lead up to a mezzanine level with roof glazing. Here an old massage table that has been reupholstered acts as a day bed. Les likes to recline here and peer across the windows at the sea.
The couple sell many of their upcycled pieces. They also customise old furniture and overhaul a lot of pieces that have sentimental value but that don’t work with your current interior.
See quirkistuff.com, tel: 086-653 7448