VIDEO: The Mall House in Kinsale a period home of substance

Tommy Barker visits The Mall House in Kinsale and sees a masterful, modernised restoration project    

VIDEO: The Mall House in Kinsale a period home of substance

It’s six years since The Mall House last went up for sale. Back those few short years ago, this 270- year old house was unlived in, and taking it on was as brave a restoration challenge of a genuine Queen Anne-era home as a modern buyer might want for, wish for, or be able to tackle.

Writing it up post-visit back then, prior to its 2010 auction sale, writer Rose Martin described it as being “in a degraded condition,” “a beautiful money pit,” yet finished by acknowledging it as “one of the loveliest properties to come on the market in Kinsale for a while.”

It was all of those things, but was definitely down at heel, and with a rotten, collapsing lower section of stairs that you gingerly stepped on to prove the point.

Now, though, after a top-to-tail painstaking and professional rescue mission, it once more meets the latter description as being one the loveliest period homes in the town. Having swallowed the cash, time and talent.

Set at Newman’s Mall, in the ancient heart of Kinsale, behind the town’s Georgian-era White House bar and micro-brewery, and next to Chairman’s Lane, Mall House is a venerable three-bay and stone and brick-fronted property, rooted to the 1740s, and built alongside an even larger, and older sibling, the five-bay Sovereign House, which dates to circa 1704.

As a pair of complementary semi-ds goes, this is as good as you’ll get, both now restored by separate owners/teams in the past five years, to very high, conservation-grade standards.

The buyers of Mall House, a young couple who just recently became parents and who took on this mission improbable back in 2010 were smitten, committed and determined, and had two very distinct advantages going for them.

One was the fact its condition was so bad its auction guide was €150,000 to €200,000, and in the event they got it for €170,000, a good starting point for what was to come.

The other great advantage they had was they were, in effect, young heads on older shoulders: restoration of period homes is what mother/ mother-in-law architect Maeve Cotter, does for a living, via her niche development and construction company Belclare Projects.

Maeve has a select trail of absolute top-end restorations to her professional credit, from multi-million euro home makeovers in Glandore and now mushrooming in Kinsale, and her son Sean Murphy followed obliquely into this specialist niche.

Sean trained as a carpenter, learning conservation as well as creative carpentry skills along the way (the kitchen here, with feature bamboo panelling, is all his own handiwork, as is much of the restored original joinery, back in rude good health) and Mall House’s salvation was, indeed, very much a multi-generation Cotter/Murphy family affair.

Sean’s wife, Aoife Lynch, works in IT, yet it was she who had the grá and drive for this then-down-at heel property, and who did the leg-work to enable the Mall House’s acquisition.

“I dragged the Irish Examiner article into every bank at the time, so thank you Rose Martin”, she says, having finally persuaded one bank to see the merits, to fund their purchase and restoration.

Now, that faith and vision should be rewarded, as the couple/family are seeking to sell Mall House which after the Belclare Projects treatment is as good as it ever was, and better then ever on several fronts too.

It is for sale with agent Patricia O’Regan of Sheehy Brothers Kinsale (who had it briefly up for sale last year). Ms O’Regan guides at €750,000 and stresses that having been “lovingly renovated and extended by its current owners, it now comprises a very comfortable bright and airy residence with many of the original features retained, combined with modern finishes.”

Modern touches are almost unseen, but hugely beneficial, including technologies such as adoption and integration of air- to-water geothermal heating and secondary, air-to-water pump.

“Our electricity bill last year was €1,750 and that includes all electricity, hot water and all the underfloor heating. That’s the total running cost for the entire house, besides water charges and property tax,” says Aoife.

That alone is quite a turnaround, for a sizeable stone-built 270-year old house where, in the past, generations would have hauled coal up and down many levels, to stoves and fireplaces, and still shivered and had tepid baths, at best.

All has changed, changed utterly, but not by throwing the baby, or anything else important, out with the bathwater.

There is still, thankfully, huge originality left in Mall House, with new lime render pointing on the front rubble stone facade, highlighting the original stone work, and the neat, brick window heads or voussoirs, the slightly angled brick arches over the door and five windows which, in true, Queen Anne-style are set flush to the front wall, rather than set back.

Windows are new with hardwood- painted sashes, with weights and cords as per the originals, but with far more efficient glass within the slenderest of glazing bars: if windows are the eyes of a house, then these sensitive replacements have had the miraculous equivalent effect of laser eye treatment for a 20/20 vision of 21st century lifestyle.

