Making €100k go a long way in a Dublin 8 refurb
When the owner of a D8 villa went to renovate the first builder’s quote was sky high so she shopped around for deals - and found them
Views of the Vernon Street home of Jean Callanan. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.
Jean Callanan was in her 20s when she bought her home on Vernon St, a pleasant neighbourhood of red-bricked houses close the old Meath Hospital, within walking distance of Dublin city centre. The previous owner had been a night club owner. He had decorated the house in a style and layout which, at the time, Jean considered ‘funky.’
Time went on, Jean’s career took her abroad and it was only a number of years after re-settling in Dublin (in early 2000) that Callanan re-examined her home and started to wonder if it was time for a change.
She was pushing into her fifties by then. She went to a meeting organised by the Ireland Smart Ageing Exchange to find out what people around her age might want and need in a home in later life. It was the question ‘what would make you move house?’ she says, that really made her sit up and think.
“People in the group said things like security; not being near enough to friends, family, or shops; house too big. My house was perfect in all these ways: a manageable size, close to everything. I realised though, that the thing that would make me move was having to do major work on the house at 70.”
Callanan’s Victorian villa was in need of a major overhaul. She wanted to keep the unusual layout of her bedroom mezzanine overlooking the high classic sitting room with the dining room (where she also works) set in below.
If she was to stay put over the coming years, though, she felt she would need to tackle the decor, gut the kitchen, get the entire house re-wired and insulated. She needed an additional bathroom, and new windows and doors. Initially she had thought of an additional bedroom – an idea that bit the dust under the pressure of budgetary constraints.
She resolved to take on, while still in her 50s, the task she had been putting off for years.
An initial quote, coming in at €175,000 for just the building work, made Callanan’s heart sink.
“When I added in everything else it would be a €250k job, far more than my home could sustain – or I could afford. So I started my search to get what I wanted - but for a price I could afford.”
Callanan put time into research and exploration. Her brother helped out in terms of dealing with lining up a builder and engaging with him and the structural engineer as the work got under way. A girlfriend accompanied her as she explored various design ideas and started to make choices around the general tone she was trying to achieve. She worked without an architect or designer, but says she “learned about her own taste,” as she became more immersed in the project.
At the beginning she found the prospect of it all quite terrifying, but she decided to bring her work experience into the mix. Callanan works as a consultant marketing strategist. She started to treat the project in much the same way as she would a professional work commission. She would schedule her time and treat it all like a work project.
Initially she spent a lot of time exploring “expensive designer kitchens.” The kitchen structure had been a big part of the building work, with a complete re-build and change of layout from a galley style to a much more open space. She realised that in terms of kitchen furnishings and fitout though, that not only did they cost a lot of money, but she didn’t like what she was seeing.
“I didn’t like the character-less nature of many of them. In the end I got a kitchen fit-out which cost less than €7000 and was a combination of Ikea and the reuse of a much loved old dresser which displays my colourful Mexican china.”
Spend in the kitchen area did include a few feature areas which Callanan was happy to indulge in. She purchased a bespoke table/ countertop on wheels from Christy Bird (‘A great investment’).
“I wanted a personalised and cheerful kitchen so I also spent the guts of €1000 on gorgeous Winchester artisanal tiles as splash back. They were expensive, but an indulgence that I love.”
Having watched ‘too much Dermot Bannon, ’ says Callanan, she kept waiting for a big problem. There were lots of small challenges, but no big ones. She was blessed with a great builder and structural engineer, men she cannot speak highly enough, she says, who made the project run smoothly, come in on budget and more or less on time.
The builders moved in in February of last year and Callanan moved out for the duration of the work. The house was rewired and replumbed. She ended up replacing floorboards, when she discovered some rot. The kitchen was completely knocked and rebuilt. The large bathroom was divided into two smaller – one an en suite. Both are full bathrooms, one with a bath, one with shower which, says Callanan, is far more convenient overall.
Callanan moved back in June. The work has opened up the house and, says Callanan, every bit of it is now put to good use. The back garden, for example she says, was hardly used before but is now in constant use. Clever use of light has opened up spaces that had been defunct before and made the house ‘very efficient.’ The work had come in at around €100k, almost half the original estimate.
“I’ve made it a place I could stay in for many years yet. Now that doesn’t mean I’ve gone so far as putting in handrails and all that, but I certainly feel it will last as my home until I’m at least 75, and then we’ll see.
“In any event I very much see this as being an investment into the future. So many people buy houses and then wonder what to do with them. If a house needs to be renovated or decorated or whatever, it can be done and done well, without costing a fortune, if you shop around and put the time into planning, costing and preparation.”