Thinking outside the box when it comes to home renovations

Interesting renovations are making a comback again as money begins to circulate once more. Ellie O’Byrne looks at three unusual renovations that blend creative flair with solid business sense.

The Skinny House

The Skinny House on Long Lane, off Clanbrassil street, is Dublin’s narrowest house at just over two metres wide. The early 20th-century red brick anomaly is said to have come about when the builder constructing the terrace built from both ends of the street at once, only discovering his error when he reached number 19, giving rise to 19a.

What better team to approach such an unusual renovation than designer and artist Sasha Sykes and her writer husband, Tom? Sasha, who trained as an architect, owns Farm21, a contemporary furniture and functional artwork company. Her work blends modern materials like resins and acrylics with natural materials, often gathered near the Sykes’ family home in Co Carlow.

The Sykes’ adventurous sense of business acumen led to them purchasing the “Skinny House” for €136,000 in 2013 as an investment opportunity. “Even the surveyor’s report basically said ‘you must be mad’,” Tom said. “We bought it because we couldn’t get a mortgage.” It had been let to students but they decided to give the house a funky overhaul and put it on AirBnB, with outstanding results; AirBnB-ers are falling for the quirky charm and central location of The Skinny House.

Thinking outside the box when it comes to home renovations

Although the renovation was a team effort, Tom’s clear about where the creative inspiration came from: “Sasha’s the artist! She has been in charge of the creative side of it.” “Well with a space that small, it’s really about being as minimal but decorative as you can get; it’s a glorified corridor really,” Sasha said.

A mezzanine with a skylight houses a spacious-feeling double bed, leaving room for a dining area underneath. Bunk beds occupy the area in the window behind a partition to the front door and there are eye-catching geometric murals on the walls of the stripped-pine floored living area.

Artist Paul Monaghan, a friend of Sasha’s, came on board to paint the murals, which almost create an optical illusion to detract from the narrowness of the living and dining areas.

Thinking outside the box when it comes to home renovations

“We needed a low-budget renovation with a quick turnaround. So it’s very colour and shape-driven to add three-dimensionality. But we’re not trying to hide what it is — it is a really skinny house!” It may not make ideal permanent accommodation, and you wouldn’t want to try swinging a cat, but for short-term city-breaks it’s got plenty of novelty factor. The Skinny House comfortably sleeps four and is in high demand with tourists.”

The billiards room at Temple House in Co Sligo

Restoring Temple House, the Georgian Manor that has been in Roderick Perceval’s family for over 300 years, has been both a labour of love and a business decision.

Making the estate pay for itself in the 21st century is a full-time job for Roderick and his wife Helena.

“We’ve had to diversify to survive,” Roderick said. “We’ve hosted festivals and we hold a family day where people come and see the lambs from our farm. Our shooting parties are very relaxed and popular too.” Temple House is also used as a film location, with the award-winning John McDonagh film Calvary, starring Brendan Gleeson and Chris O’Dowd, shooting several scenes in the house.

Thinking outside the box when it comes to home renovations

Several reversals of family fortune have shaped the Percevals’ estate, but it was Roderick’s great-great-great grandfather, Alexander Perceval, who built the current house in the 1860s. “He was a barrister in China who developed business interests and became very successful,” Roderick said.

Alexander had a lavishly masculine lifestyle; turn right inside the main doors and you arrive at the “gentlemen’s wing,” banned to ladies in Alexander’s time. “He had a gun room, a smoking room, a billiards room…and his own separate entrance,” Roderick said.

By the 1950s, Roderick’s great grandfather, Acelin Perceval, was widowed and living alone in just three rooms of the 97 room house. The magnificent Billiards Room, complete with cut-glass skylight, had long since fallen into disrepair and was being used as a woodshed; the floorboards had rotted away and plasterwork had fallen off in chunks.

Thinking outside the box when it comes to home renovations

Roderick and his wife Helena moved to Sligo from the UK in 2004, taking over the maintenance of the estate from Roderick’s parents and set about its painstaking restoration.

Refurbishing the billiards room involved reflooring with solid Honduras pitch pine and replastering, and the Percevals faithfully restored touches of Alexander’s original vision. They used local Sligo-based craftspeople to restore the ornate cornicing plasterwork, and a graphic designer came on board to draw up designs for cut glass in the skylight.

Thinking outside the box when it comes to home renovations

Finished in pastel tones that capture the light and act as a foil for the sombre mahogany of Alexander’s Chinese furniture, the result is authentic and grand in equal measure. The billiards room is proving to be a perfect location for exchanging wedding vows. Weddings at Temple House can cater for 140 seated guests or a buffet for 200, a scale that Alexander Perceval would no doubt approve of.

Temple House won Georgina Campbell’s Country House of the Year 2016.

The stables at Lisnavagh House, Co Carlow

It’s not often that you get to boast that you’ve slept in the bed of a former Grand National winner; that’s the horse, not the jockey.

Lisnavagh is home to Lady Jessica Rathdonnell, who bred thoroughbreds for the National Hunt, and perhaps most famously Kildimo, who was a Grand National winner. When Lady Rathdonnell retired to a smaller home on the estate and the stables fell into disuse, daughter-in-law Emily Bunbury hit upon a plan to extend Lisnavagh’s accommodation by refurbishing the stables.

Emily and her husband William Bunbury, the next Lord Rathdonnell, took over the management of Lisnavagh’s 1,000 acre estate in the early 2000s.

Thinking outside the box when it comes to home renovations

Built in the Gothic Revival style and designed by Daniel Robertson, the architect who designed Powerscourt Estate and Johnstown Castle, Lisnavagh was built in 1847, at the height of the great famine. Isn’t there a little discomfort in knowing that your palatial home was built as people starved? “Turtle (Bunbury, historian and Emily’s brother-in-law) has researched it and we believe that the building work was famine relief,” Emily says.

10 stables are have been converted to en-suite double rooms, which are not large but provide an informal simplicity certainly not on offer in the main house, where period four-poster beds and portraits of McClintock-Bunburys of yore lend a solemnity to the accommodation.

In a nod to the former occupants of the stables, each of the “en-suite crashpads”, as Emily calls them, is named after one of Lady Rathdonnell’s thoroughbred winners.

The conversion was a case of installing basics like plumbing and wiring; the décor in the stables has been kept simple; rustic but elegant. An outdoor hay barn was also converted to provide a gathering area for people staying in the stables, but again, simplicity is key; the walls are exposed stonework and the furniture old restored pieces. The barn has a wood-burning stove for winter.

Thinking outside the box when it comes to home renovations

Centred around a courtyard, the stables, barn and a fire-pit for barbeques makes for a relaxed, communal atmosphere perfect for wedding guests who fancy staying on when the dancing is done. The newly extended accommodation is proving a big hit, and already attracting some celebrity weddings.

“We were very lucky to host Donal Skehan’s wedding to his lovely bride Sofie this summer,” Emily says. “They were very grounded and it was a lovely, family occasion.”


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