Mediterranean flavours beckon in St Luke’s Cross, Cork

There’s a touch of the exotic to this 1850 sunny property in St Luke’s Cross, writes Tommy Barker.

Mediterranean flavours beckon in St Luke’s Cross, Cork

Wellington Road, Cork city €675,000

Bedrooms: 6

Bathrooms: 3

BER: E2

Best Feature: City oasis

There’s more than a touch of the Mediterranean to the courtyard at Summer Lodge — a Cork city oasis home, indeed made for sunny times and climes.

That hint of the exotic begins at the back/main door into this 1850 city home, on large grounds at St Luke’s Cross: the entry point into the private courtyard from the street and world beyond is graced by a panel of stout, ornate wrought iron tracery with the outline of birds discernible under decades and layers of gloss paint. This serves as a screen for secret, yet partial glimpses of the world of Summer Lodge.

When full privacy is needed at this entrance, wooden shutters hinge back over the ironwork — like the doors in a confessional, writ large (see pic p19)

But, Summer Lodge has little to confess, or secrets to hide, over itslong and quite glorious life. It’s just a superbly-sited period, city home, within an amble of Cork’s core areas, in the venerable St Luke’s community, with loads of space inside (six bedrooms and 3,800 sq ft of scattered space) along with a courtyard garden of note, and, lo, lots of ground.

It has got a long, sectioned sloping south-facing garden,down to its front pedestrian entrance onto Summerhill North, graced by a sunny terrace with steps to a balcony and the main, over-basement house’s stout French doors.

Summer Lodge is new to market with Trish Stokes of Lisney, and she knows she has a rare timepiece here: plus, it’s a house she knows extremely well.

It has been a family home since the 1950s to members of the Stokes family, and currently a second generation of Stokes, Adrian and Deirdre, are in residence, but seeking to trade down.

Adrian is uncle to noted clock maker Philip Stokes, who’s married to Trish... who must be feeling some pressure of family expectation of a strong sales result here in particular. Fortunately, the house will practically sell itself — to the right buyer. Ms Stokes just has to make that match.

Adrian took on Summer Lodge from his father Knolly Stokes, a very well-known city businessman and entrepreneur back in his day. Knolly owned the Milk Bar restaurant (later, the Bridge House) on St Patrick Street, not even a 10-minute walk from Summer Lodge; he commissioned his friend sculptor Seamus Murphy to carve a limestone trough at street level outside the Milk Bar for dogs to a slurp thier fill at.

That dog-drinking trough, with the legend ‘Madraí’ carved on it, is still on the street, while up in Summer Lodge is another Seamus Murphy limestone piece in the enclose, sheltered, wonderfully random courtyard, with house and wings and bits one three sides, and a wall to Wellington Road on the fourth.

Here, in an almost Spanish or Moorish contrived and clay-tiled setting is a Seamus Murphy carved bowl, part of a water feature where water regularly drops in decanted mouthfuls from a brass lion’s hinged jaws.

When the stone receptacle underneath is filled, water drips next from it, down traced carved stone scallops in a regular pattern. It’s utterly beguiling to imagine ... because it’s not working at present.

Going back with the flow will be one of the more interesting projects for any new owner to tackle.

Summer Lodge is itself a house of two faces, there’s a touch of formal elegance to the south-facing facade, with old sash windows, three peeping basement windows underneath, and stone steps up to a railed, balustered level by an arched, ornate stucco doorway. It’s a fine, elevated sitting out spot too until the sun wheels past to the west.

You’d scarcely bother to note that this large residence is mid-terraced, given the contrasting joys of its two outdoors spaces and access points, a split personality likely to have originated back in the day when the guests came in one way, ie deposited via carriages from Summerhill North) and the tradespeople and deliveries in the other, behind.

Apart from the fact the long, front garden path incline leads to a now-rarely used door to Summerhill, the real intrigue though is from the back way in.

Here, on Wellington Road directly opposite Military Hill, Summer Lodge’s exterior walls are all painted pink, and handily that more or less informs as to what bits belong to this period property and enclosure, formal in front, delightfully higgledy-piggledy behind.

