A former ‘jungle’ has been made into a dream property prettier than even the owners could have imagined, writes Tommy Barker
What you see here now at Creek Cottage is nothing like what the owners saw (except, in their minds’ eye?) when they bought a rare Raffeen, Cork harbour site, back in 2006.
“It was jungle, literally, all overgrown, with ferns nearly 6’ high, it was completely dense and tangled, you couldn’t see a thing of what was here,” they recall, though, they saw the potential, for sure.
And, just as they could scarcely have imagined just how well it would turn out, today it’s nearly as hard to imagine what it was like back then.
Not only is the finished entity almost beyond postcard pretty, and the unearthed setting as picturesque, it’s also wholly practical as a workaday family home and hideaway harbour retreat.
It might look a tad familiar to design aficionados, as it has graced the pages of a few interior/county living magazines, including Munster Interiors.
There’s even been a bit more social media exposure. One of the owners, and her sister, co-create Instagram and Facebook accounts, where they (Catherine Barry and Eadaoin Cotter) show off some of their curated interior and lifestyle creations, as well as giving peeks inside their own homes, under the title Pebble and Sash. One home’s a period house in restoration, the other’s a ‘country cottage,’ as in Creek Cottage, though clearly it’s none the less grand.
The wilderness it is sited on wasn’t just tamed, it was transformed and moulded into shape, a triangle of an upward sloping site running up from the Strand Road, opposite the old boatyard between Monkstown and Raffeen, up into a steep bluff, under Strawhall. There’s a full 2.5 acres here, with immediately visually engaging house, with an upside down layout and a distinctly traditional appearance, albeit updated.
It’s been boldly painted a vibrant, unabashed West Cork fuchsia purple, the sort of strong colour you’d see in many a tiny coastal village, amid scented gardens, decking with herb beds, a trammelled stream, bridges with honeysuckle, boat shed and second, swanky car garage/den. It has ‘wild bits’ left just at the perimeter, too, as a reminder of the site’s genesis, and as a buffer and a haven for wildlife.
Wildlife? Might that include the foxes, who ‘did’ for the ducks, and the same foxes who made off with the chickens, in deeds most fowl?
Ducks and hens had previously roamed free-range ‘round Creek Cottage’s paths and beds, around the chocolate-box pretty gardens, and the feature stream which cuts through the gardens here, before their ‘cluck’ ran out.
Now, the grounds are patrolled by a dog, and a cat, and the kids; the work is 100% done and the couple have energy yet to expend. They are about to take on a harbour period home to see what they can do with it (they could start with a proper hen-house?) and so they are all getting ready to pack up and ship out, leaving Creek Cottage very much in ship-shape, and ready to float the next owner’s boats.
It’s brand new to market, and is listed with very impressed estate agent Timothy Sullivan, who guides the enviable, proven to be Instagrammable, walk-in order and smartly styled home at €640,000. He can expect oohs and aahs, in abundance, and if gets the sun as photographer Jed Niezgoda did, well, he’s home and hosed for his sale in jig time.
Surprisingly, this was a first home for the young couple that sought out the site, around 2006, and who had local Monkstown roots, and thus qualified for planning permission under tight A3 ‘locals only’ restrictions.
They knew what they wanted, and realised on tramping the then-unwieldy site there were framed views to be had over the wildfowl reserve at Raffeen Creek too. So, that (and maximising sunlight) more or less dictated much of the house’ orientation and features.
Architect Donal Anderson from Ballygarvan came on board for the proper design, and the result is a c 2,500 sq ft ‘upside down’ home, mixing traditional (such as the many, many sash windows, some of them paired side by side at ground level) with the more modern, such as the full gable end glazing section, with main 33’ by 19’ lofty living space (with mezzanine on high,) with balcony access, French doors, and the master bedroom’s underneath, with a similar glazed gable, bay sit-in section.
Creek Cottage manages to hit design notes typical of West Cork farmhouses, mixing with a bit of UK cottage influences (think the likes of Devon, without the thatch?) along with a bit of beach house vibe, all given its own individual take, with a knock-out main, open plan living/kitchen/dining, with triple aspect. It’s double height to the roof’s apex, and spanned by exposed trusses and purlins (the cross-pieces actually are RSJs, with the steel concealed behind timber sheeting, for a blended wood beam effect.
