Menloe House an historic home with a bright future

Menloe House is a noble historic home in one of Cork’s most affluent locations, writes Tommy Barker.

Menloe House  an historic home with a bright future

IF proof were needed that Blackrock is back in the ascendency as one of Cork’s premier residential locations, then one look at this year’s Price Register should suffice.

The register’s figures and recent results will make for reassuring reading for the vendors of Menloe House, Blackrock, a period home with roots back to 1780. Menloe House comes to the open market this week with Michael O’Donovan, of Savills, who guides the superbly private period home on an acre at €1.8m.

Indicative of Blackrock’s price buoyancy was the off-market sale in the last few months of the period home Lisnalee, on Barrington’s Avenue, for a cool €2.6m. It was the second time in 20 years that this Georgian home near the Marina sold without going to the open market. Lisnalee sold once on the open market in the intervening years. A house development was also built in part of its original, larger, grounds, in the 1990s.

This time around, it has been bought by a local family, trading up from a terraced home, and on the Blackrock Road, which went to the market - openly - earlier this year on their behalf.

Also showing up on the Price Register as sold is Northcliffe, on the Marina proper. 300 years old, Northcliffe went to market in April, guided at €1.15m. It was a Cover Story spread here at the time and has sold already, going over the asking price when making €1.25m by July.

A few doors away on the Marina, the upgraded and extended semi-detached Edwardian home Kilmona sold in early 2015, at a recorded €980,000, a shade more than the €935,000 that its other half, Argideen, made for its 2,800 sq ft in 2014.

It’s all pretty much period home sales making the running, it seems.

Up on Castle Road, Mount Rivers, which features a gate lodge, shows up as having made €980,000. However, that price excludes a few acres of land which went with it, but doesn’t count for the purposes of the Register. As such, it went nicely over the €1m mark, and will be a considerable renovation project for its purchasers.

Nearer to Blackrock village, Lysanne, an end-terrace renovation, sold in the past year for €900,000, and Castle Road’s Mahon Lodge sold also, for €591,000, needing further work.

Newer than that clutch of strong results, and physically closer to Menloe House, is Scarteen, a mid-1900s detached house in Menloe Gardens, which made just €5,000 shy of its asking price, to sell for €595,000 with the result just on the Price Register last month.

So, that’s a long, roundabout way of saying “welcome to Menloe House,” the daddy of the vicinity, and the property that gave its name to the ever-popular enclave of one-off Arts-and-Crafts era homes within adjacent Menloe Gardens.

It is 30 years or so since Menloe House last changed hands. It’s an exceptionally private home, on a full acre of grounds, but, thanks to its dense screening of trees, goes under just about everyone’s radar.

Savills’s Michael O’Donovan describes it as “one of Blackrock’s finest home”. Its current owner, a legal practitioner, bought it from the Sheehan family, and previous owner Michael Sheehan was a TD and independent Lord Mayor of Cork from 1945 to 1948. One hundred years before that, another family of legal eagles, the Coppingers, were in residence when the house was called Webb Ville.

The original sections and construction of Menloe House date to 1760-1800, according to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, who list its attractions as “architectural” and “artistic”. Despite being singled out for special mention, neither the main 4,000 sq ft house, nor its 825 sq ft lodge, are listed as protected structures. Its stone entrance pillars, and immense wrought iron gates, however, are protected, and that’s about as much of Menloe House as passersby get to glimpse.

If you do get past the gates — and viewing is by appointment only — then Menloe House is indeed a bit of a find, and a reminder of grander days in the way it has kept its side-flanking buildings. First up hoving into view along the long, laurel-lined approach avenue is a tall garage/coach house, large enough for several cars, boats or beasts. With its loft level removed, it’s got enough height to house a giraffe, or keep a dinghy in - with its mast up.

Off to the far side of the exceptionally wide span of property is a series of courtyard buildings and stables, heavy and heady with an air of equine antiquity. And in between is the quietly imposing two-storey Menloe House itself.

Its front five-bay facade is the most impressive, thanks to its central portico, described in the National Inventory as “Tuscan tetrastyle portico to north with triglyphs and garlands to frieze, cornice with mutules surmounted by leaded parapet,” with Ionic columns flanking the square-headed door and overhead fanlight. In fact, the portico’s formal description could, in itself, fill a standard length of property brochure in its own right. In simple descriptive terms, it’s most impressive: if flags were hanging from Menloe’s portico, it could easily be an embassy building.

Flags flying? Well, perhaps they did flutter here briefly, back in early 1900s. According to the current owners, Menloe House was briefly the home of Dolphin Rugby Club, perhaps under the care of a rugby-keen afficiando. Dolphin RFC had a pitch nearby in Ballintemple, its members togged out in a local pub, and the club moved to its current home in 1942, at Musgrave Park.

