Three new builds on the St Luke's block

Trio of new-builds at St Luke’s Cross may be among the city’s most engaging sales of 2019, says Tommy Barker.

Not one, not two, but three new ‘kids’ have appeared on the block, up at Cork city’s venerable northside suburb around St Luke’s Cross: they are stand-out builds, in more ways than one, and they make no apologies for their modernity.

Just completed after a slow, painstaking build process on a very difficult, almost cliff-edge site on a sandstone bluff above the start of the Ballyhooley Road, they’ve just been launched to the open market, for the very start of 2019, and are likely to be among the most exciting, freshest, new city designs for the rest of ‘19 into the bargain also.

The trio are on Alexandra Road, a short, steep uphill pull from the heart of St Luke’s itself, which is blessed with period-era homes, in the main, from the mid 1800s into the early 1900s, and quite ‘frozen in aspic’ ever since.

The area, stretching towards Wellington Road, around Military Hill, east towards Montenotte, further uphill to Dillons Cross, and down along Summerhill North, has long been associated with the Barracks, first called after Queen Victoria, now named in honour of Michael Collins, and, like Cobh/Queenstown with its naval base, many of the best houses in this close-knit hinterland were built to accommodate an officer class.

Now, in the 21st century, there’s diversity, to be sure, and given its proximity to the city centre and services, is currently undergoing a measure of regentrification. Anything coming for sale generally has very high viewing figures, competitive bidding, and much-recovered prices levels on concluded deals too.

St Luke’s Cross has its mix of some few Georgian villas, many Victorian and, later Edwardian homes, most in terraces and on sloping sites, in a mix of sizes, and also both two and three storeys in height.

And, dotted around, and up the Ballyhooley Road towardsDillons Cross and the Old Youghal Road, are several small squares of cottages, too.

Little and large, richly affluent and more modestly endowed, they’ve all gotten along with one another down many decades, with terraces looking out on terraces, with very little visual change bar when a house or two gets particularly run down, or spectacularly done up and strikingly extended.

Well, that’s changed just a little bit, with arrival of these crisply modern, three-in-a-row white boxes and which, it seems, has caused some divergent views and varying degrees of welcome among the long-established neighbours. (There’s an even more arresting example a mile west or so across the city skyline at Sunday’s Well, with an O’Donnell +Tuomey architects contemporary build, very visible in its unabashed clean lines from the Mardyke.)

This St Luke’s Cross threesome was quite a long time coming to fruition, with planning originally granted to developers Bride View back in the 2000s, to a design by Kiosk Architects.

After planning, the site sat for quite a period with its promise untouched, and went for sale in 2014, with a guide of €150,000 for the chance to build three terracedc 1,600 sq ft two-storey homes.

In the event, builders Cillian Laide and John O’Brien, of Laide& O’Brien, rose to the challenge, biting off quite a job to chew on, due to site conditions for the most part, plus some planning rigour to minimise overlooking on neighbouring properties.

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They dug back further into this particularly awkward site to gain a bit more depth, allowing extra storage space and inching the footprint in each, to c 1,800 sq ft instead.

Laide & O’Brien drafted in the services of West Cork-rooted architect Donal Hoare, and also relied on their own engineering and construction expertise for things like piling and retaining walls, and ended 2018 on a high, glad to be ready for market, with a fully finished, high-end product.

One’s already sold/reserved, and Nos 2 & 3 are being put to the open market this weekend by Jackie Cohalan and Malcolm Tyrrell of Cohalan Downing auctioneers.

The buyer of No 1 had looked at another 2018 St Luke’s Cross listing, No 2 Ardeevin, a three-storey upgraded mid-terraced house across the Cross ‘valley’, which Jackie Cohalan had priced at €445,000 on launch.

That house, in immaculate order after works overseen by Fourem Architects, attracted 60 viewings, and sold for €510,000, yet to appear on the Price Register.

In the event, that ‘one of 60 viewers’ got wind of this trio, and made her play for No 1 on Alexandra Road instead, attracted by the appeal of a contemporary, easily run and managed ‘lock up and leave’ new home.

Of the remaining Nos 2 & 3, Ms Cohalan comments that “looks can be deceiving: a very clever design conceals an unexpectedly spacious interior.

