Had it not been for the Cork Open House initiative a few weeks ago, I might never have discovered a thoroughly-renovated city bungalow which is a study in what can be achieved with a practical head on your shoulders and a sensitive architect.
Back in 2013 when the current owners, Sara Crangle and Russell Tracey, first viewed it, the house was in poor repair.
“We were looking for a home for life,” says Sara, “something that was within walking distance of the city centre and had off-street parking and a south-facing aspect. We also wanted quietness and to be on the south side of city.”
The list wasn’t extravagant, but given how close they wanted to be to the city centre, things like off-street parking are not easily found, nor is quietness.
But, everything comes to those who wait, and following a six-year search, the 1930s bungalow, located off Tower Street, was it.
“We didn’t want a renovation project,” says Russell, “just something that needed a makeover and where we could apply our own style.”
But a renovation project was what they got, which, by the time they finished, was getting on for a rebuild, as all that remains of the old bungalow is three external walls.
It’s clear it has been a labour of love, and testament to what can be achieved in a city location if you give the project time, careful thought about what you really need, along with some compromise on what you’d like in an ideal world.
“The house was a mess when we viewed it,” Russell explains.
“A number of extensions had been built on over the years which all needed to be pulled down.”
But early on came an additional and unexpected expense which added €6,000 on to the purchase price of €184,500: The dreaded subsidence.
“The area had originally been market gardens so there was four feet of top soil,” Russell explains, “so the house had to be underpinned.”
The finished house is now a reinvention of the footprint of the original house, with a south-facing extension that incorporates the main bedroom and a kitchen/living/dining open plan space.
Unusually, they wanted just two bedrooms and one bathroom, which might seem small enough for an apartment these days.
But this house is far from that, being spacious, airy and lightsome, and meeting the needs of its occupants who have blended sheer practicality with style and comfort.
“We didn’t want three bedrooms which wouldn’t be used,” Sara explains.
“Two was enough. The second bedroom is used for my clothes and as a place to chill out, but we have a blow-up mattress if anyone comes to stay.”
The entrance is marked by a modern front door to the side of the property, and opens onto the shorter end of an ‘L’ shape hallway, giving privacy to the living and bedroom spaces and creating a small foyer.
Unlike some bungalows which have dull, relentless hallways punctuated only by a series of doors on each side, it has two additional and striking features: A run of shelves recessed into the wall, so it doesn’t encroach on what is already a narrow hall, and across from it, another recess accommodating a vertical radiator.
These are all small but effective details that maximise space, and are testament to the vision of architect Lizette Conneely of Kinsale-based Conneely Wessels Architects, in interpreting her clients’ ideas and combining them with her own creative solutions.
“The original house was in a very bad state and needed lots of TLC,” Lizette explains.
“The external fabric of the walls needed upgrading. We also added new windows and an external render system to reduce heat loss.”
So what was around 73 sq m to begin with, has now been increased by a little under half of that again.
Russell did much of the interior demolishing, saving the wood as fuel for their modern stove located in the comfortable living area of the open plan room.
It’s surprisingly warm on the chilly October morning when I visited, even though neither the heating nor the stove had been switched on that day.
It’s thanks to a combination of excellent insulation, and sunshine flooding through a bank of floor to ceiling window, that the temperature drifted between 20 and 21 degrees, according to the thermostat on the wall.
Banquette seating, built around two sides of a large wooden dining table is liberally sprinkled with modern seat pads and back cushions finished in contemporary patterns in a colourway of black, white and yellow.
In the kitchen area a glass splashback tinted in yellow adds a pop of sunny colour to the streamlined German-made kitchen.
From this very comfortable and airy open-plan space, a door leads to an elevated patio with steps down to a lawn running the width of the house.
It’s big enough for entertaining but not onerous for maintenance and, for a city centre location, it enjoys a surprising level of privacy, even for the peaceful and calm main bedroom which also overlooks it.
Space-saving features include an unusually wide pocket door from the hall, which has the added value of throwing extra daylight into the hallway.
I’m curious to know if they have a favourite part of the house, prompted by my own enthusiasm for the shelving and radiator recesses in the hallway — it’s the open plan room.
“We feel very much at home here,” says Sara, and Russell agrees.
Not surprising for an architect, Lizette opts for a detail rather than a specific space.
“My favourite part of the building is the vertical glazed slot window between the entrance and living dining area.
“It links the entrance visually, diagonally with the south facing garden. This diagonal axis creates the illusion that the space is larger than it actually is, and introduces the garden to the visitor from the point of entry.”
It’s clear the project has been a collaborative effort with a very satisfactory outcome, but it didn’t happen without careful planning and organisation. To anyone contemplating something similar, Lizette has clear advice.
“Involve your architect at the earliest stage possible and be prepared when meeting to get the most out of consultations. Give consideration to how your household lives, what works and doesn’t, and what you’d like to achieve.
“Make a list of all your requirements and divide them into two columns — one for essentials and one for your ideals so you can separate and prioritise your needs and wishes.”
Sara’s advice also errs on the side of practicality, and decisiveness.
“Pick all your stuff first — kitchen, bathroom — and don’t change your mind.”
To which Russell adds, “get a good engineer who has a good relationship with the builder and architect.”
All three cite the importance of research, and suggest using electronic scrapbooks like Pinterest to collate pictures that illustrate your vision and aspirations for each room.
But everything comes back to practicality, as Lizette adds:
“Don’t be afraid to be honest and frank with your architect so they can fully understand your needs.
“Every property has a unique quality and strive to enhance these qualities to create a bespoke home, moulded to your needs.
“Style is of secondary importance to qualities such as light, views, aspect, layout organisation and quality of construction.”