Dream, build, love, live and leave: the journey of a first home

A Kilkenny couple doodled their way to a stunning home. Now, it’s time to move on

Ballyshane House in Inistioge, Co Kilkenny, started its journey to existence as sketches on the back of a selection of beer mats. Eimear Malone and her then partner, John Foley, who'd met at just 17, were in their late teens at the time and had strong ideas about the house they'd like to build together.

Eimear Malone and John Foley outside their house.

They arranged an appointment with Byrne & McCabe architects in Graiguenamanagh, where they spread out their beer mats before the surprised crew. Luckily the architects saw potential in the unusual scribblings of the young hopefuls.

When the couple turned 20, they were gifted a site from Malone’s family. Banks were still being flaithulach, Foley didn’t yet even have a full-time job, but the pair managed to secure funding and start into a self-build the following year. In 2009, by the time they were 23, their striking, high-spec house was complete.

It was a self-build project, planned and executed with meticulous attention to detail. Before the first block was laid, the couple had figured out what size rooms they wanted. The beer mats proved useful in their initial musings around layout and dimensions.


“We’d put them on the table,” explains Malone, “and move them around to see what would work in terms of light, aspect, using space.”

Even at such a young age the pair had a definite and clear understanding of what they wanted to get from the house. They wanted, for example, a space that would take full advantage of the spectacular views. They also wanted a house where every room would be “lived in”. Over their lives they had seen house after house with superfluous rooms. They had no patience with wasted space.

The livingroom.

They located the living room upstairs to take full advantage of the elevated aspect, and designed it to be a large room where they could have big parties. Likewise, the dining room, which occupies the same footprint on the ground floor, is large enough for big gatherings around the table.

The house is a head-turner, a two-storey melding of traditional and modern, with panoramic views over the surrounding rolling countryside. Approaching the house by the long sweeping driveway gives first glimpse of some of the fine craftsmanship the project has deployed.

The handiwork of Foley’s father is displayed in the low, handmade granite walls which bridge parking and garden areas. The house itself, with its commanding double-height staked presentation, features an earthy stone front and contemporary ground-to-roof windows traversed by a subtle break indicating the internal dividing floor.

Moving inside past the handmade front door, tumbled Italian marble floors stretch toward a polished marble stairs, illuminated by recessed lighting. Malone describes the stairs as one of the “must-have” purchases. Her father is a cabinet-maker. It would have made sense for him to make them a wooden staircase; Malone, though “had to have” this staircase.

She also had to have the remote-controlled shower in her en suite. “I can switch it on from my bed so it’s just the right temperature before I step in!”

Having known from the outset that children wouldn’t feature in their plans, the couple planned and indulged with only themselves in mind. Among other must-haves were the bar area, the anti-mist mirrors in the bathroom, the antique bath, and the recessed lighting that creates a cosy atmosphere in the modern interior.

En suite bathroom.

“It’s a happy house,” says Malone. Social gatherings and annual festivities were in mind at every stage of the design and build. Malone recalls asking the electrician to install sockets behind the roof beams so she could easily put up fairy lights at Christmas. And fairy lights were only the start of it. At Christmas, Halloween and other holidays the house would be transformed. Three real trees were the order of the day at Christmas; at Halloween the house would be transformed into a full-scale haunted house.

The next social gathering the now separated Malone and Foley have planned are two house-warming parties whenever they sell Ballyshane, and find and settle into their respective new homes. The separation is “completely amicable”, explains Malone. A lot of hard graft has gone into Ballyshane House, but the pair are happy to move on, optimistic about the future and wishing each other well, as friends.

For now, the two still live together at the house. Foley is a sailor on Stena Line ferries. With the company more focused on transporting goods than people in the current crisis, he works a two-week on, two-week off roster. Malone is working from home for now, as a graphic designer with Carlow-based design consultants AKGraphics.

Ballyshane House was put on the market in recent days, asking €485,000 for the house which sits on just over half an acre. Having decided to sell directly, rather than through an estate agent, a lot of effort has gone into research and preparation. Direct selling can be a challenging and problematic process, but Malone has particular skills that likely make it more manageable than it might otherwise be. Of course, the house is not available for in-person views for now, but Malone is hopeful that her professionally photographed and compiled presentation of the house will generate interest.

Marketing, she says, is key. Malone had initially bounced the idea off the marketing department in the firm for which she works. She designed the website/ online brochure herself and has planned a staged marketing plan in much the same way she would with a client. She hired the services of Konrad Ano of Property Photography and Video. He had, she says, the creative edge they were looking for, and was willing to go the extra mile to showcase the unique features and beauty of the building and its surroundings.

On the legal side of things, the website carries a clear explanation of how any potential bids will be handled.

The website is now live and the house is listed with buyers' agents, That's all part of the staged plan, says Malone. The next step is to promote via Instagram.

Whether a potential buyer will be brave enough to place a bid based on a virtual viewing of the property remains to be seen. For now, though, Malone and Foley are making the most of lockdown, keeping it amicable, keeping it practical and looking forward to the future with optimism.

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