Is this the weirdest house ever?

Built on Highfield Road in the 1980s, this unique extension was originally created for a ballroom and swimming pool and has latterly been used as a family home


The 1980s is most often described as a decade of grim austerity in Ireland, and so it was for most, though not for everybody. In the early years of that decade, polo-playing restaurateur Oliver Caffrey added a vast extension to his already grand Victorian pile on Highfield Road in Rathgar that would match any of the flashy excesses of the boom two decades later.

The rectangular two-storey add-on, which was notably ugly with its new brick finish, was built with blind windows on the upper floor at the front, no windows to the front at ground level and a sweeping tarmac driveway. It was a bit like a warehouse with notions. That was outside. Inside, however, was pure luxury, with a swimming pool and sauna at ground level, and a ballroom upstairs. Well, not literally upstairs, as there are no stairs. Instead, a lift services the first floor as well as a room at the top of the house.

By the time the decade was over, the Caffrey family had moved on, dividing the property and selling the main house first to singer Dickie Rock, who soon sold it on, and then the extension to their friends Monika and Cyril Murray, who were also firm fixtures on Dublin’s social scene.

For decades, Monika was regarded as one of Ireland’s most stylish women. She was also clearly adventurous when it came to where she lived. After some minor tweaking to this very unlikely family home – it is, after all, comprised mainly of two very big rooms, one with a swimming pool – they moved into it with their children. To create three small bedrooms, the sauna beside the swimming pool was converted (there’s a bathroom beside it), as was the room at the top of the house and a small storage room off the ballroom.

The Murrays furnished the ballroom as a vast and gracious livingroom, in which the grand piano in the middle of the art- and antiques-filled space looks relatively modest in size. A fine reclaimed white marble period fireplace is a focal point at one end, and there is a set of enormous double doors, which look to have been salvaged from a period house, at the other end.

At 15 metres (50ft) long and half as wide, and with a dramatically high ceiling, it is probably one of the largest livingrooms in a private house in Dublin, and it was the ideal venue for the couple’s many parties. The tiny service kitchen off the ballroom became the family kitchen and, beside it, in a corner of the vast main room, cupboards and a food preparation area were built on a raised platform. It’s quite an eccentric set-up.

Two tall sash windows in the livingroom are on the north-facing side of the room – the one that faces on to Highfield Road – and the other four are on the south-facing rear-garden side. At ground level, a glazed sun room, running nearly the width of the extension, opens out on to the enclosed mature back garden. Indeed, from the rear, 37A looks like a fine, familiar-looking period house.

Sunny garden

In the past 10 years, as the Murrays got older, some more changes were made. For many years, Cyril swam daily, but there came a point when the pool was no longer being used, so Monika had a floor fitted over it and the ground floor became another vast, art-filled living room, opening out on to a sunny garden. (The floor could be removed and the swimming pool brought back in to use by new owners.)

It’s a little disconcerting to be in a suburban livingroom, with walls and ceilings timber-clad like the swankiest leisure centre, where next to the rug there are tiled grooves in the floor with water drainage points and the unmistakable tiled outline of a swimming pool. At some point a classically inspired, chunky-looking porch was added that helps 37A appear more like a place where someone actually lives.

Artists viewing this property online will almost certainly dream of it as the perfect buy, given the huge light-filled studio upstairs, the open-plan living space downstairs, and the bedroom and en suite at the top of the house. But the price tag of €1.25 million will rule out a whole swathe of eccentric dreamers and creatives for whom 37A would be perfect.

However, it is most likely that those with the finance to run the rule over this quarter of an acre on a prime Dublin 6 road are small developers. Its potential as a site for a terrace of townhouses, a block of apartments or a couple of upscale semi-ds seems obvious.

Number 37A Highfield Road is an executor sale through DNG.

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