Coming home for Christmas . . . for the first time ever
Three families explain how happy they are to be settling into new houses this December
Buzz O’Neill and Peter Maxwell with their dog Eric in their new home: “This year all our Christmases have come at once.” Photograph: Alan Betson
Eight-month-old Carmen, daughter of Ciara and Éanna in their home in Malahide. Photograph: Alan Betson
Éanna, Ciara, baby Carmen and Harley the dog in their new house: “It was like living in one of those home makeover shows.” Photograph: Alan Betson
Thomas Kane with mum Patricia in their new home in Foxrock: “It was such a joy and massive relief to open the door to our new home.” Photograph: Alan Betson
Buzz O’Neill and Peter Maxwell
“This time two years ago, we could hardly have even dreamed we’d be in the position we’re in right now,“ says Buzz.
He is referring first to the Yes victory in the same-sex marriage referendum in 2015 and second to the fact that he and his husband, Peter, who tied the knot on December 28th last year, managed to buy and renovate their first home in the nick of time for Christmas.
“We’d our heart set on living in Dublin 1 or 3 and spent over two years looking at countless houses but every property we went for, we were outbid on,” says Buzz.
Peter, who works for Heineken, convinced Buzz to look further afield to Dublin 8 and 12.
“Within 24 hours we found three houses which ticked all our boxes and that were within budget. We revisited them all over the coming weeks, and the 1930s parlour house in Drimnagh pipped the post thanks to its big garden - a necessity for Eric, our massive German shepherd,” Peter says.
“The neighbours also all came out to tell us how great the street was and were just so welcoming it sealed the deal for us.”
They put a bid on the house in early June which was accepted, but as the property was in probate, they were told it could take up to 28 weeks to close the sale. Ten days later they got a call from their gobsmacked solicitor informing them that the sale had closed in record time and the house was all theirs.
“We were completely unprepared to move in so soon but of course went to the pub to celebrate that night. I bumped into an old family friend, Darragh Davenport, and when I told him our news, he said he lived ten doors down from our new house, and as luck would have it, he happened to be a builder and was between projects for the summer,” Peter says.
Darragh got started on the house straight away and Buzz, an events manager by night, got stuck in as labourer by day.
“We worked night and day reconfiguring most of the rooms, installing new windows, new pipes, new bathrooms, extending the kitchen and the final floorboards and skirting boards are just going in this week,” says Buzz.
The couple say they are going to submit their renovation budget for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, such is discrepancy between the original estimate and actual refurbishment costs.
“But there’s no point stressing over money spent. We’re just so glad to be married, to be homeowners and to be not sitting on boxes for the first time in six months. Without sounding corny, this year all our Christmases have genuinely come at once,” says Buzz.
Ciara and Éanna Hughes Dunleavy
It was December last year when Ciara and Éanna Hughes Dunleavy spotted the old Georgian farmhouse of their dreams in Malahide’s countryside. However, acquiring it wasn’t so simple.
“The house was part of a commercial sale, with lots of fields for development and most likely would have been knocked down, as buyers like Aldi were reportedly interested,” Ciara says.
“I’d just discovered I was pregnant with our first child and became hellbent on finding a ‘forever’ family home. I went on a mission, possessed by the hormones no doubt, to save the house and after a lot of pleading and persuading, convinced the auctioneer and owner to sell it to us separately,” says Ciara.
The couple took ownership earlier this year, and the builders moved in and began renovations in spring.
“We decided to work within the existing structure, to begin with, refurbishing the kitchen and bathrooms and upgrading the heating, electric and plumbing systems, and over the next few years, the hope is to double the size of the house with a large extension to the back,” says Éanna.
Building progress was on track, but the couple were thrown dramatically of course in early summer with the arrival of baby Carmen more than two months early.
“The house was in no state for a premature baby. But as they kept her in the hospital for a few weeks, it gave us a window to ramp up our efforts and suddenly it was like living in one of those home makeover shows, trying to get walls painted, floors tiled, toilets plumbed and furniture in before the buzzer rang,” says Éanna.
Ciara, who works as a marketing consultant for luxury brands, had a very clear vision as to how she wanted her home to look and feel, so she called in the professionals from Phoenix Interiors and Neptune to help her achieve a cosy but chic Provençe style throughout the house
“Compared to our last home – a new build kitted out with sleek furniture with glass surfaces everywhere – I’ve had to adjust my taste completely so the interiors would work with the house’s Georgian style,” she says.
“Plus everything we bought needed to be safe and suitable for a toddler and hopefully for any more children we have in the future.”
Now family life revolves around the Aga in the flagstone kitchen by day and cosying up by the fire in the sitting room in the evenings.
“Not only are we overjoyed to be spending our first Christmas in our new home, with our new baby girl, it’s also the first time I’ve put up a Christmas tree since my mum, Caroline, passed away in 2012,” Ciara says.
“So I’ve pulled out all the stops with the decorations, a massive tree and lots of rich red flowers everywhere as I want to create a sense of magic in the house for Carmen, Éanna, Harley the dog and all my family, who are coming over for Christmas Day. I hope Mum will be looking down on December 25th and be very proud of what we’ve achieved in the past year.”
Patricia and Stephen Kane
How Patricia has kept her calm over the past few weeks is truly remarkable. Originally from Brazil, invitations were sent to her extended Brazilian family last August to spend Christmas in Ireland in Patricia’s new home, which she planned to be in by autumn.
Three weeks ago, however, Patricia, husband Stephen, son Thomas and their dog were still bunking in with relatives in a small apartment down the road as building problems prolonged their house’s completion date.
No sooner were they handed keys to their Foxrock house two weekends ago, but they had to board a plane to Rio to work for a fortnight.
Fortunately, the couple (whom met in the Caribbean a decade ago while working in a communications firms) had the foresight to start planning for the home as soon as they signed the contract in June.
“Both of us work and travel a lot, so I knew I’d need back-up getting the house done. A friend introduced me to Sinead Considine and Niamh deBarra from the Interiors Project, and we clicked straight away,” Patricia says.
“They’ve made the process so much easier and have taken control of every design and decorating detail.
The family wanted a contemporary child- and dog-friendly home and agreed on using a palette of navy, ochres and marble. Sinead and Niamh used this brief and set off stockpiling furniture, fixtures, fabrics, lamps and accessories to fill the house with the moment the building was completed.
“As it was so close to Christmas, with all of us over in Rio and with my clan due to land in the next few days, the girls had to kit the entire house out without us and even took the initiative of putting up the Christmas decorations for us,” Patricia says.
“It was such a joy and massive relief to open the door to our new home and see everything we’d been looking at with the girls for months now in situ for the first time. And to have the decorations and tree up was pure magic. We told Thomas that Santa had sent his elves in to make sure the house was Christmas-ready.
“In Brazil, we have our Christmas dinner on December 24th, so we shall sit down to our big meal on Christmas Eve. Then I’ll be taking a break but must gear up to do it all again on the 26th, as Stephen’s massive family is coming over for round two.”
Stephen says: “We still have a lot of work to do upstairs next year and will be adding more personal touches, but for now, thanks to Sinead and Niamh, we’re going to relax, kick back and treasure every moment of our first family Christmas here.”