A new home above an old shop: How do you make it work?

Turning the floors above businesses into housing is tricky. Here’s how it works in practice

Number 51 Dawson Street. Photograph: Donal Murphy

Number 51 Dawson Street. Photograph: Donal Murphy

All over Ireland, shuttered premises in villages, towns and cities provoke memories of businesses that passed through generations, with the family’s front room at the back, and their home upstairs. It was a time when people literally lived over their shops.

In addition to sites vacant before Covid-19 took hold – Census 2016 recorded the national vacancy rate as 13.5 per cent – there are countless commercial premises with shiny fit-outs that deflect attention from layers of upper-floor neglect. Others have lean-tos and modifications that can demean and even damage original building fabric. When there are more than a couple of such properties on a street they give off a gloomy air, and they deaden the area at night.

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