A million reasons to make the move to the super-luxurious

Tommy Barker says Earls Well properties have the mark of quality

BARNSTORMING bargains – albeit at prices of €1.05 to €1.25 million – and the best of Cork’s contemporary new housing stock to pick from.

Conceived at a time when Ireland’s fortunes were still on the up and up, but delivered into a downturn, the large family homes at Waterfall’s Earls Well still hold the promise of a great living environment – and at a price now that the developers must be choking on.

Eulogies aside – and these houses deserve multiple superlatives drafted in, in their praise – there’s value for money here.

After a few years when lots and lots of Cork and other Irish house routinely made €1 million and more, so much so that the currency and threshold got debased as well, this is something to celebrate.

There are five broadly similar house plans, for an overall project of 42 houses on 30 acres bought from local pub owning family the O’Sheas. They’ve a packed features list, and the highest of building standards, more or less completed by builders Fleming Construction in late autumn and with show units done by director Michelle Fleming.

This ambitious development is just a few miles west of Cork’s CUH, western suburbs and third-level colleges: a five-minute drive brings you to Waterfall from the south city ring road, and once you’re home, you’re in clover.

Then, as the five styles (with two completed showhouses, done almost in a classical style in a contrast to the contemporary spaces) came to fruition and got shown to impressed locals, Flemings turned down the on-site pace as the market continued to slumber.

They’ve finally been cajoled into a summer launch with the showhouses (by appointment only) just spring-cleaned, and the grass putting on a spurt. For a market that needs cheering up, the good news is that there’s something quite exceptional here in Earls Well.

It starts with smart design, really finely thought out house and floor plans, with detailed consideration followed through all the way, so you get great looking houses that won’t be out of place in any Irish country setting. Architects O’Mahony Pike, best known for their high-density urban schemes, take a bow: the goods have been delivered at the other end of the big detached house scale too. If people pilfer aspects of the design, take it as a well-deserved compliment.

The scheme of 42 houses to be built (yes, overall completion will now take time, but each segment will be stand-alone) and arranged in cul de sac clusters and around greens, will be a landmark, and benchmark, make no mistake.

Landscaping by Brady Shipman Martin matches the vernacular style, with mounded ditches keeping the look and feel country, topped with simple fencing and then planted up. It will just get better and better, and while all of the houses will have the same optimum south-west aspect for living/patio areas, the layout is staggered so that there’s practically no overlooking at all: having those great lofted (and easily convertable) 1,350 sq ft garages anchors the look to the farmhouse/yard style, and adds almost indefinably to the mix.

Those garage are already the size of the old housing grant threshold, and are almost extras thrown in here to sweeten the pot. They are traditionally built with block, and Ducon concrete slabbed first floors, by the way, while the houses themselves are built using Flemings’ patented Fusion steel-frame technology, with integrated highly insulated panels. Expect a B1 energy rating, and a cosy living environment.

There’s an immediate warm feel even on a first visit, and it’s hard to find a feature to be cool about.

The individual houses run from 3,100 to 3,900 sq ft (excluding garages), all are five bedroomed, and all have three en suite bathrooms.

All are flooded with light, and windows are a mix of double and triple glazing, most of them made by Swedish company Harmon Vinduer in a composite of wood and aluminium. Only house type B, the refreshingly-different Ruby with its feature red barn wing, varies from this with huge sliding barn doors, oh, about €20,000 worth for a few high sliding doors. Like the curved zinc roof, by the way, fancy doing it yourself? Think €50,000 or €60,000 for the metal work alone, and that’s excluding the detailed carpentry work underneath in fashioned ply-skinned purlins and lofty internal spaces.

Yes, that rustic red barn is a bit of a Grand Designs scene-stealer, and this B type 3,900 sq ft/€1.25m house plan primarily houses a living room, family room, and kitchen/dining room, with central mezzanine study, while bedrooms and bathrooms are off in another tee-d-in two-storey wing.

A common feature of each design is a glazed-roof section over first floor landings, drawing light right down in the houses’ cores and halls, several have double height spaces (one style, the Emerald, has a fireplace and tall chimney breast in its hall and landing void) and all use toughened glass ballusters on stairs and landing to really let the light flow.

Living areas are a mix of stepped down spaces with high ceilings and open plan areas, which can be closed off with sliding doors drawing back into wall spaces, a real space saving feature in houses where space isn’t in short supply in the first place.

Internal joinery in the show houses is walnut, in floors, doors and stairs, and kitchens are by Brendan Butler in west Cork. If you want something different, there’s a PC sum alone for kitchens worth over €30k, and while just about everything is included in the 1.05/€1.25 prices via selling agents Cahalane Skuse, other PC sums are allowable for changes to personal tastes.

Standard finishes includes tiling, hardwood flooring, carpeting allowance, fitted kitchens and utilities, gas or open fireplaces, Smart home wiring with surround sound across six zones, broadband and digital TV, mood lighting, central vacuum, Vitra sanitary ware and bathroom tiling, Grohe showers, painting, fitted alarm and CCTV wiring, with simple sliding electric gates behind low Liscannor stone front boundary walls. Heating is underfloor, and oil-fired, with gas for cooking and there are solar panels for water heating

External finishes are from a simple, but quality materials palette: white painted render finishes, natural slate roofs without soffits, zinc gutters and down pipes, some feature zinc roofing matching the grey aluminium glazing, and patios have Indian sandstone, with raised barbecue sections in Liscannor stone.

Individual site sizes average one third of an acre.

Only a select few people have been through the houses prior to this weekend’s launch, as Fleming Construction have been keeping these particular leading lights under a bushel and behind hedgerows.

Although active buyers are thin on the ground, especially at this price level, and finance is hard to get, there’ll be enough buyers for the first of these quality offerings.

It is very much a case of the best kept ‘til last. “If I had them three years ago to sell they’d be twice the price, and buyers would be fighting over them,” says auctioneer Niall Cahalane.

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