Something old becomes something new

CENTURIES separate the exterior and interior looks of Abbey House, a Kinsale hideaway with surprises galore under its skin.

Owned since 2003 by a couple with strong architecture and interior architecture credentials, it is a reworked house possibly as old as 15th and 16th centuries in part, brought bang up to date thanks to a modern makeover that draws in light, seals in heat, and splashes colour and pizzazz about with abandon. It works.

It’s part – and one of the few surviving bits – of a cluster of old dwellings associated with Kinsale’s 15th century Carmelite Abbey, and pillaged in the 1540s by Henry V11’s Supression of the Monasteries Act.

Now with its Tudor-looking front contrasting with a Modernist interior, it’s the sort of place that earns the title ‘eclectic’. Its owners, Marc and Deborah O’Riain, both lecture in architecture and have impressive design awards behind them, but this was done as a personal project. “The house is a real home. We actually designed it to own it forever and the quality of the finishes really attest to this. We have a very strong feeling about design for living,” says Marc. But like the best laid plans, they’ve spotted another restoration drama, a city project that appeals to their sense of adventure. Hence, the sale of Abbey House, via agent Trish Stokes of Sherry FitzGerald, who guides the true one-off at €330,000, and who says it may appeal as readily to an older couple as a younger one. It may also make for that ideal Kinsale bolthole for occasional visits, as despite its venerable age, it’s not going to be a hard property to maintain.

There’s not a lot of outdoor space, but there’s enough to cope with storage of sports equipment, bikes, surfboards and some sunny outdoor decking space, think of it as a sort of wrap-around to the quirky dwelling. Externally, it looks a bit Tudor cottage in the woods, with its leaded windows and exposed wood beams, and while there’s a bit of this exposed beam and stone inside as well, there’s a lot more going on, and a bigger internal area than you might expect.

There’s 1,200 sq ft of space here, and the three first-floor bedrooms are all doubles, two of them at the gable ends a good decent size.

If bathrooms and kitchens were the rooms of the noughties for make-overs, then Abbey House has touched all the appropriate bases. There’s a romantic, bathe by candlelight sort of main bathroom at ground-floor level, with antique cast-iron bath and other sanitary ware, dark green panelled walls and light sconces, and the floor, like the rest of the ground level, is very high-quality salvaged rosewood parquet flooring, sourced from a convent in Britain.

While Marc and Deborah kept the leaded, single-glazed and timber framed front windows they had inherited with the purchase, from the front walls in, all is changed: walls (save those of original exposed stone) were stripped back and insulted, while to the back of the house they punched out large full-depth window openings, and installed quality double glazed Vrogrum wood frames and patio doors to the decking.

The upper level bathroom is a like it/leave it shower room, fully done in expensive Bisazza hand-made glass mosaic tiles in rich, dark metallic bronzes. It makes a bold change from all white, anyway.

Bedrooms are more classically furnished than the ground-floor spaces, but great use is made of storage niches throughout – such as the top of the stairs, with its feature red carpet.

Downstairs, the main room might have its dark exposed beams and stone fireplace (there’s oil central heating as well) but everything else is contrast, with tensioned wire spot lighting and classic designer furniture. &

While the furniture is excluded from the sale (but go on, make an offer) the kitchen isn’t going to change its assertive character with a change of owners.

With painted Shaker-style units, it is topped by cool Corian wraparound countertops, and the glass splashback is painted on the back of the glass for an easy-keep colour. Real colour comes from a big red glass pendant light. Seen swish kitchen taps before? Not as industrial as the geyser tap here – it wouldn’t look out of place in the hands of a fireman instead of a chef or pot-washer.

It’s not all fun and frivolity, this is a very practical home, that bravely bucks the banal, while still being bright, comfortable – and Kinsale.

“It breaks rules, and doesn’t comply with an accepted modernity. Instead it is humanistic, homely, and warm,” says Marc O’Riain, adding the personal/professional judgement “the space manages to achieve the designer feel often attributed to more stark and cold austere interiors that are impossible to live in.”

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