Tommy Barker reports on a classic old Cork city villa which has been thoroughly — and spectacularly — modernised.
Ballintemple, Blackrock Road, Cork
Size: 304 sq m (3,281 sq ft)
Best Feature: Setting, aspect and unstinting high-spec
ONE of the great joys of promenading along Cork’s Blackrock Road is the sheer variety of housing, spanning up to four centuries of the best of domestic design, ranging from early to late Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian, as well as 20th and 21st century design and nice developments.
Now, one of the most visually arresting, with its bosomy-like facade of deep double bay windows and one of the oldest too — dating to the late 1700s — is up for sale, guiding €1.5 million.
Called Mosely Villa, it’s an utter surprise, once past its elegant, embraced, Tuscan pilastered and pedimented Georgian villa-style door.
That main entrance, in the shelter of the deep bays with their tripartite sash windows, leads to an outer hall or ante-chamber, where the new-look and high-quality tone is immediately set, thanks to a wide, pivoting oak door, faced in leather ... and it’s already enough to stop you in your tracks, to feel and to touch.
Within is full of many more surprises all underpinned by smart design from a team of design professionals with an unstinting spend on finishes with a restricted palette and superior craftsmanship.
This is underscored by a stellar location and south-facing crisply landscaped back garden and makes this a Munster property market arrival to stand up and take note of.
Mosely Villa has come back to market after a transformative conservation, extension, and contemporary extension project; it last sold in the early 2000s, when it graced these pages, albeit in a tired state, showing its venerable age.
The Irish family that bought back then jumped for it immediately on its market arrival, knowing it needed considerable extra investment, but reckoning it was worth it as it was to be a home for life when they prepared to move from country to city.
That clearly was the intention, given the scale of further spending to future-proof it for future generations. In fact, while the front and side walls, and rooms shapes have been retained in the original section, beyond that’s it’s a whole new world and a brave new build.
It has probably been doubled in size, and now runs to over 3,200 sq ft, plus it has a top-notch, but low-slung basement, home to a suite of service rooms, banks of storage, a comms room, boiler/utility room, and a slick media room, with glass ceiling set into the rear, south-facing patio to flood it with light.
Immaculately and painstakingly done from basement to chimney pots, and to a level that could hold its head up in any city or suburb in the world, it’s only now being sold because the family got a chance to tackle another residential project.
As it comes for sale with Ann O’Mahony and Sheila O’Flynn of Sherry FitzGerald, it’s an enviable walk-in job, a mix of very old and very new, with the ‘very new’ very much the predominant feel.
Location is just on the Blackrock side of Cork’s suburban Ballintemple village, and it’s a stretch where some of the city’s strongest house sales have been recorded, both in booms times, and post-crash recovery, with a few in recent past topping €2 million, and then getting upgrades.
Mosely Villa is right next door to the picturesque Litchfield House, a Strawberry Gothic delight and one-time home of George Boole, UCC’s first maths professor — the man whose Boolean algebra facilitated the invention of modern day computing.
How might the same, inquisitive George Boole have marvelled if he were able to look over the dividing wall to Mosely Villa today, a century and a half after his mathematical insights, and see how they can be utilised in a private home?
This ‘villa’ now has complete ‘Smart’ home wiring and a rack of machines in its basement comms room thrumming the computers and technology to run a raft of building functions, from access, alarm and security controls, audio visual systems, sophisticated lighting, heat recovery system and underfloor heating at both ground and first floor levels, and more, much of it tipping away unobtrusively yet at occupants’ beck and call, all in the background.
Initially behind the rebirth and new life working with the family buyers at this venerable villa was Dublin-based architect Una McQuillen, and as it moved forward, another conservation architect, Margaret Walsh — who’s based closer to Cork in Clonakilty — came on board for the project’s delivery.
It must have been quite a slow progression, post-purchase. It appeared here in print in 2001, and was sold for c £425,000 (€539,639) in 2002 by Cohalan Downing in a steadily rising market, and the owners say they’ve now enjoyed every moment of the c 10 years they been here, arriving with young family in tow.
There were lots of discussions with planners as it was a listed or protected structure, with lots of alterations having been made in the intervening centuries, from the time it was first built up to the 2001 sale.
Cork City Council Conservation Officer Pat Ruane was very understanding, say the house’s now-vendors, and while the original front section is most true to the period roots, the back is a necessarily modern addition, clearly delineated, and the excavated basement is under and to the back of the modern additions too.
The builder who confidently took on the conservation and new-build sections was Michael Hanrahan, and rowing in behind his clearly talented crew was a carpenter the house’s owners knew and admired his workmanship.
It was a trust or faith well invested, as the woodwork (nearly everything is oak,) is exemplary, in floors, doors, door cases and deep window frames, with the opes encased in oak (like a modern version of static shutters?), with a shadow gap also in the link to the smooth-rendered walls.
So subtle that you’d nearly miss it is the fitting of the ‘floating’ oak staircase, a real eye-catcher in the house’s new core, by the kitchen/circulation section.
Set between a wall along the side of the new extension and framed on the other side by a wall of glass, it has steel running through it for support, and is entirely supported through this construction, and not supported by, or linked to the wall, or to the glass.
From underneath, or from using them, you see the narrowest of gaps of separation, while inset lighting adds to the floating and shadowy aura.
Sherry FitzGerald’s Sheila O’Flynn says Mosely is “like a private retreat from the city with walled in, magnificently landscape designed garden, facing south to the rear, entirely renovated 10 years ago, with the highest quality fit-out throughout.”
