The cost of a Dublin cottage refurb: ‘We struggled with the mortgage lending rules’

Edwina Kestell and Colm Egan didn’t initially realise the extent of work required

Tell someone you live in a cottage and they immediately imagine a cute little property in a rural idyll.

But it is possible to live within striking distance of an urban metropolis and still enjoy the unique features and feelings which are associated with period properties of this type.

Edwina Kestell and her partner, Colm Egan, are testament to this as last summer they became the proud owners of a cottage in Ballybough, Dublin 3.

“The thought of moving into a new-build was something which had never appealed to us,” admits Edwina, who works as an office manager. “To us these kinds of houses have no character and are all the same so we wanted somewhere which had both a story and a previous life. And actually before we bought our place, we used to take walks through the areas along the Royal Canal looking at houses as we always wanted a ‘real’ Dublin home.

“And while I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight when we first saw our house, we definitely could see potential – we really liked the look of the cottage and some of characteristics it had. So the more we looked at it and could see our vision within it, the more the love began to grow.”

Located in the north inner city area of Ballybough, the house, which Edwina estimates to be about 100 years old based on historical Ordnance Survey mapping, is 59sq m (635sq ft) and has a living room, kitchen (which was extended in the late 1990s) and bathroom on the ground floor along with two bedrooms upstairs.

It sold for €225,000 and – while the couple, who are both from Dublin originally, had to delve deep into their savings – they were delighted to finally have a place to call their own.

“We got the keys to the property in February 2019 and moved into it in late June of that year,” says Edwina (32). “With the mortgage lending rules we really struggled initially to find something in our price bracket as with a combined income of €54,000, the amount we could borrow was low, so we really had to rely on savings.

“We had been looking for homes for about six months prior to finding this house and had been living with our parents so it was great when we finally got the sale agreed in September 2018.”

Being a century old, the house was understandably in need of some care and attention, but while Edwina and Colm (a civil servant) didn’t initially realise the extent of what was required, they stuck with their decision to buy the property and put all their efforts into restoring it to its former glory.

Chimney stack

“On our first viewing of the house, we noticed immediately that the roof was sagging and would need to be replaced,” recalls Edwina. “Other than that, to the untrained eye, the house looked ready to live in. But we got an engineer’s report and unfortunately this was not the case as it highlighted issue after issue including the need for a new roof, new floors, new stairs, repairs to the chimney stack, and measures to rectify damage caused by moisture and dry rot.

“At this point we knew the only real solution to these problems was to gut the house [minus the extension],  which was obviously a very daunting prospect and Colm was quite reluctant to commit to such a costly exercise, but as we looked at the bigger picture it was clear that the best option would be to go in and do it at once rather than to come back in a few years and rip out walls again.

“Also, upon purchase, the house was rated G on the BER ratings and after growing up in a cold house, this was the last thing I wanted, so we had all the walls, ceiling and roof insulated and have brought it up to a C rating. The renovations cost about €72,000 and interiors and furnishing cost about €5,000 so we took out a loan to help cover these costs.”

Due to the shape and size of the house, little could be done in terms of the original room sizes as any changes downstairs or to the stairway would jeopardise the size of the bedrooms and that was not something the couple felt they could afford to do. But in order to free up more space in the master bedroom, they moved the boiler downstairs and had the builder put in a large Velux window to brighten up the room.

The work took just over three months with the couple adding some of their own creative flair to the proceedings.

“Renovations began in March 2019 with all of the walls stripped back to the bare stone, the floor uplifted, the stairs and the roof removed,” says Edwina. “From start to finish the renovations took approximately 15 weeks and while the builders were working away it was time for me to start planning the design. Both myself and Colm would consider ourselves quite artistic and have both done some DIY – although nothing more than revamping furniture, painting and hanging shelves. But we really wanted to make a home to represent ourselves and create a space where we would enjoy spending time. We also wanted to give our friends and family a wow feeling when they saw the end product.

“So we took on some painting jobs ourselves including the exterior, the master bedroom and the painting of the tiles in the kitchen. Interior design has always been a passion of mine and my favourite pastime is making clothes, so I am used to the challenge of starting from scratch and following through to creating something new – and I was in my element when I was decorating.

Vintage furniture

“I really like antique and vintage pieces and wanted to incorporate some into the final look of the house. We had to be careful to pick furniture which wasn’t too big as they would make the rooms feel cramped, so I spent hours trawling the internet, charity shops and antique shops looking for just the right pieces.

"As part of my effort to achieve this look, I reupholstered a chair from a charity shop chair and drove to Meath for some dining chairs as I wanted a colourful home and not something you'd see in an Ikea catalogue."

With the couple now happily ensconced in their new abode, they are delighted that they spent the time and effort transforming the cottage into the home of their dreams and say the location couldn’t be more perfect either.

"We absolutely love living in Ballybough and in this cottage as well as in a location so close to the city centre as this was always where we wanted to be," says Edwina. "Colm can walk to work in 12 minutes, and I am 15 minutes away from Connolly Station to get the Dart to my office in Dún Laoghaire and the area is serviced by a number of bus routes for anywhere further – and as neither of us drive, this was a must for us. The area itself has everything you need: a library, a selection of fast-food takeaways, some great pubs, hairdressers and convenience shops – and there is also a real community feel to the place.

“The cottage is everything we always wanted in a home. There is only the two of us living here and while we would have liked a little more space, we just couldn’t afford anything bigger. But when we show friends and family the photos of the before and after, they are in shock and can’t believe it’s the same house. We always receive compliments on the interior design and have even had friends asking for tips for their own homes.”

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

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