Renovating a listed building is a major endeavour for even the hardiest of house enthusiasts. Add four boys under eight, a husband working from home and pregnancy morning sickness (and eventual homebirth) into the mix, and things get decidedly more complicated.
And yet Jeanne Delbarre notes that living on site during the refurbishment of her Victorian house on Dún Laoghaire's Haddington Terrace wasn't as trying as she anticipated.
“I’d heard so many stories about builders and people kept telling me it would be so stressful, but the guys we used were so good,” she recalls. “You just get used to 14 builders coming in and out. In fact, it was very interesting. I was just grateful at the time that we didn’t have to rent elsewhere.”
Yet scratch the surface and it seems that Jeanne has a healthy appetite for a challenge. Job done on a major refurbishment on the Haddington Terrace property, the former tech worker now home-schools her three sons Gabriel (10), Tristan (6) and Lucien (6). Henri (2) and Denis (5 months) will likely follow suit in time.
“I wanted to be with the kids – the feminist in me wasn’t expecting that,” she laughs. “We were too late arriving into the neighbourhood to get any places for the public schools in the area. Our boys were very happy in the local private school [St Nicholas Montessori] but when you start to multiply the school bills by three or four, it starts to add up.
“It’s not easy, but it works well, and we follow the school curriculum,” Jeanne adds. “We kept in touch with all of their friends in the neighbourhood, so they still enjoy that social interaction.”
The boys occupy the biggest bedroom in the house, and schooling happens every day at desks in their bedroom: “They wake up, we go downstairs for breakfast and we go back up to work,” explains Jeanne. “Simon works from home too, so we are all together.”
After moving to Ireland from her native Normandy, Jeanne, who previously worked in Google, fell so in love with Dublin that she was convinced she would be a city girl forever.
“Before I thought that moving to the suburbs was weird,” she laughs. “Now, I don’t want to go anywhere else.”
Jeanne and her husband Simon had been living in a semi-detached house in Ballybrack with their three eldest sons when they came upon the seafront house on Haddington Terrace in 2015. At the time, it was in poor condition; in need of rewiring, plumbing, piping and new conservation windows, per planning conditions. The property was largely untouched from the outside, but had been configured into four apartments. Most of the house's period touches had fallen by the wayside down the years.
“The roof was good – that was pretty much it,” recalls Jeanne. “It had been on the market for ages, and was owned by the banks. Dealing with them took over a year, and then we had a year of going through planning permission.”
That the property was divided into apartments was in fact a draw for the family. Collaborating with Extend Architects in Dalkey and Roe Savin Construction, their plan was to create a separate basement and ground floor apartment, leaving them with a three-bedroom family home in the top two floors, that they occasionally rent and use for visiting family.
During the year-long project, the entire family moved on-site, initially setting up home in the ground floor apartment for a year.
“It was actually so convenient,” says Jeanne. “The boys had the bedroom and my husband and I were in the open plan living room. Our fourth little boy was born via homebirth and I was there in my big bed, able to empty the washing machine in the kitchen. As a new parent you are pretty housebound anyway. When we then moved into the two-bedroom apartment for six months, having the extra space felt like a luxury. In fact, it would have been more stressful to live somewhere else while the refurbishment was underway.”
After buying the property for €920,000, the build and refurbishment bill came in at several hundred thousand more. When it came to decorating, the couple enlisted interior designer Caroline Flannery early on in the project. Together, they decided on a palette that would hold up against a family of active boys. Hence the gray-scale kitchen, the darker parquet laminate flooring, and the dark blue walls.
The kitchen table/bench from AlternativeFurniture.ie is durable enough for a growing family, while the suitcase coffee table and TV unit are flea market treasures. The eye-catching wool blanket in the family room is handmade by Jeanne, through a workshop with Olanmor.
"Luckily, we have simple taste," notes Jeanne. "Most of the kitchen came from Ikea with handles ordered from Etsy, and we found light fixtures from Next and Lights.ie. I picked up the kitchen's spider light in France for about €90, and the light fitting in the hallway, I found on Amazon.
“Caroline also advised us that open shelves would be a good idea in a busy kitchen,” adds Jeanne. “My mum also has a pop-up gallery in Normandy, so that’s where a lot of the artwork came from. The Samsung TV links to curated museum collections [when it’s in sleep mode].”
Asked what advice she might offer others embarking on a similar scale project, Jeanne notes: “Be ready for compromise, especially with listed buildings. You won’t always get what you want. You can’t put the plugs wherever you want, for instance, and you can’t change the outside. For us, it helped that it wasn’t hard for us to make those compromises.”
Among the Haddington Terrace house’s most arresting features, however, is the uninterrupted view of Dún Laoghaire Pier.
"It's not just a sea view, it's a busy sea view, with the Regatta, rescues, sports events, the Red Bull [cliff diving event]," says Jeanne. "It's such a lovely location, and we have everything we need. We jog on the pier, although we've yet to try swimming at the Forty Foot. Maybe we'll try that next year."
For more information on Extend Architects, see extend.ie. For more information on Caroline Flannery, see interiorsbycaroline.ie. For more information on Roe Savin Construction see roesavin.ie.
Have you recently refurbished your home or built one from scratch? If so, we’d love to hear how you got on. Please get in touch by emailing