Inside, just past the threshold of simple, over-lit original hardwood front door and simple glass tracery, the hall opens to the redone lower stair section now imperceptibly given a grafted, matching leg-up to the levels above for a rock-solid heft of quality woodwork; also saved, conserved and made good once more were window shutters, as well as ceiling roses and cornicing.

The entry level/hall today is floored in large, pale porcelain tiles, heated underfoot, and that tile continues to a side reception room or optional fourth bedroom, set up to serve (if needs be) as part of a ground floor granny flat, with its own small kitchen, rear living rooms and shower room, and this side of the house has a second, open-tread modern stairs up to a home office.

Sean and Aoife have used the ground floor up to recent times as effectively a self-contained granny flat for Maeve while she was restoring a large home/project for herself over at Scilly. For its next owners and occupants, even the top two floors (reached via softly carpeted stairs) may also be more than enough house.

While the railed-in front of Mall House is right on the street at Newman’s Mall, importantly it has its own private outdoors space behind.

At the lower level, the house is set back from the raised ground behind by a stone-flagged service yard, and cellar-like stores, and has steps up then to a quite generous garden, reached directly from the floor above’s main, family kitchen by a bridging section of wide deck.

The first floor proper is now home to a very fine and full-width living room in front, with tall and shuttered smooth-running sash windows set into conserved architraves with top ‘shoulders.’

It’s all very original, as is the plasterwork and the

elegant original white marble chimneypiece, with slender columns and cast-iron insert open and working fireplace, with later, 19th century surround tiles.

Flooring here, and into the kitchen behind, is in wide-plank engineered timber to cope with the efficient, always comfortable underfloor heating.

If the 24’ by 14’ front room is quite period in feel (though the furniture is a mix of retro and contemporary) then the kitchen is unashamedly up to date, done by Sean to be an efficient workspace, with activity wheeling around a large, central island and topped with bamboo worktops, with glossy cupboards and storage units.

The island holds the sink, and the integrated dishwasher, and alongside is a stainless steel range cooker.

On the facing wall, in an inset/ alcove, Sean made up bamboo display shelving, seemingly floating on the wall, not extending to the alcove’s sides nor depending on them for support: it’s almost an installation it its own right.

This kitchen has twin sets of slender French doors which open to the west-facing raised deck for al fresco dining and seating area, and next, then, is a good-sized section of garden, laid out in lawn and bordered by (but not particularly overlooked) neighbouring properties.

(A long-derelict 0.34 acre site alongside, by the Mall and Chairman’s Lane, has just recently gone ‘sale agreed’ with another estate agent James Murphy, for €170,000, with planners apparently keen to see a contrasting era, highly contemporary new-build inserted there.)

Front, back and side, Mall House post-Belclare Projects’ work, appears true not only to its roots, but to its build materials, and side, gable and back are done in lime render.

The adjoining, larger Sovereign House (pic above) has a superb ‘hat’ now of new, natural slate, but as Mall House was reroofed some decades agoit didn’t get or need reroofing this time around.

It has a slate-like tile instead, and around its front dormers also, while the steep pitch of the roof is regarded as being a particularly notable indicator of the building’s 18th century origins.

Go up to this house’s attic/bedroom level, and rooms here at Mall House have stout reminders of the house’s antiquity, with enormous feature timber ceiling beams retained and framing the front, narrow dormer windows also.

This uppermost level has a large master bedroom to the back, with its own private bathroom, plus there are two further bedrooms up here under sloping ceilings, as well as the main family bathroom.

For guests (and this house has become used to extending hospitality once again in current ownership) there is bed four/granny flat back almost out of mind at ground floor/entry level.

On every level, the level of care and finish is impressive, and with its marriage now of modern conveniences, extremely functional and cost-effective geothermal heating, it really is a period home of some substance, where the living is made easy.

What next now for Mall House, coming for sale as a thankfully sensitively transformed Kinsale home of some history?

VERDICT: Mall House is end-of terrace but, thankfully, not any more at the end of its tether, after an expert, and passionate intervention.

Kinsale. Co Cork


Size: 207 sq m (2,228 sq ft)

Bedrooms: 4

Bathrooms: 3

BER: Exempt

Best Feature: Made good for another century after conservation upgrade

Pictures: Denis Scannell

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