Our favourite houses of 2016
Trophy homes and stately manors may grab all the property headlines, but these are the real homes that captured our hearts
It’s impossible to say the name Helen Dillon without conjuring up her by now legendary Ranelagh garden. So there was great excitement when Helen and Val put their home and much loved public garden on the market for €4.5million in April. However when I visited the lovely Georgian property I nearly didn’t get to see the celebrated garden, so concerned were the Dillons that any coverage might over-glorify the garden and intimidate potential buyers. It didn’t matter, their Sandford Terrace home was such a lovely slice of old world living. Val was an antique dealer and there were fine pieces of furniture and art dotted about the house. The piano nobile drawing room leading out to the garden was a lovely variation on the usual Dublin townhouse layout. Aside from all the aesthetic loveliness, including a completely eccentric wc entirely clad in seashells, Helen and Val are great characters and they share their home with a very lucky pair of aloof dachschunds. The Dillons also do a mean line in bacon sandwiches, off the silver salver of course. Now there’s class. The house sold for €4.6million in a record four weeks.
The headline that ran with my favourite house of the year - “Is this the weirdest house ever?” - hints at its fabulous eccentricity. Number 37A Highfield Road in Rathgar is one of those buildings that you walk by and can’t help but stare in amazement through the tall iron gates and wonder what could it possibly be. The vast two storey building - a semi really, being attached to a fine period house - is undeniably ugly: a neo-classical pastiche right down to the hideous out-of-proportion porch. That was the way in the 1980s when anyone extending a period house had to reassure the planners that their plans would be “sympathetic” and 37A did indeed start out as an extension - and a finer example of 1980s bling you’d be hard pushed to find. Restaurateur Oliver Caffrey who owned the period house built it as a recreation space - a ballroom upstairs, and a heated swimming pool downstairs. The real eccentricity came in the mid-1980s - and the reason why it all appeals to me so much - was when Monika and Cyril Murray, then fixtures on the Dublin social scene, bought the extension as their family home. This remember was a two storey building with no bedrooms or kitchen, a swimming pool inside the front door and - get this - no stairs! Instead access to upstairs is via a lift - or if you’re feeling nimble via the exterior fire escape. Undaunted by this definition of “family unfriendly” they popped a sort of a kitchen area into the corner of the ballroom and made their bedroom out of a room at the top of the house. The changing rooms and the sauna beside the swimming po0l became children’s bedrooms. They filled the vast bright upstairs room with art and beautiful furniture and it all still looks - it’s an executor’s sale - bohemian and fun. The swimming pool was left as is, used up until recent years when it was simply covered over and it’s now another huge living room, this one opening out onto the gorgeous back garden. The “For Sale” sign is still up (DNG is the agent) - in a fantasy world it would be bought by a new generation of arty eccentrics who would move in, do very little and enjoy the beautiful space but at €1.2 million, that’s probably not going to happen.
Billed as a West Cork Detached for €4.2 million (with Sherry FitzGerald), this classic Georgian country house sits along the coastline on the way to Timoleague. Apart from the incredible views that just get better and better as you drive out, and which from the house reaches right around to the Old Head of Kinsale, there’s also a coach yard and the 20 acres (which means horses and beach rides are a definite possibility). But what I really loved about this one was that the owners, Mike and Jane Newman, were planning to make a completely fresh, more minimalist/modernist start, and so you could buy the entire place, plus all the furniture and bits and pieces in one go. This included a brilliantly mad dining room, where the décor had taken its lead from an exotic parrot sculpture. Jane commissioned Joanne Salley and the Joseph Walsh workshop to make a room to match.
Elsewhere, the décor was more muted: local craftspeople had re-made the beautiful staircase in the entrance hall, and everything had been restored to a level I would seriously love (and I imagine could easily become accustomed to). After a pleasant wander around the house and grounds, we sat outside on a sunny evening drinking gin and tonics by the fountain and talking about how lovely it was to live there, disturbed only by the buzz of a drone, taking those all-important aerial shots for the brochure. Burren House is on sale through Sherry FitzGerald for €4.2million.
Because North Great Georges St is north Dublin’s last intact Georgian street any visit there is always a bit special and a little like walking out of time. Low winter sunshine streams down the ancient street, and bounces light off the stacked sash windows and glistening granite steps. Number 49, owned by Gary and Gaby Whelan, has been restored to within an inch of itself, twice. Its previous owner, former solicitor and one-time property developer Angela Farrell purchased the house in 2003 for €1.8 million and undertook an estimated €2million refurbishment. The Whelans bought the house for €1.025m in 2014 following Farrell’s bankruptcy and continued to make improvements. The result is a very comfortable period home pristinely renovated within its original footprint.