Even though it can be glimpsed and admired on a walk or a drive-by, it’s really very private. Aesthetically pleasing solid wood gates swing back to reveal a front drive with narrow strips of limestone paving and off-street parking for several cars.
The perimeter boundary walls are planted up, and the wall by Litchfield Cottage is clad in narrow, horizontal strips of timber, with one section concealing a store with dividing section or bin storage, out of sight and out of mind, and handily just inside the gate for bin days.
Another wood-clad section, down Mosely’s western flank hinges to double up as a secure side gate on the way to the back garden and limestone terraces, handy too for keeping dogs safely away at the back from cars.
Apart from platinum-standard location, and period roots, one of the things that drew the owners to this property in the first instance was the rear garden aspect, it’s practically directly south-facing, which means the new ground floor section is flooded with light: how could it not be, when the south and west-facing walls are all glass?!
It’s absolutely the scene-setter, with a long dining table (seating 10) and family-friendly living space down three steps from the kitchen and its enormous island.
Views to the pristine lawn and landscaped rear garden and terrace, complete with tree ferns and various feature box shrubs in high and low containers, flow almost from the centre of the building, down the garden’s 100’ length.
Adding to the usefulness of the particular site/grounds is the fact there is separate, rear access off a quiet, almost pedestrianised back lane, where some of the neighbouring properties have built small mews homes in recent decades.
Here at Mosely, that mews option is still here for future owners (the vendors had it in mind too for their retirement years, before getting itchy feet again) and so right now there’s a very practical back yard, a large shed with power supply, and storage for any amount of sports and other gear, all completely out of sight (save for the security scanners) of the main house and its luscious lawn views, bookended by a pristine white wall and laurel hedging, all quite the Grand Designs look of the noughties and still quite a current vogue look.
Garden designer was Dublin-based Bernard Hickie, who came up with the clean plan of large format French limestone terrace paving, central rectangle of lawn, and perimeter raised bed planting of broadleaf evergreen trees, occasional tree fern and underplanting in a mix of foliage, and flowers such as dramatic large drifts of dark velvet/black and white tulips which have just passed their prime this spring as the house and grounds go on sale viewings.
The initial reaction from the earliest viewings in the past week is that people are wholly impressed, says Ms O’Flynn, noting that while it’s primarily going to get trading up inquires at the market’s uppermost end, it also has one or two traders-down who may engage; but, early days yet, and it’s to a standard that those who’ve been living abroad would jump to, knowing they’re getting a world-class job, in Cork. Like.
Internally there’s an adaptable layout, with reception rooms left and right of the central hall, each with so-deep bow windows, with faithfully-recreated, curved timber sash windows, in three panes each, top and bottom.
The reception to the left opens, via yet another engaging and broad pivot door, to the kitchen, and the room opposite is a quiet den, or optional bed five for older offspring.
Overhead, the retained outline of the original bedroom means one of the four first floor beds is on the tight side, but it’s perfect as a nursery, small child’s room, den or study, and older children will relish the prospect of ‘moving down’ by the front door, as a threshold step to late teenage freedoms, with a bow window to the front, and a smaller bow with garden access door to the back and side patios.
All bedrooms are well-specced, wired for sound and lighting and IT, and the master suite’s out to the back, in a wood-clad built-on above a portion of the modern living room extension.
This suite has a large south-facing window overlooking a gravel roof, bespoke dressing table, and facing the bed is a unit with TV screen which retracts down into the desk-like frame out of sight, when not in use.
The private bathroom suite unsurprisingly is to five-star levels, with Boffi sanitary ware, his ’n’ hers circular wash bowls, large power shower, limestone clad walls, and lots of storage, while a separate walk-in robe is finished with Maxalto fittings.
The kitchen’s enough to impress the most serious of chefs, done by Bulthaup, with top Gaggenau appliances: these include a fan and steam ovens, coffee maker, a large five-ring gas hob on the enormous, stainless steel-edged island, warming drawer, dishwasher, fridge/freezer with filtered water and ice maker, as well as an additional freezer. And, judging by the use evident on the gas hob, it does get lots of use.
Three steps down past a supporting pillar gives a light sense of function delineation, before moving to the dining table, and relaxed family seating/sprawling sofa section, with TV in one corner, and a feature, freestanding gas fireplace in the corner, putting a spark into the garden views beyond the curtain-glaze wall and large, full-height sliding door.
Lighting is by Italian company Viabizzuno, almost uniformly —yet another example of keeping finishes to a small number of options — and handily, the garden’s large shed has a back-up supply of surplus lighting, quality oak flooring, etc.
Back in the contemporary, almost minimalist extension, electric blinds roll silently down, in unison or in sections, for sun screening, and just outside, on an old stone side wall, is a simple drop-down, pop-up BBQ unit in hefty, plain cast iron like you could get a knacky blacksmith to make up, ready to fire-up with charcoal and a coaxing bit of patience.
All singing and dancing, meanwhile, is the basement underneath, with masses (and masses, and masses) of storage behind simple tall doors, plus there’s bike hanging racks on a wall for the ‘good’ bikes.
This lower level is home to a laundry/utility and comms uses (God help you if you are the sort who can barely work a Sky remote) and it’s also where there’s a games room/gym/media/home cinema, with glass roof for lots of direct, overhead light and airiness: use it as you will.
VERDICT: There’s only a small handful of Cork homes done to this uncompromising design and detail level; even fewer marry that successfully into a 300-year-old house, and even rarer is to find such an offer, in such a gilt-edge suburban setting.