SIMPLY packed with stories is the multi-storey period city home called Summerville, in a commanding spot above Cork city.
Dating to the 1870s, Summerville was built ever before the current rail station which curves in full, red-brick glory beneath it, throwing lines out to east Cork, as well as back out of sight under the red sandstone hill upon which Summerville and St Luke’s Cross stand, via the 1,350 yard long rail tunnel and engineering feat to Kilbarry and to all points north.
Right now, the city vista continues to change right in front of Summerville’s viewing perch: C20th dockyard silos have been erected and since pulled down again having reached the end of their active life.
The 17-storey Elysian tower rose up nine years ago, and more and more lights are now working their way up the tower, while office blocks like One Albert Quay put an evening twinkle along the Lee’s banks also.
Constant for much of Summerville’s life has been the railway though, which it stands above.
The station is the third on the current site, built in the late Victorian era, in the 1890s, and was called Glanmire Road Station up to 1966, when it was renamed Kent Station to commemorate Thomas Kent, on the 50th anniversary of the Rising.
Now, on the 100th anniversary of the Rising, the station is on the move again: there’s currently a multi-million euro reinvestment which will see it reoriented to have new entrances closer to the city centre, accessed from Horgans Quay, with work now visible to passers-by along the quays.
Truly, if you live long enough, you see many changes. Among the dramas right at St Luke’s Cross/Summerhill North’s Summerville was a devastating house fire, which gutted this home more than 60 years, ago, after which it stood empty, as a shell, for half a century.
Bravely, it was taken on as a restoration project by energetic and enthusiastic building salvage expert Tadg Mullane, who ran the architectural salvage company Goodwoods in Cork in the 1990s and the early 2000s.
Mr Mullane reroofed it and started on the painstaking refurb, only to sell it at ‘phase one’ stage to the current owners, who equally relished a challenge and who finished it to a very high standard by 2000.
Having bought from Tadg Mullane (who, most tragically, died last year) a sort of partnership followed: they sourced much of the materials needed to rebuild and reinstate it as a family home from the Goodwoods salvage yard, and Summerville’s rehabilitation has been little short of extraordinary.
Every room, landing and facility had to be imagined and then delivered, such was its bare shell state, and there’s a story with many objects, or finishes.
The ornate, arched double-sash window on the stairwell is a feature that looks like it has alway been part of Summerville’s fabric, but, no, not so.
It came from the old Perrott family’s Hayfield House on College Road, which was demolished to accommodate the growing, replacement Hayfield Manor five-star hotel, and made a seamless transition across the city to Summerville, thanks to the ministrations of Mr Mullane.
The grandeur of that window was then matched by the absolute craftmanship of the man who made the extraordinary, graceful curving and tightly winding staircase that the house’s current owners commissioned and had made.
It was created by Waterford expert Andrew Kelly in Kilmacthomas, who has developed a high reputation for traditional joinery skills and staircases, with Michael Flatley’s Castlehyde among the period homes where his work features (coincidentally, another Andrew Kelly stairs features in another house for sale, in Minane Bridge, in today’s paper.)
This mighty curving ‘step-piece’ work links all three of Summerville’s internal levels, with absolute elegance in the way the mahogany handrail coils and corkscrews its way from top to bottom, ending almost in a bull’s-eye at the lower ground hallway.
In between, all three internal levels of this late Victorian home have been treated in a sympathetic, period-appropriate manner including authentic era sanitary ware and bath, doors, cast iron radiators and salvaged hardwood flooring, by its family of occupants, who are now seeking to trade down.
Summerville is new to market this month with agents Ann O’Mahony and Gillian McDonnell of Sherry FitzGerald, who guide the detached, four-bed home of 2,600 sq ft at €630,000, and they describe it as “a modern twist on an old classic”.
Among the touches put into the rebuild were, indeed, old classics like a dumb waiter, which is used to ferry food from the modern, lower-ground floor kitchen up to the formal first floor dining room, one of two elegant interconnecting reception rooms with bay windows, and full-on city views.
The modern, and very clever, twist in the case of this dumb waiter is the mechanism used: it’s a ‘repurposed’ mechanical stair lift track, the sort used for getting people with mobility issues up and down levels, hidden away here out of sight in purpose-built cabinets top and bottom... not so dumb after all.
And, there’s also a laundry chute, something every home built over several levels should have, even if most only work by gravity, and still need the clean clothes brought back up by hand.
That laundry/utility room is at ground level, which also has a kitchen with luxe terracotta tiled floor, granite worktops and garden access, and an adjoining family/living room similarly has garden access via French doors in a lower section of the two-storey bay.
The room’s floored with salvaged maple (as are the top floor’s bedrooms and bathroom in the same Goodwoods-sourced solid maple), and has a wood-burning stove.
And, behind, there’s a courtyard accessed off the back of the house, another feature of the way the house is set into its sloping, landscaped and tiered site.
Up on the middle/entrance level most floors are salvaged Jarrah wood, an antipodean timber related to the eucalyptus trees and Summerville’s owners say it came from Canberra House, in Australia.
The two linked reception rooms each have marble fireplaces, with gas inserts, and ceilings have ornate plasterwork, looking like they’ve always belonged. Again, it’s easy when visit
ing now to imagine it always stood thus, instead of being an empty shell/blank canvas.
Builders tasked with the restoration were ‘the two Shanes’ — Shane Wiseman and Shane O’Toole, and not only did the house need everything done, but the site also took a huge amount of ground works to reinstate, to create the entrance drive (a huge excavation just inside the now-electrified access gates had taken place.)
Now, south-facing Summerville has upper, side-by-side and lower gardens, lots of parking and outdoor storage, and, handily, a pedestrian gate and steps down to the Lower Road which it shares with just one or two other neighbouring houses.
The building work included making floors, rooms, and stairs; new sash window, heating, plumbing and electrics, etc, so now despite its age, Summerville has a highly respectable C1 BER rating, and gas-fired central heating, delivered through enormous cast iron radiators.
As if the work wasn’t challenging enough, the owners also decided to throw the builders some curve-balls, such as gently curving internal walls in places, including up at the top floor landing, where solid maple runs from room to room, without saddleboards.
The top floor is home to four bedrooms, all with views of various city perspectives, and two have en suite bathrooms with pumped showers.
Location-wise, Summerville has bo-ho St Lukes Cross directly above it, with artisan shops and bars, and even a music venue in the old church. For families, there’s a raft of schools including primary, secondary and private/grind schools as well as Griffith College campus at St Patrick’s Hospital, now that St Angela’s College has relocated back to its extraordinary architecturally-accomplished ‘new’ campus on St Patrick’s Hill.
Needing not much more than a lick of paint outside and another few tweaks in its next ownership, Summerville itself is a kilometre from Cork City Hall and all of the city centre’s an easy stroll away, while the nearby McCurtain Street is about to undergo significant change also, bringing it back to its own Victorian roots, all the better to appreciate some of the city’s finest Victorian architecture.
Effectively a new-build, in an old shell, in a venerable city setting, with utterly private gardens... a city oasis.