Our love affair with Instagram interiors and newbuilds is not going anywhere soon. But it’s the stories behind the glossy pictures — some staged, some achingly candid — that really intrigue.
One young Munster couple who decided to chart and invite people to follow their journey to their dream home was Susan Buckley and Danny McCarthy.
Susan set up their Instagram account @Sue_Dan_House in March 2018, shortly after the first block was laid — mainly to keep a few family members and friends updated. “I decided to blog every step of the way, it was new-build learning as we went,” said Susan, from outside Ballincollig, Co Cork.
Two years on Susan has almost 6,500 followers and the platform has become something of a diary — 21st-century style.
It’s those flashes of insight between the Insta grid (the birthdays, weddings, afternoon teas with pals) that draw you in.
Susan and Danny are expecting to welcome a new addition in August and Susan’s build blog has naturally evolved to reflect that.
Its popularity has taken Susan by surprise. “We’re very easygoing people, and I didn’t know anything about Instagram when I started, my motto with everything, from building a house to Instagram, is ‘I’ll suss it out’,” Susan told the Irish Examiner.
The current Covid-19 restrictions and fallout are not lost on her: “What a difference a year makes. We celebrated both the first anniversary of moving in and getting married this week and I really feel for people who are building at the moment. I get so many messages from people worried about mortgages and their building process. Things will be up and running for everyone hopefully again soon. But I would say, take things slowly!”
Sweethearts since their teenage years, Susan and Danny first connected through the social media site Bebo 15 years ago and Danny popped the question on Valentine's night, 2017.
“We were together 12 years before moving into the house — we saved so much on rent by living at home but it definitely was hard. It’s also hard to plan your ‘forever home’ when you have only ever lived with your parents — as with most people our age, we moved from living in our bedrooms in our family homes into much larger living space,” said Susan.
On May 1 last year, exactly three days before the couple exchanged vows, they stepped across the threshold of their brand-new two-storey residence.
A year on, they feel “a huge sense of achievement”, according to Susan. “We were 25 years old when buying a site, and we saved our asses off to make our dream come true,” she said.
“I love coming down in the mornings to a clean kitchen. I pinch myself sometimes and say wow, that's our kitchen!” Building a house and planning a wedding so close together is a daunting prospect.
“We went looking for a site near Dan's home place in the Macroom area and we had no luck. We eventually found one near my home place and that took a year. Drawing up plans and going for planning took another year. By this time, our wedding was closer than we thought!” said Susan.
As for advice to others treading the same route, is there anything the couple would or would not do with hindsight? “There are probably loads of little things but we had a great team behind us,” said Susan.
“Our engineer/architect Gerald McCarthy and builder really made us make the right decisions and guided us along the way. Both of us are quite picky — Dan loves things being 100% right -- so there are always things you would change, many of them cosmetic, not really structural.
“It really was a five-year plan from start to finish. You save, find or buy a house, find an architect, go or planning, build the house, and move in!” Every aspect brought them on a learning curve, agreed Susan, a hairstylist with Revo Hair & Beauty, Cork, and Danny, a truck driver with Musgrave Retail Partners Ireland.
“As neither of us is in a building trade we decided not to go the self-build route, but we could definitely give self-build a go after the whole experience,” said Susan.
On a practical level, dividing admin tasks worked for them. “I was best for making phone calls, while Dan was great for emails,” said Susan.
“We were lucky that Dan works early mornings so was able to be at the site from after lunch most days if needed.”
Surprisingly, considering beautifully curated pictures of the rooms and plush open-plan space are key to their Instagram journey, tweaking their interior design proved the most challenging aspect of the project.
“The interior decisions were the hardest part -- not the building!” said Susan.
The newlyweds returned from a month-long luxury honeymoon to “fending for ourselves for the first time”, added Susan. “We had never really cooked for ourselves or done our own washing,” she said.
“Moving in together without having lived together before is a bit risky. People say when you live with someone you find out whether it will work or not. Well, three days before the wedding wasn’t long but we haven't looked back!”