Today, Menloe House’s rear lawn still has some sporty promise: it’s big enough, and flat enough, to hold a grass tennis court or a croquet lawn. It’s one of the appealing points of this property, as it’s south facing, watched over by the house’s three principal reception room including the deep, bay-windowed dining room, and is flanked by a super-long paved sun terrace.

One can almost imagine the heat it would soak up on a summer’s day. Its secret treasure is a sheltered, walled garden section on the city/western end of the property by the lofty garage, with stone and brick stepped patio, ringed in acid-loving plants and shrubs and with a central, rectangular formal pond and fountain. The description ‘sun-trap’ was minted for corners such as this, and if enhanced with some perfumed climbers, it could all be even more glorious.

Now, after so much description of site, setting and citizenry (did we mention that former Fine Gael Minister Peter Barry is a next door resident to Menloe House?) you might begin to fear the house doesn’t warrant more than a few lines, but that’s not at all the case. Its interior and space is just another element or two of this quite rare property package. Part of the house was damaged by fire in the 1940s, it’s understood, so there was a lot of rebuilding to the back, but its rear, gracious double height bow window is recalled still, at ground level in a graceful 28’ by 12’ formal dining room, and in an overhead south-facing bedroom of similar proportions.

Today, the main entry hall is mid-section, beyond the elegant portico, and has an oak floor, and rounded headed doors and frames to each of its principal rooms. It feels quite North American, or even Belair-ish, of the 1930s period, a feeling added to a bit more by the rough dash internal walls in these circulation hall, stairs and lading rooms (se pic p 15).

Best room is to the west, the formal 24’ by 20’ double aspect drawing room, with fine, intact antique period white marble fireplace.

Ceilings are high, graced by delicate plaster tracery and thin swags, a detail also seen in the other formal rooms, and picked out in detail by master painter Chris McCarthy. It’s a diligent job of skill-sets, done some decades ago. Another old Cork craftworker’s name surfaces across the house in a smaller family room, where a mahogany drinks cabinet is part-set into an internal wall, and carries the name of noted Cork furniture makers O’Connells of Lavitts Quay, know for their facsimilies of the Cork Eleven-Bar dining chairs. That company’s name is still going strong, albeit in a different location.

There’s an overall rock-solid feel today to Menloe House on all levels, after it was put back together post-1940s.

It still has old sash windows to the front, while behind windows now are double-glazed, in dark aluminium frames, done in quite recent years to recall the steel windows which might have come in here in the 1940s rebuild.

There’s a good-sized kitchen to the house’s eastern end, tall and functional, with lots of storage and heated by a range cooker which also heats water and is a welcome warming presence year-round. It gives a sort of country home feel to this space, enhanced by an overhead Sheila Maid clothes airing

rail. Next door is pantry/utility, with access to the side courtyard by the old stables – and there’s huge scope for contemporary add-ons out here, so bring a sensitive architect for smart ideas.

There’s a tall, sash window on the stair return, and an inset arch for art display, before hitting the first floor landing, which leads after a 1980s reordering by the current occupants to four first-floor bedrooms, one with superb new master bathroom en suite off a dressing area. It’s quite high-end and contemporary, with standalone double ended ‘egg’ bath, separate large shower cubicle and dark, quite masculine, wall tiling.

Recently done to a similar high level is the main family bathroom, with wood-effect floor tiling, and an end bedroom has been made over in recent times to home office study, with a craftsmanship wall of quality fitted and hand-painted bookshelves.

Most of the bedrooms at this level have fantastic southerly aspected garden views, and a rear room has now been fitted with a stairs to an attic level where there are two attractive dormer rooms, each with pert dormer windows, giving views of the workmanship that went into slating the part-conical roof over the back of the house’s central, deep bay.

The overall condition of Menloe House is excellent, as is that of the comfortable, well-kept 825 sq ft sentinel lodge by the entrance gates (pic, right), which is lived in by a family member, and has one of its two first floor bedrooms en suite.

Menloe House has given generously in the past: it gave its name, and possibly some of its grounds, for Menloe Gardens. Its previous owners, the Sheehans, built a bungalow in a portion of the original front grounds in the 1980s when they sold – it’s now utterly out of sight, and out of mind. The current owner is keeping back a wooded section of the original back garden, equally out of sight of the house as it now stands, for future possible family use and it will be accessed from another approach, without interfering with the acre the house is being sold on.

New owners may want to put a personal stamp on Menloe House again, as previous generations and owners have done. If so, there’s huge scope for grand plans given its rear aspect and potential for linking into the currently underused coach-house/garage on one side, and stables and courtyard on the other. And all slap, bang in affluent and highly appreciated Blackrock. This is a prize worth taking a step or two further down the (Blackrock) road.

VERDICT: Menloe House has got a long history, and a bright future as a home for a family with means.

Blackrock, Cork

€1.8 million

Sq m 373 (4,000 sq ft) plus lodge

Bedrooms: 6 plus 2

Bathrooms: 3 plus 1

BER: G/F

Best Feature: Desirable

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