Georgian villa set up for a new century

Conservationist John Hegarty has helped revamp a Georgian building on Sunday’s Well, Cork, writes Rose Martin.

SUNDAY’S Well is a Cork suburb with its own particular atmosphere, a place with a sense of age, tradition and a rare mix of housing types.

People have lived here forever — 8,000 years ago, this was a summer gathering point for Mesolithic salmon fishers and their descendants live on today — stroke hauling.

Within its restricted confines there are a very lucky few on Sunday’s Well who inhabit houses on the river.

These old Georgian villas have upwards of an acre apiece running down to the water and they’re increasingly home to a new breed of owner, those with the drive and energy to put these old properties in the right shape for another 200 years or more.

And a prime example is this Sunday’s Well Road house, a restored gem that’s bright and elegant, but fastidiously finished. It’s a renovation that’s been done by the book and the owners have been highly commended as clients by their architect and conservationist, John Hegarty:

“They were very brave — they wanted to restore and preserve the house without extending it and to find the space in that — so they were very modest.

“And they wanted to repair the house well and almost use it as it was.

“The investment is hidden and they were happy to do that — it’s done to such a standard that they don’t have to worry about it anymore.”

The background story is that the couple fell in love with the area while renting an apartment nearby and fastened on a riverside house as their dream buy. It was a standing joke amongst their friends and colleagues that they knew the age and medical history of everyone in Sunday’s Well.

And when the right house came up, they landed their dream property which was in good, habitable condition, but which they sought to makeover in their way.

There had been a modern sun room projection at the rear and a 1950s bathroom wing attached at the side, while the main structure of the house remained relatively unchanged since the 1790s, except for internal fixtures and fenestration, but all that’s changed now.

John Hegarty of Fourem Architects was drafted in by the couple, (he’s the son of former city architect Neil Hegarty who created the award-winning Dundanion Court scheme), because of his experience with older houses in the area and because he blends modern interiors with a rigorously restored building fabric.

His attitude is that these buildings aren’t national trust properties, they’re homes for real people and should reflect that in their design and layout.

“In the end of the day, the real trick is to get these buildings working — this project wasn’t horrendously expensive because we just repaired the house — it’s not the same as if you take a back wall out,” said Hegarty.

That being said, the restoration took a year and a half, with contractors Cornerstone Construction on board. The firm, who had previously worked on Michael Flatley’s Castlehyde restoration, on Cobh Cathedral and other prominent private and public projects, are conservation experts.

Under Hegarty’s instruction, the concrete finish to the exterior was hacked off and replaced with breathable, lime plaster. Windows were replaced and the rear sun room was removed and what Hegarty describes as ‘the original form of a pediment, pilasters and tripartite windows’ was reinstated.

Being semi-detached, it helped during restoration that the neighbouring property was identical and its owners were very open to access for research and comparison.

According to Hegarty, the shared fabric of the two houses created the evidence for the original form and helped hugely in the restoration detail.

And yet, there’s no sign, no indication of that rigour once inside the door. Admittedly, the sage green tones of the staircase and the grey hues of the hallway are an indication of another time, perhaps, but the impression is of a totally modern, refreshed home.

The living space opens out into two interconnecting rooms, where once there were three, and the kitchen is placed against the western wall, lit by a deep southerly window that overlooks a newly-laid terrace.

A northern window allows the cook a view of the coach house and side entrance and the arrival of vehicles above.

The kitchen is simple and modest but also Poggenpohl, while twin Gaggenau ovens are houses in a separate, gunmetal unit designed by John Hegarty.

The circular, marble table is special too — an Eero Saarinen Tulip Table and chairs are by Pierro Lissoni with removable linen covers for winter use.

Hegarty also designed the overhead units, which cleverly cover electrical sockets behind glazed frames and the wall tiles are hand made by Fired Earth. Floors are in French limestone by the same company.

Behind the kitchen is the bright boot room and this glazed nook has funky flying hook hangers that are so simply designed, they’re easy for children to use.

Full height folding doors, specially made by Cornerstone, lead through to the main living room where a simple, carved firepiece is a reproduction replacement for a Victorian piece which held place before the new owners arrived.

The design, in cool white marble, was copied from original sources by Hegarty and carved by stone mason, Tom Little. A Georgian original is fitted in the upstairs drawing room.

On either side of the firebreast are simple, hand-made shelving units by Fourem Design, who also designed the overhead mirrors.

And while he doesn’t claim credit for these, Hegarty liaised with Northside Glass to create the large pieces, composed of a back support and trimmed at the side with mirror too.

Two sets of double doors lead outward to the limestone terrace where a modern, powder-coated steel garden set supplants the usual teak. An old apple trees bursts into bloom overhead and on the lower terrace, a fine fig tree is doing nicely in its micro-climate.

Doors and windows are reproduction, finely beaded Georgian frames and the re-instated shutters act as another layer of insulation.

The living room is simply furnished with a grey felt sofa sourced through Mimo and occasional modern and antique pieces. The look, is modern but Georgian in spirit, where less is more and quality is superior.

All of the original doors in the house were stripped and repainted and fitted with reproduction door handles. Newer doors are consciously modern and changes to the main fabric, such as bathrooms and closets, are concealed to maintain the character of the internal spaces, Hegarty says.

The staircase is a fine example of the pared down Georgian style and originally this had a layers of paint which were stripped back, (probably tediously), and painted a dark, almost black stain at the architect’s insistence.

The owners resisted at first, but now see that it works and that the colour gives the staircase its impact.

Where the fifties addition led off the hallway, Hegarty put in a ‘secret door’ to re-instate the integrity of the original space, he says, but behind it a very sleek Villeroy and Boch, guest bathroom is hidden.

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