The gracious reception rooms have been classically furnished, though the Whelan’s personal stamp is evident in a bold and varied array of art and objets. What was nice about this house was the owners’ passion for and interest in the property. They’re in the business, but they took time and effort to get number 49 right and give it the treatment it deserved. Now they’re selling it with Sherry FitzGerald for €2.25m. The Whelans took a healthy approach to making the house liveable and welcoming - bottles of wine adorned many surfaces, though sadly the cellar was locked! Less welcoming was the cranky old terrier who declined my kindly advances with a nip on the finger. It was worth it though for the poor estate agent’s efforts to make like it hadn’t happened, and the owners’ mild disinterest. A cursory reminder too of how unsettling it can be for homeowners (and their dogs) to allow a virtual stranger mosey around their most private space. We try not to take it for granted. Magnificat, as number 49 is named, is still on the market.
Why do we not treasure our architects? So many designers who were responsible for our beautiful Georgian buildings are generally unknown and certainly uncelebrated. Like Thomas Ivory one of the most respected architects in Ireland in the Georgian period his largest, most notable commissions were for the Blue Coat School (1773) now the headquarters of the Law Society and the Newcomen Bank building at the entrance to Dublin Castle. And more than that, he was teacher to a generation of architects - one of his pupils was James Hoban who went on to design the White House.
Ivory died in his house in Ranelagh in what is now 6 Old Mount Pleasant in 1786. Then it was a small detached house whose garden stretched far in front of it - the Ranelagh Multi-Denominational School is now built on it. And the amazing thing is the house hasn’t changed as radically as it might given its age and the fact it has been a family home for decades. Over the years it has been undergoing a conservation programme - new roof, lime walls, that sort of thing. It feels like a Georgian gem. Some decades ago its canny owner bought a portion of the garden next door so for a buyer (it’s for sale through Sherry Fitzgerald for €1.2 million) it represents a development opportunity in the heart of Ranelagh - hopefully, if that happens it will be all out the back, and the lovely house with the important history stays the same. And they’ll put up a plaque to Thomas Ivory.
One of the most interesting forays in my year was visiting 9 Merrion View Avenue. While a house is merely bricks and mortar - this is a home and a rather crazy one at that. This house eschewed all current trends - not a grey wall in sight, opting instead to reflect the eccentric personality of its owner.While mirrors in odd places - such as corners in the ceiling, were installed to reflect the light, it was the bathrooms that really threw me. Oddly, the interiors of all three bathrooms were visible from other rooms - even with doors closed.
The master bedroom shared a large internal window with the master bathroom which is probably fine for a couple who don’t take modesty too seriously, but the downstairs loo was all glass, and visible from the conservatory, kitchen and courtyard. There was talk of a blind through the laughter but I am not sure whether it materialised for viewings. The bathroom on the return also had a nice view from an adjacent bedroom. While these internal windows were installed to throw light into the rooms, guests to this colourful property could get an awful lot more. The property is still listed for sale for €675,000 through Lisney. A bit of cosmetic upgrading though and it’s a super house.
A Georgian lodge on 110 acres near Roundwood, Co Wicklow, with woodland walks down to Lough Dan, where owners can swim, fish or boat in near-total privacy, must be one of the most romantic properties to have gone on sale in 2016. Built in 1835, it even has a literary history - a young Edna O’Brien eloped to live there with writer Ernest Gebler in the early 1950s; poet Richard Murphy bought it from them in 1955. The current owner, London-based Irish property developer Stephen Dalton, bought Lake Park in 2007 for about €4.25m and spent another €1.5m restoring the house and gardens. A full-time gardener lives at Lake Park to maintain the grounds and a one-acre walled garden.
It’s the mix of carefully restored traditional features alongside very modern accommodation, plus the beautiful grounds and location, that make Lake Park - a 743sq m (8,000sq ft) six-bedroom single-storey Georgian lodge with a two-storey Victorian extension so appealing. This accommodation includes a fully-glazed double-height orangerie - a very posh conservatory - with views of the Wicklow mountains, a modern guest wing beside a stone courtyard and a studio/games room at the back with a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows opening straight into woodland. It’s still on the market for €3.5m through Ganly Walters.
It was the smell of the turf embers in the fireplace in the master bedroom of this wonderful Georgian pile that put a smile on my face. So many old houses board up bedroom hearths, and yes from an energy saving point of view it makes sense but a firelit bedroom on a frosty winter’s evening takes some beating.
Walking around with Gilly Mulvin, who grew up here, each room came to life as she recalled her “sometimes mad but very happy home.”
From the five family weddings on the lawns outside, to how they as children cycled around the kitchen, it was a trip down memory lane for Gilly, and an insight to a remarkable family home for me.