Handily for residents’ parking, there’s a garage intruding in one, north-western courtyard corner, with steps down to the courtyard path, plus there’s a lovely elevated sit-out area (currently home to an oil tank) surveying all.

Off in the far corner, a two-storey annexe stretches back from the main house block, home to the kitchen at its lower level, and with sundry rooms and a glazed corridor above, getting westerly sun.

It’s all crying out now for a bit of contemporary re-imagining, opening up rooms with glazed inserts and links to revel in the courtyard delights. Bring a really good architect, and a gardener to advise on what will thrive best climbing up the courtyard walls, from wisterias to roses. Drapes of bougainvilleas, if anyone wants to go the whole scented courtyard hog?

Cork city’s older suburbs have a select few examples of period homes blessed with similar courtyard opportunities, some more creatively realised than others.

Go for a mosey around Sunday’s Well, Montenotte and St Luke’s Cross primarily: you’ll need twitching antennae, though, as the best are almost wholly discrete and concealed. But, they are there. And Summer Lodge is set to join that elite urban club.

While it’s the outside spaces that initially excite at mid 19th century Summer Lodge, the inside is no slouch either, but its layout will take some getting used to and perhaps even some reordering.

Its room-sized double-aspect entry hall is already special with parquet floor arched panels picked out in plasterwork, quite French in tone (glazed French doors, coincidentally) and the main drawing room is off a side hall, about 30’ wide with a wood-burning stove in a formal chimney-piece setting, and with three tall, elegant sash windows facing full south, peeping towards the city and river, with a lofty weeping ash by a high, stone boundary wall. Crane your neck out, or more readily from the front door, and you’ll see St Luke’s Church just up the way.

To the rear is a formal dining room, with double aspect west and north sash windows, and again there’s feature plaster arches.

Access to the kitchen is via what’s best described as a hotel-scale scullery, and the kitchen’s too basic now for modern needs, so that and a store room beyond will need thought for fresh family needs. The presence of a set of eight outdated electric buzzers/bells on the kitchen access corri

dor is a reminder that this house was, indeed, laid out for earlier days,with hot and cold running servants.

For today’s needs, the rooms upstairs are adaptable, with up to six bedrooms and one’s so far away from the others it’s ideal for an au pair, recalcitrant teenager, music room and more. The best bedrooms are to the front, more formal, but none are of a size that can easily accommodate en suites. Right now, most have wash hand basins, so at least there’s plumbing all around.

Another quirk of the house, and indicative of its scale, is its hot-press. It’s so tall, it has two access points, from the stair return and from the next full floor above, while an overhead glazed panel or roof lantern brings light down into the stairwell.

The roof’s in chunky old slate, with finials along the ridge; there’s literally something different about this home, on every level.

There’s even a basement, adding to the useful space to be colonised, with good stair access.

You get no glimpse of it from the courtyard side, but it rightly has three windows to the front/south, so it get lots of light. Right now, it’s an open area, L-shaped, at about 27’ by 20’ at max, spacious enough for a pool table, three-quarter size snooker table, table tennis table, gym, multi-media room and a whole host more. It has a home bar in one corner, to wet your whistle.

Internally Summer Lodge is quite original and very intact, not just over the current owners’ times, but beyond that again: it hasn’t been mucked about with, and that’s a bonus, but it does need changes and further investment now for sure - appropriate, sensitive yet imaginative.

Trish Stokes guides the property at €675,000, knowing it’s sufficiently different to be difficult to value: there’s so much more here than size, or even setting, a lot more than sum of its parts.

Living here offers a quite unique city experience, what with its long sectioned and walled in south-facing gardens (complete with old, disused cast iron fountain, and low wall of glasshouse/cold frame), off-street parking, a range of rooms, city views and proximity — and that captivating courtyard, holding such contemporary re-styling promise, with its Seamus Murphy carved bowl at its centre.

Picturing new occupants here with BBQ options front and back, selling agent with ‘insider’ knowledge Trish Stokes even summons up indolent evenings of wine and tapas. She’s not too far off the mark: this will be a fascinating one to try to revisit a year or two in the future.

VERDICT: If only every day could be summer.

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