Family waxes lyrical about dream home in former beauty parlour
When the Burnhams first visited their Greystones home they saw a woman getting her legs done
Sally and Alex Burnham have renovated a house in Greystones that had been divided up into different small businesses. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times
Sally Burnham at the log store at her home in Greystones. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times
The livingroom of the house in Greystones, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times
The Burnhams’ cats Jack and Ellie relaxing in their new home. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times
Emily House in Greystones was divided into four businesses at the time of going on the market. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times
The open-plan kitchen-diningroom in Emily House in Greystones. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times
Primary school teacher, Sally Burnham and her husband Alex, a cyber-security consultant, are more than a little fond of Emily House – the pretty, Victorian, Greystones two-storey they first set eyes on 2½ years ago. When Sally saw the estate agents’ pictures online it was, she says, love at first sight. Alex remembers it well.
In theory it had everything they were looking for. Location was at the top of the list, and in this case it was spot on; Sally had wanted to live in Greystones, Co Wicklow, since she was a child. The specific location was even more perfect, overlooking the famous Greystones swimming spot – Ladies Cove, known perhaps most famously these days for its daily year-round swimmers including writer Ruth Fitzmaurice and a certain notoriously happy pair – David and Stephen Flynn, twins and proprietors of local deli/food business, the Happy Pear.
The Burnhams first actual sighting of the house was a little unusual.
The house was divided into four businesses at the time of going on the market and the Burnhams showed up outside office hours. They peered through one of the front windows, trying to catch a glimpse of the interior through a net curtain. They describe the rather alarmed reaction they caused for a woman inside who was having her legs waxed in the beauty salon that is now the Burnhams’ sittingroom.
“They were so nice,” says Sally. “They invited us in for a look around. It’s a quite complex house in a way because the back is sub-divided and part of the next door neighbours’ house is over our kitchen. Even with all the sub divisions though, we could see what it could be. We viewed it several times after that. When it was open viewing we could see the reactions of others – saying it was too much work, but we saw the potential.”
Sitting in the now comfortably refurbished room, the Burnhams recall a hectic couple of years. After much toing and froing with complications around conveyancing over the sub-divided nature of the property, as well as a stressful bidding war that went on for a number of weeks, the Burnhams purchased the house in December 2016. As a commercial centre housing four small businesses, the house was not immediately suited to family living. Sally, Alex and their two boys Connor (18) and Sam (13½) moved in with Sally’s parents for three months while the heavy construction work got under way.
With a tight budget, the family were very involved in gutting and clearing the debris and commercial fittings of the previous tenants. There’s a preservation order on the house so any work they carried out had to be respectful of the building’s heritage. They knocked walls, chipped through plaster to reveal original stone. They worked together with the neighbours and came to a very amicable agreement around sound-proofing and insulation between the two properties. They tore up lino and old carpets, prepared areas for the electrical and plumbing work. Any spare minute was spent trawling through charity and second-hand furniture shops and online sites, on the hunt for suitable free-standing furniture.
They set themselves a moving-in date. The date arrived. The house was far from ready, but the family were determined. As the builders were hammering in the last nails on a wooden floor being put down in the aforementioned sittingroom, the Burnhams were close at heel, in convoy. Behind Sam and Connor, who were on sweeping duty, came Sally and Alex hauling mattresses. One of the builders disappeared off site and returned with a bottle of wine for the impromptu house-warming.
The sittingroom was the family bedroom to start. That first night they had one socket to plug a light into and one working cold tap. They charged a laptop before it got too dark. Ordered pizza. Settled in to watch a movie.
The work has been tough but, they say, they haven’t looked back since. There’s no longer a trace of the beautician’s, designer second-hand clothes shop, dressmaker’s and antique shops that used to fill the space. Upstairs is divided into a bathroom and three compact bedrooms, all with sea views. Downstairs the area comprises an open-plan kitchen-diningroom in which they have knocked some dividing walls to create space and light. The room is decorated with reclaimed, stand-alone pieces. They put time and effort into getting signature pieces – a reclaimed Aga from South Wales, a second-hand baby-blue Smeg fridge and compact Belfast sink. They spent money on worktops, but used simple pieces of older wooden stand-alone cupboards which they painted a duck-egg shade to create a unifying effect in the room.
Some of the pieces have their own special stories. There’s a set of over-sized shutters, recycled into a clever and striking boiler “hide”, the Valentine’s Day present the couple bought for each other last year. There’s another treasured gift – a timber mantle beam that Sally’s father got cut from a piece of local forest timber. By coincidence, the forester’s wife had grown up in Emily House. There’s the stand-alone cupboard they bought in Dundrum that, in another remarkable coincidence, turned out to have belonged to a woman whose great-great grandfather had built Emily House.
Also downstairs there’s a room they describe as a sort of den, complete with projector and blank white wall for movie nights. Alex describes it as something of a man-cave. Sally is surrounded by males but the house bears all the hallmarks of her input.
“It’s been really hard work, but I’ve loved it,” says Sally. “I’d come home from work every day literally itching to get stuck in, there in my woolly hat and jeans in the freezing cold. There’s lots more to do, but we’ve come a long way and just having our own space is so lovely. We’ve made decisions that we wouldn’t have made if we’d been able to afford to pay someone to just come in and do the whole lot. I think we would have regretted that. It’s been a labour of love. It’s a real home.”
Alex agrees. “I think every family member has invested a bit of love into it. It’s been down to literally even the boys getting stuck in with sledge hammers. We did painting, sanding, knocking down walls together. And now I love sitting out the front with a glass of wine on a summer evening, talking to everyone passing by, looking down at the sea. For me, I was born in Plymouth, grew up in Swansea. I didn’t think I’d see the day when I’d be in a place where I thought I could never imagine myself leaving, but truthfully this is it. We won’t be moving. We’ve put everything into this. It’s lovely, it’s got everything. It’s just brilliant.”
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