The gardens were just magical and maintained by her late mother Dolores for 50 years - including a flourishing bird of paradise which Dolores smuggled as a slip in her suitcase decades before.
As one of the oldest houses in Killiney, the house itself had oodles of charm, but Gilly’s childhood memories revealed much more - that only happiness can build a home.
Woodbank sold in November for €1.675million. Here is hoping that the new owners will create similar fond memories in this lovely old pile.
When I was growing up, I could still imagine living in nearby Dalkey without having to run, or rob a bank. So it was with something a little close to envy that I took a look over the extended cottage, close to the top of Dalkey Hill. Torca Cottage, for sale for €2.45 million (with Sherry FitzGerald), had once been the holiday home of George Bernard Shaw. Shaw won both an Oscar and a Nobel Prize, and said of the cottage: “I lived on a hill top with the most beautiful view in the world - I had only to open my eyes to see such pictures as no painter could make for me.” He also, elsewhere, said: “If you can’t get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance”; and the most recent owners had made this house dance with a full upgrade and extension, bringing it to five bedrooms and 286sq m (3,078sq ft).
Everything had been lavishly done and, as it had been then rented and the owners had already moved on, it had been made over with that clean Boutique Hotel Chic look that some interior designers tend to love. There’s lots of scatter cushions, and other things to move about before you get into bed. But none of that actually matters, because the house is gorgeous, and Oh! the location. Upstairs, an incredible sweeping balcony / terrace looks across Killiney Bay and I reckoned it was definitely big enough for a whole party of dancing skeletons. Inside, a wall of glass meant you could still get your visual fix on stormy days. Could it inspire Nobel-winning writing? Possibly not, but it would certainly make you very happy. It’s still for sale - now at €2.3 million, and I’m telling myself that bank robbing is not a good career move, no matter how lovely the house.
Two single-storey 19th Century cottage-style houses next to Fitzgerald’s pub in Sandycove, Co Dublin look pretty traditional from the outside. But the owners of one of the pair bought their neighbour’s house and turned the two of them into one ultra-modern really smart home.
Architect Jude O’Loughlin fashioned a bright two-storey 288sq m (3,000sq ft) three-bedroom house behind the front door, extending at the back. Traditional rooms at the front open into a double-height hall running the width of the house, where art work is displayed on an exposed stone wall. This then opens into a wide open-plan double-height livingroom and diningroom with floor-to-ceiling windows and glazed sliding doors opening into the back garden.
The owners mixed modern and traditional furnishings in the space, with some surprises, like the New England barndoor wood panelling in the diningroom. The space is overlooked from a book-lined mezzanine gallery on the first floor.
The house was slowish to sell, probably because of the extremely tight space for parking at the front. It went for sale in March 2016 but by October had been sold by agent Knight Frank for €1.975 million, just shy of the €2m asking price.
Shamrock Lodge, on the outskirts of Athy, is one of those romantic homes that will either bowl you over or not, depending on your appetite for hard work, getting your hands dirty and the depth of your pockets.
The setting of this beguiling Regency six-bedroom house is pastoral perfection where the owners bred Connemara ponies on the surrounding lands. There is a large lawn, gone slightly to seed, and a house with rooms that a family could really fill. The scale isn’t overly imposing but big enough for every child to be able to bring their friends back and to find a room in the house to call their own.
So why does it stand out? For starters the proportions are beautiful. From its wide hall to the beautiful dual aspect drawing room the house’s strength is in its reception rooms but there’s little by way of modern kitchen space. There are also plenty of back rooms that could be reconfigured to create a big all-singing, all-dancing open plan kitchen cum living room. Upstairs the main bedroom has a vaulted ceiling. This is not a photogenic house - you do need to see it to appreciate it. It’s asking €580,000 through agent Savills.
It is rare in Dublin to get a period house that remains in original condition, uncompromised by the ugly flat subdivisions that many houses underwent in the 1960s and 1970s. Number 78 Cowper Road is also a great address and at 106sq m the three-bedroom property is modest enough in size to appeal to anyone trading down from the bigger homes in the area or a small family.
Because the house hasn’t been touched at all you have the opportunity to reimagine it exactly as you want it to be. The house doesn’t have a kitchen to speak of so you will need to demolish the tiny wooden structure to the rear that has served that purpose and construct one from scratch. Given that the back is south-facing you will, subject to deep pockets, be able to design a light-filled space exactly as you would like it to be and enjoy as much sunshine as we get in this country. It has simple period features and interconnecting reception rooms.
Upstairs there are three bedrooms and an original attic room that has potential to extend into a dormer room, subject to planning permission. It is asking €795,000 through agents DNG.