When photographer Niamh Whitty saw this farmhouse for sale, things clicked into place, says Tommy Barker
New home owner Niamh Whitty had an idea what she wanted to do when she bought a quite traditional West Cork mid-1900s farmhouse, on a charming as-traditional half acre of gardens — she’s seen more than a few well updated examples in her time as a photographer, shooting houses for sale for a range of auctioneers under her ‘Picture it Sold’ business banner.
In this case, it was a sort of reverse experiences: she could Picture it Bought. She could ‘Picture it Mine.’
An executor sale, and a once-loved home but one a bit stuck in a time-warp as so often happens when a property grows old along with its occupants, it was the sort of place that shouted ‘potential.’ Add in the fact it was on a half an acre of old-fashioned, country cottage style gardens, and that Niamh loves gardens and plants, and it was a clincher. She was sold on it.
Originally trained in computer science and IT, before transitioning into photography, (see www.pictureitsold.ie, Instagram Facebook etc) with a sharp eye and following on with a passion for photography from her dad who’s a keen amateur, she swooped on the property near Clonakilty, which had been put on the market last year with auctioneers Hodnett Forde.
She got stuck in over the past number of months with a supportive building crew watching her back, and who instinctively, say says, got the notion that she wanted ‘cosy’.
Set a few miles outside the town, yet not remote and accessible, about eight months post-purchase it’s now coming cosily to fruition, vision realised, with several or main rooms finished.
It is being done on a room by room basis and with first floor bedrooms next to be decorated, but the most significant structural/wall moving jobs have all been completed at ground level.
It’s a work in progress, pretty as a picture, and still quite true to its roots.
The plan was to rewire, re-plumb and insulate the walls of the 1,000 sq ft-plus F BER house, replace windows with insulated versions, external doors, and not surprisingly maybe, to knock down an interior wall to create an open place kitchen/living space.
“I also wanted to move the bottom twist in the stairs so it didn’t open into the living room and to make a master bedroom and en suite from two smaller bedrooms. Nothing major!” she quips.
Warm tribute is due to her team of Frank Burke, a builder from Kildare who’d only recently moved to Clonakilty, buying a former schoolmaster’s house in the town, as well as electrician John Nyhan, and plumber Kevin O’Regan “who all worked so hard to get house ready for me. Kathryn Shanahan from Cash & Carry Kitchens was outstanding to deal with too.”
With the kitchen just gone in, appliances and kettle all now up to muster, but with the current lockdown still in progress, Niamh says in a note here to her new neighbours “who haven’t seen inside yet due to lockdown, thank you so very much for your kindness and thoughtfulness. I can’t wait to have you over for tea!”
In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek of the inside work: the exterior and garden’s not shown here for privacy/work-in-progress reasons.
“After eight months of renovations, I’m finally in my little house and I feel like the luckiest girl in the world today as I sit in my office. Anyone who has taken on a self-build project will understand both the stress of the build and the satisfaction when moving day finally arrives,” she says as move in day finally came late in April.
“I had been house hunting for a few years, with a limited budget being the biggest consideration.
"There have been one or two properties that I photographed along the way that I completely fell in love with, like the very beautiful stone-fronted ‘Ebenezer’ in Rosscarbery (featured here in a previous shoot back in 2017 by Niamh), and most other stone-fronted houses to be honest) but timing and finances weren’t right.
“I wanted a garden. Badly. I had been missing the garden I left and knew it was the one thing I couldn’t compromise on. I understood that given my budget the property would likely need some love and that I’d probably have to compromise on my wish list. I got lucky,” Niamh acknowledges.
“I can’t pinpoint any specific look or feel from properties that I’ve photographed that I was trying to emulate, I just knew I wanted all the walls painted white with uniform flooring as much as possible,” she outlines. “This house is about 70 years old and I felt it was important to keep as much of the character as possible.
"I’d say builder Frank Burke cursed me a few times when he was slabbing the walls as there were so many nooks and crannies to be fitted around. To be honest I cursed myself when I went painting them all.
“Cosy. That’s what I wanted and I knew I’d chosen the right builder when Frank arrived on site and said “we will make this cosy for you” without me even saying it. He just understood what I wanted and that made me more relaxed about the whole project,” Niamh appreciates, adding “it’s turned out better than I imagined and I’m looking forward to adding finishing touches and making it feel like home when Covid-19 lockdown restrictions are lifted.”
Now that the house is at a habitable level, a lot of a pretty, cosmetic and personalising work is anticipated, and “then there is the garden, which has clearly been much loved in the past and is about to be on the receiving end of a whole lot more love!”
Career-wise, Niamh Whitty graduated from computer science and IT to become a wedding photographer. She says that a chance meeting five years ago with Ray O’Neill (of Sherry Fitzgerald O’Neill in Skibbereen and Clonakilty), “who was well ahead of the curve when it came to using professional photography, gave me the opportunity to try out property photography. I loved it so much that I eventually transitioned out of wedding photography and into property photography full-time.
Now also a qualified and licensed drone ‘pilot’, like a number of her professional photographer peers who’ve taken lenses to the skies, she acknowledges that “West Cork is a dream location to photograph with stunning vistas around almost every corner, and using photographic skills when flying gives those stunning vistas an extra sparkle.”
Ever before the Coronavirus pandemic crisis and its slamming of the brakes on so many sectors of society, the economy and employment fronts, professional photographers with the likes of drones, walk-throughs and videos had been enhancing brochure, online, advertising and editorial in sales and marketing material for individual properties, also as an adjunct agents’ own brands, as well as being a great lure on Airbnb.
In recent weeks, virtual viewings have reigned supreme pending loosening of lockdown restrictions and until physical viewings and ‘touch’ can safely resume.
“The added value and appreciation which professional imagery adds is great news for me and my colleagues,” says Niamh, advising that for vendors and agents who ‘get the picture,’ “ideally properties should be ready to photograph when we arrive but moving around small items and adding flowers/fruit etc to help set the mood are all part of getting the best image.
"Using a mixture of flash and ambient light, the aim is to provide photographs that look natural and inviting.”
Back home, she recalls of her lucky break during 2019: “On the day I got the keys, this is what I shared with my family and friends:
“I got a new garden. Happily, it comes with a house attached.”