Sometimes, you just have to start from scratch

Stephen Dempsey took a chance in demolishing a 1940s bungalow to create a modern, luxurious home in its place, writes Rose Martin

EXITING from this house last week, the kind motorist who let me out mimed enthusiastically: “the house is amazing” with eye-widening, hand-waving emphasis.

You see, this semi-detached house has been a sort of neighbourhood Grand Design/ Room to Improve. Each passing day, local motorists have had our own little episode — talk about owning your landscape?

Poor Stephen Dempsey, not only has he had the Irish Examiner annoying him about his beautiful creation, but as we were shooting these pictures, another admirer called, wanting to know where he sourced the front door (Munster Joinery — and wasn’t she just angling for an up close look anyway?).

The tormented owner moved into his new house for the Christmas deadline, and while it may look like the usual renovation/ extension, in fact it’s a total rebuild — of a semi. Get that. And the house is also extended at the side giving an extra six feet which extends all the way to the back garden.

Stephen Dempsey is a landscape gardener/ designer and his design smarts made him aware of the importance of detail: he hasn’t stinted and it shows.

While he’s finished the exterior, the rear garden isn’t complete yet — we bullied him into going ahead before the spring — mainly because the house is a standout. And there’s another story here, (if a bit self-congratulatory), the choice of architect was made on the back of a piece written for these pages.

It had featured a house on the Douglas Road designed by architect Mark Collins of Collins Brennan Architects. He and Stephen Brennan work out of an office in that house and it was Stephen Brennan who took over the project management here.

Both architects took a long look at the original 800 sq ft semi after it was purchased and advised knocking the whole kit and kiboodle.

This was after taking into account the condition, age and dry rot problem:

“I always ask the question with a project like this — do the opportunities outweigh the cost?” says Brennan. “Everything is new, you start from scratch and you’ll know the structure you have.”

Stephen Dempsey took the advice and went for demolition of the 1940s bungalow:

“He really listened and was open to our ideas — he’d seen our work and met us and knew we knew what he was looking for — a light, open house with a contemporary feel — we got off from a place of mutual understanding.

“And it improved as we went on — it was one of the best relationships we’ve had with a client — I’d be delighted calling out every week on a site where everyone got on.”

High praise indeed. As a self-employed tradesman, Stephen was keen to use his local contacts and while he went with a main contractor, he specified his own sub-contractors — a hybrid system that seemed to work really well.

“All the tradesmen were concerned about the outcome,” says Steve Brennan, “and took pride in their work.”

The demolition of the bungalow was also prompted by the fact that the existing layout included 10’ high ceilings which would allow a doubling of the space, without compromising the line of the terrace in which it’s set.

The house as configured today has two en suite bedrooms upstairs and a main bedroom and bathroom downstairs — overall there’s more than 1,800 square feet available.

Following his grant of planning, Stephen Dempsey and friends began to demolish the house, bit by bit. The tiles were removed, (and power washed for later) and bearing in mind it’s one half of a semi, conditions were not usual, or easy.

Dempsey used local builder Donal O’Sullivan to oversee the work, which began in February 2011 with Stephen Brennan as project architect.

CBA Architects were engaged on a full contract, including cost control:

“We do everything from start to finish — and it’s all there as an option for clients. We do cost control, organise a Bill of Quantities including bathrooms, kitchens, floors, painting and all finishes, including landscaping — only on this occasion, Stephen, because it’s his job, did his own. I took care of the costing from the start and it came in close to budget,” says Brennan.

There were a number of flash points — the architect pushed underfloor heating using an anhydrite screed — something the builder wasn’t too keen on. Instead of laying the sub floor at the foundation stage, this method requires four walls to frame the floor before being used. It pours like water, according to Brennan, is only 35mm deep and ensures a fast response with underfloor heating. He won, but only to an extent, as the plumber hedged his bets by creating a separate radiator zone for short, snappy use.

But it also allowed Steve Dempsey a flash of flamboyance — the magenta radiators used in the main living space which add colour and personality to what is a very calm, but fairly neutral space.

However, the most stand out feature has to be the staircase, a glimpse of which can be caught through the doorframe. Stephen Dempsey was keen to create something striking as a focal point and the design required a light touch — the stairs is made of teak and tulip wood with glass balusters:

“On the approach into the house it’s all open tread so the space looks bigger — there are long views through the glass. The key to this look is to keep the string, (the support for the treads) at the centre — to keep it out of sight so the risers appear to float.”

And they do — with a bank of overhead Velux windows throwing down light and glazing all round, the staircase is a resounding success.

It also acts as a divider: while the right hand side of the house runs clear from back to front, the left hand side has one discrete living room, a back bedroom with access directly to the rear garden and an adjoining main bathroom.

There was much consideration too as to the colour of the windows, (they are teak on the inside), but in the end, the ivory won out on the basis of the olive/ grey colour chosen for the exterior walls. The combination works — and even more so in reference to the neighbouring row. The hefty grey door, however and the grey finish in the fascia and soffitt semaphore the contemporary.

Then, there’s that expensive Irish limestone patio outside and the limestone capping, showing Dempsey’s appreciation of quality elements. Dan Buckley of Classic Driveways was responsible for both, plus the stove surround in the living room and the cills on the windows.

The main door, (which is at least 6” thick), opens directly into the living space, where a large sofa from the New Furniture Centre wraps around the fireplace, with its sleek Stovax stove.

An internal, box bay acts as a divider between kitchen and living room and beyond is the kitchen, made by Natural Wood of Mallow and finished in walnut. It includes a bank of integrated units behind which is the utility room, hidden away.

One of the better features of this part of the house is what Steve Dempsey calls the winter garden. This square, west-facing space has two sets of bi-fold doors which open up to the garden for summertime.

And, while the back garden awaits a spring planting, the rear of the house stands out in its own right — it’s dressed in cedar shingles with a zinc trim. A big box bay extends outwards from the first floor, providing that crucial landing space for the bedrooms overhead.

Projecting below it is the kitchen/ sun room extension, which is finished in fibreglass and trimmed with zinc — all of the guttering is hidden neatly behind this elegant finish.

As a lesson in how to be brave, this project is a revelation — Steve Dempsey could have played it safe and gone for a re-model — instead, he took a chance and went with his gut instinct. It’s created a cool, sustainable, high finish home. Top marks all round.

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