The mixed-use area by the kitchen is definitely the homely hub, or the spot that if the owners were to put down the ‘red dot’ device so cleverly used in TV’s Home of the Year shows. That’s hardly surprising as the woman of the house is a CIT-trained chef among her other talents, so it’s set up for purposeful cooking and entertaining, with range cooker, beech worktops and undercounter ceramic Belfast sink.
There’s also a free-standing wood-topped island/breakfast bar, good quality oak floor, a wood-burning stove on a Liscannor limestone plinth, ceiling spotlights, wall-mounted speakers (several rooms are wired for sound, as is an outdoors seating/deck area), reached via a side section/hall. There’s also a crisp, yet cute, half door to the gardens ... and half doors are a great idea when looking to keep dogs or hens out, or small children in, and still get fresh air and direct, unfiltered light within.
Separately, to the rear, is a carpeted, double aspect sitting room, with standard ceiling height, ceiling beams, open fireplace, and this room also has side garden access.
Internal features of note include quality oak internal doors, and a lot of dado and wainscoted panelled walls in circulation areas, with detailed turns and changes of height, painted to match walls and
giving the vertical surfaces an extra visual dimension. Notable too is the rounded handrail on the varnished tread stairs leading up to the 10’ wide mezzanine, with the ends of the hand rail capped in brass for a decided maritime, ‘luxury yacht’ look.
Once above, the first 20’ long section is used as a play area and next along is a 10’ by 10’ attic study with desk, there’s lots of storage and both practical family uses are clever adaptations to the constraints of being just under a roof apex.
A second flight of stairs leads down from the living level to the ground floor, where there’s an entrance hall to the larger garden section, sloping lawns, shrubbed and scented beds, stream and bridges. Tiling in the latticed section porch was painstakingly done by West Cork tiler Martin Kelleher. This lower/second entry level is home to four double bedrooms, and main family bathroom with Jacuzzi bath, double shower, heated towel rail etc. Again, the corridor has wood panelling, attractively detailed, and the master bedroom is sizeable, with en suite bathroom, and a walk-in robe.
Decor is pristine on every level, despite the active presence of young children and pets, and paints and colours are a selected mix of Farrow & Ball, and Colourtrend, while much of the timber came from Jim Ryan in the Old Pine Stores in Passage West, who also made much of the internal pine furniture and fixtures. In fact, very many features were deliberately provided or sourced from local trade and craftspeople (it was built by direct labour,) down to the likes of marine and coastal-themed paintings from Monkstown artist Tom Brown.
At this time of year especially, Creek Cottage’s gardens themselves turn into colourful paintings in their own right, with planting including climbers, hydrangeas, red hot pokers, rhododendron, berberis, lilac, lupins, crocosmia, holly and ivies, along with a wide array of trees, from cedars to beeches, and, that Cork staple, the wedding cake tree.
The house is ringed with gravel paths, interspersed with paving slabs, with plants aplenty tumbling over borders.
There are views, and glimpses in various proportions, to the waters of Cork harbour by Raffeen creek from the grounds’ several levels, from the house’s internal levels and from the balcony especially. For day-to-day use, it’s nearly a toss up as to what way to enter and leave the inside to the cottage’s gardens: there’s no shortage of options.
The 2.5 acre site may even allow for sub-division and a possible second site, now or in the distant future, as there’s an option of a second access from a high road behind, at Monkstown’s Strawhall, suggests auctioneer Tim Sullivan. That future access may be on the steep side, but seeing as what’s been worked here already in this leafy valley cleft, anything is possible, with a sense of vision and a drive to deliver.
As they stand now, the ‘ex-jungle’ grounds have a higher up outdoor play area (with treehouse, rabbits and foxes) and allow too for a lower tier, ringed with mature trees, with large shed/garage, home to any amount of bits and pieces, sport paraphenalia, dinghy sailing and boating equipment. Of late, though, even that spacious store has been vastly eclipsed by a very high quality double garage at the winding drive’s upper section and graveled parking circle.
For anyone into safe keeping of hens, cars or boats, or hobbyists or even a possible home/craft business it’s a chalet-chic delight, wood sheeted and aesthetic in its own right. Surprise, surprise, an Instagrammable garage!
VERDICT: Pretty damn fine and even prettier than any picture.
Strand Road, Monkstown, Cork: €640,000
Size: 2,530 sq ft plus mezzanine, on 2.5 acres
Pictures: Jed Niezgoda