At first glance these appear to be small bungalow type homes, but, in truth, there is an airy lower ground floor that extends the overall size to 1,800 sq ft.

Noting a setting two minutes’ walk from St Luke’s Cross shops, bars, cafes and live music venue at St Luke’s Church itself, Ms Cohalan adds “pleasant vistas are always in demand, and this bijou terrace doesn’t disappoint; scenic city views are visible both at night and by day.

In addition to the pretty outlook, there is a private, low maintenance courtyard and one designated car space.

The mid-section No 2 is price guided ‘from’ €545,000, and the end terrace one with the very best of the city and lofty St Luke’s Cross views ‘from’ €565,000. For those with the slightly bigger budget, that has to be the one to go for, especially given that it has external access links also between its two levels.

Very well built and finished, each of them with own-door access and a reserved parking spot, it’s best to think of them as a crossbetween apartment living, and bright, stylish, up-to-date two-storey terraced townhouses, with an enviable ‘A2’ BER rating.

The entry point is via a communal gate in a retained red sandstone wall, facing the end of the Ambassador Hotel bedrooms annex, with a brick-paved path to individual front doors, each topped with standing seam zinc porch shelters, with cladding to one side of the door, and sandblasted glass to the other.

Entry level is home to an L-shaped living room, about 15’ by 15’ (4.7m x 4.7m), plus a bedroom, as well as a shower room/bathroom, and lots of storage along a corridor’s side/external wall.

Roof lights bring sunlight into the circulation space, especially above the stairwell, and a feature (of necessity) in the living room is a slatted, vertically louvered screen outside the window, in a chunky, angled cedar fixture. It was a planning stipulation, to minimise overlooking of properties below/across the way.

It seems not to overly reduce daylight, given it is still angled to get southern light, and the upside for these homes’ inhabitants will be the screening it also allows them when in these spaces themselves.

Similarly, at the lower ground level the three properties’ external boundaries to the east were also constrained to protect the privacy of the handful of houses below, so they are a mix of timber boards and blocks of translucent screens, nearly 5’ high.

Rooms at the lower level include two more double bedrooms, a shared bathroom with shower and jetted bath, a very useful utility/storage room and shelved pantry, and the piece de resistance, along, extended 24’ by 14’ kitchen/dining/living room, with external garden/courtyard access via sliding doors.

This ‘combined use’ room has a ceiling skylight, and a coffered ceiling bulkhead, with recessed strip LED lighting for evening mood setting: it was a deal of extra work to install, but appears well worth the effort and also ‘unnecessary,’ but an appreciated visual/aesthetic touch, is the curved plastered wall by the room’s entry point.

Kitchen (and bedroom) units are by Cork company Unique Fitout, topped with a nicely grained white marble.

Entirely coincidentally, Unique Fitout also did much of the makeover work on the period2,245 sq ft 1800s end-terrace three-storey classic St Luke’s area house, 1 Westview, 100 yards away from Alexandra Road, on Military Hill, which went to market in August with Powell Property, guiding €600,000, and which is now sale agreed for about that sum.

Combining setting, views,contemporary design, excellent storage, A2 energy rating (with air to water central heating via rads) plus parking and low maintenance, these variations on the ‘white glazed box’ theme are likely to set a certain benchmark in the St Lukes’ Cross vicinity, where one or two eco-houses and even a circular house have snuck in quietly heretofore, around and off Gardiner’s Hill.

These are hardly likely to be around long: the sales process is likely to be the quickest element of a protracted project dating to 2014 for the builders Laide & O’Brien, but that won’t be a concern forselling agents Cohalan Downing.

Later in 2019, they’ll be launching 16 luxury 2,000 sq ft townhouses, in the St Luke’s area, just on the eastern side of the former Arbutus House/Hotel, and south facing to boot. Needles to say, that wasn’t an easy planning process either....

VERDICT: St Luke’s Cross purposes.

    St Luke’s Cross, Cork City

    Price: From €545,000/€565,000

    Size: 168 sq m (1,800 sq ft)

    Bedrooms: 3

    Bathrooms: 2

    BER: A2

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