PICS: The old cottage that changed one woman's life

Louise Sliney saw an old cottage for sale and didn’t think twice. It changed her life, writes Rose Martin

Louise Sliney has a wailing baby to thank for her own home project. Think new mother, think unsettled baby, think, ‘let’s drive him around till he falls asleep’. Plenty of back roads in the hinterland of Kinsale, (where she’s from), to lull a crying baba and by the time she and her friend, (the new mother), hit Ballinclashet, peace was dripping slow.

Which is why, when they saw an old cottage on the roadside with a for-sale sign, they chanced a resurgence of the dormant volcano, and took a look.

An old Famine cottage, with 6ft-thick walls and a less than enticing demeanour didn’t obviously offer much, nevertheless within minutes it was settled— this was to be her new home.

In the middle of the boom, the ruined two-roomed, stone house cost a lot, (she won’t say) — but with her skills as an architect and her fairly modest and sympathetic proposals, Louise had a swift planning spin and took on the task of building the house herself.

Adding 1,400 sq ft onto the old, she stripped back the cottage and planned a one-and-a-half storey extension to the side. The two now blend perfectly and the house offers open-plan accommodation at one end and discrete bedroom accommodation on the other. The ground-floor entrance connects the two wings with an eye-catching and beautifully executed open-plan staircase to the left, and a corridor leading to the main living space. The new wing has clever divides, with a perfect, ergonomic kitchen on the northern side, while a box projection to the south fits the dining table perfectly.

The kitchen is an Ikea job and, as Louise says, it works because it’s designed to work — that’s the secret with Ikea units. The simple white assemblage shows a keen designer’s eye with a ‘defensive’ teak counter creating a boundary between working and eating space — built from Ikea worktop.

Beyond the kitchen is the vaulted living room, with a wall of windows to the east and south and overlooking the gardens. Simply furnished with a Stovax stove, grey modular sofa, and colourful cushions, (Habitat mostly), it’s overlooked by the gallery office overhead. Louise works from home part of the week and the rest in the city.

It’s easy to forget the labour that creates a build when you walk around the finished project, and Louise had challenges along the way, not least working to a tight budget — nevertheless, the house is a masterclass on how to achieve a look without spending stupid money.

The construction stage was straightforward, she says, but admits it was quite stressful in retrospect. Using her black book of contacts and with a watchful eye on the progress, she decided at the time to bring the house up to Part L regs before they came into place, which is why she now has an A-rated home which costs less than €300 a year to heat.

A build of nine months followed the grant of planning, during which time Louise worked full-time as an architect and managed the project in between — 6am starts and 8pm finishes, as well as every weekend, saw her push the project so that what started on Valentine’s Day, was complete by Advent.

A lavish, house-warming Christmas dinner followed and then the bubble burst. In January, the crash thundered through her profession and her New Year’s gift was a P45. Disaster. Or was it? It was the catalyst to start her own practice, she says, as she’d never have done it otherwise. And she had a mortgage to pay — albeit one trimmed by the fact she did the build directly, herself.

“It was a joy to do it by direct labour, but I wouldn’t recommend it — people built rubbish before and there’s a reason for the regulations, (Part L). A direct build is good so long as you know what you’re doing,” she says.

So she recommends using an architect and contracting a good builder for any house project: “A good builder is all about the team and they have specialities — some are good at new builds, some are good at renovations, and the builder wants to be recommended — this business is all about referrals and keeping people happy.”

When it comes to design, she says the site is all: “Views, privacy, whether you’re going to be a good gardener or not — to build your house you need to tick all the boxes. Start with images of what what want and have an architect interpret your ideas.

“Most people enjoy the process of working with an architect — and you get to know a lot about your clients — and they only do it once so the advice to clients is ‘do all your thinking first’.

“I really enjoy working with people and I like doing people’s houses — it’s a lot more than a job when you love your work.”

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