Upcyclers: How a Roscommon couple renovated their new home on a budget

Karen Cafferky and Joe Hurl wanted to take an eco-friendly approach to renovating

Sustainability and the need to look after the environment for future generations has never been more important and upcycling is becoming more and more popular with interior designers and homeowners.

So when Karen Cafferky, her husband Joe Hurl and children Autumn (13) and Ethan (11) moved into their new house in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, they knew that they wanted to take an eco-friendly approach to renovating the property – so they decided to take on the work themselves and use as much recycled material as possible.

“Our house is a 1980s detached bungalow on the outskirts of town,” says Karen. “We bought it in October 2018, and it was ready to move into in August 2019, even though it was still a work in progress.

“It hadn’t been lived in for years and we were lucky to have an architect friend who we commissioned to help us with the layout of the kitchen/dining area as I wanted to get it right and not have any regrets afterwards. But we didn’t have much of a budget and couldn’t afford to build-on, so he designed a plan using the existing kitchen and turning the workshop extension into our dining room.”

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Cafferky says the house is on the small side and without a utility room, they had to be clever with their storage solutions and design ideas.

“We added a roof lantern in the dining room and replaced a window with bi-folding door leading onto a huge deck that Joe built, as being outside is very important to us,” she says. “Together we floored the whole house, (apart from the bathroom) with second-hand floorboards we found online. They needed a lot of work to remove nails and glue and some of them were broken in places, so it was a bit like putting a jigsaw together. We had never done anything like that before – but after sanding and oiling them, they turned out great, covering the sitting room and four bedrooms for only € 400.”

The couple bought new floorboards for the kitchen/diner and hall and also laid them themselves. They then undertook the task of wallpapering and cladding the bathroom and added skirting boards – whatever job they could do themselves, they did.

“We got a local builder to do the heavy work of safely knocking the wall to open up into the workshop extension as it was a tough job which needed all the right tools,” says Karen. “The same builder moved a wall in a bedroom for the new loo and built a curved wall for this also. I don’t think it was something he was ever asked to do before, but he did a great job.

“A local company installed the kitchen, which had been designed by the architect, and all building supplies came from the building supplier in the town. We got our second-hand internal doors online and the furniture second hand or from antique shops. I upcycled them to work for us – so for example, the bathroom sink cabinet is an old chest of drawers which we altered to fit the sink and pipes. The only piece of new furniture we bought was a kitchen table and I converted the old one into a garden table, placing leftover floorboards on top and painting an Aztec design.”

Continuing her creative theme outside, Karen painted the front doorstep to look like black and white chequered tiles and painted the house both internally and externally. And after having some new windows installed, she also painted those before getting started on her new-found passion for giving furniture a new lease of life.

“I have always been creative but never really did any upcycling,” she says. “But when we moved into the house, there was so much to do and both the weather and the lockdown, gave us the opportunity to get a lot done. So I started upcycling the furniture, fell in love with the process and kept buying more second-hand pieces and doing them up. Eventually I had nowhere to put anything so sold a few bits to family and friends.

“Most people have dated pieces of furniture in their houses that they would probably throw out but these pieces can benefit from a facelift, and become really unique. Last July I set up an Instagram account called @colourfulcomeback just to share some of the upcycling as it is something I would like to build up as a business.”

Salvaged materials

Using salvaged materials and old furniture has not only been creative and satisfying, but it has also saved the couple a lot of money.

“Sure, it is hard work, but it is also very rewarding,” says Karen. “I am really into the idea of reusing, recycling and creating unique pieces and I love that our reclaimed floors have been given a new lease of life and saved us loads of money. All our furniture is old or second hand – in fact, I bought a desk recently for a tenner and upcycled it for my husband to use. I’m sure it would have cost at least 10 times that to buy new, but I also think it is so much nicer than mass produced furniture, as it is unique.

“I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but if anyone is interested in upcycling, I would say, just go for it. The fear of doing something wrong can hold people back but there is so much information out there and online videos to take guidance from. Joe and I worked in offices for years, not dirtying our hands very often and it was only when we had our own house and not much money that we started tackling things ourselves. Joe’s dad was a carpenter, so he had helped him when he was growing up, while my dad could turn his hand to anything DIY and my mum would paint everything in sight as she had a great eye for décor, so I guess it seeped in without us knowing – and now my hands are never clean.

“Upcycling gives you a great sense of achievement and pride. It might not be perfect, but it is yours and in fairness just because you pay someone else to do it, it doesn’t always mean it will be perfect either. Your house is for you and your style – so don’t be afraid when it comes to décor, there is no right or wrong, everyone has different taste – and it’s only paint after all.”