The Lake House near Toormore in West Cork is a gem finished to highest standards, combining taste and practicality, writes Tommy Barker.
Toormore, West Cork €695,000
Size: Sq m 206 (2,225 sq ft)
Best Feature: Exquisite small domain
Land? As the old cliches go, “it’s valuable because they are not making any more of it.”
Lakes? Well, floodplains notwithstanding, they’re not making many more lakes either, you’d imagine. But, down West Cork way at least, you’d be wrong.
Lakes, loughs, and ponds to plunge into are the new, eco- and country homes’ must-haves.
Last week, Skibbereen estate agents Maeve McCarthy and Charles McCarthy of Skibbereen put the extraordinary lakeside Liss Ard estate near Skibbereen up for sale, on 165 acres, with two period homes on it, amid exquisite woodland and waterfalls, and it included the 50-acre coarse fishing Lake Abisdealy.
Unfortunately, Liss Ard was guided at €7.5 million, which sort of puts it out of reach for anyone bar the super-wealthy, or the winners of a half-decent EuroMillions jackpot.
So, here’s a West Cork lake home within the purchasing grasp and hopes of a far wider buyer cohort, for less than 10% of the cost of the luxury Liss Ard package.
Welcome to Lake House, the €695,000 version, just as private, just as secure, easier to lock up and leave, and the highest point of this particular property even has a view of the Fastnet lighthouse.
The Fastnet’s sweeping beacon at night obliquely grazes its side walls, essentially the only bit of flash at this low-key, contemporary bolthole.
This, the second house that West Cork man Terry O’Driscoll has so far built for himself (pictured here in its early spring glories, and just now for sale) seems to have served as a calling card for his talents, showing that when you are good, you’re good.
Since completing this hidden lakeside one-off, set high up among low hills, off the Schull-Goleen road near Toormore, the said Mr O’Driscoll has been asked to do house designs, interior designs and consultancy work for many others, often working with Embellish Interiors in Skibbereen while trading as Peninsula Life and Design ( www.plad.ie ).
And, it’s not just homes: he is currently advising and overseeing hotel makeovers in West Cork, at the Westlodge and Bantry Bay hotels amongst others, as near-to-home examples.
He has also overseen a phased upgrade to a beach hotel complex in only-slightly more exotic Zanzibar, off the east coast of Africa, where he now wants to add a beach bar to a Spice Islands boutique hotel project.
Clearly, what started as a passionate interest has turned into a second job for the man whose day job for the last three decades has been working with British Airways, on long-haul flights.
Having been in capital cities and coastlines across the continents, and bunking down in four-and five star hotels, this is where he lands home to, with the odd architectural artefact, curio or next bright idea brought back for a tweak on the home-front.
However, it was pure West Cork roots that brought Skibbereen native Terry O’Driscoll up a rocky, yet peaty hillside when he started looking for sites for this new-build back in 2008.
Where others would have seen a bit of bog with views, he saw pond life nirvana, the chance to build a waterfront home where hardly anyone knew there was water, courtesy of a corrie-like dip in the ground, a steady stream of water in and out, and a dark sink hole of lough water between the peaty hillocks.
It’s the sort of land you’d raise grouse or pheasants on, but even grazing sheep might turn their noses up at.
To get this vision realised took persistence (but no planning issues, it’s unobtrusive and deferential), and work, a deal of digging and excavating, and then landscaping that put some manners on wilderness, yet respected it, dotted with dogwoods in vivid red stems, and tussocks of grasses.
It also needed an access road up of several hundred metres, from where an uphill boreen had petered out: a relative Denny O’Donovan from Goleen did the digging and scooped out the pond and relined it, while Terry’s cousin Bernard O’Driscoll was the builder, unfazed by it all and a rock, himself, of practical solutions.
But, for all of the build’s appeal, it’s the site that steals the thunder. There’s an extraordinary natural, aloof moors beauty to Lake House’s setting, in a place known in previous generations for copper mining, and the quite modest insertion of this single storey, understated dwelling amid its contours makes the maximum use of it.
There’s barely another house to be seen from this most withdrawn of hollowed-out settings; there’s no light pollution, and by night the stars are a glittering movie show, while the moon’s reflection on the water is a private treat.
You can break that lunar spell and still-water ambience with just a hop, skip, and a dive from the living room’s patio doors, thanks to the jutting-out deck, like a stand-out pier over the pond.
It’s a glorious bit of genius, anchoring and connecting the house itself to the lake/pond.
“You could replicate this house anywhere, but a site like this? You’d never get this again,” Terry O’Driscoll told Rose Martin of this newspaper when she visited to feature it in 2011, in the first month or so of the Irish Examiner’s relaunched Property and Interiors supplement.
Since then, it has also featured in a string of Irish interiors magazines, as well as in the UK in publications such as 25 Beautiful Homes.
It was good looking back in ‘11, and it’s even better now as landscaping has taken an even more firm hold; in holiday season peaks, Terry has moved out and rented it to holidaymakers who relish this retreat from the bustle of busy beaches and bays.
Having been home, and holiday hideaway, it’s now up for new appreciative ownership too.
“A rugged landscape, secluded position and spectacular views over a private lake, this property is simply a place apart,” enthuses estate agent Maeve McCarthy as she prepares to start viewings at Lake House, and where she feels the interest in the main will come from overseas or from Dublin, and mostly from couples or families with older children, old enough at least to be comfortable with Lake House’s USP or selling feature, its ‘just add water’ setting.
Add in creature comforts in a high-end four-bed, four-bath 2,225 sq ft house with design flair and nous, a landscape which naturally feeds and drains the lake so it never dries out, or (more importantly) never overflows, in a setting half a mile from the coast road between Schull and Goleen, beaches at Barleycove, towns like Bantry and Skibbereen a short drive away, and Cork city and international airport a 90-minute world away, and this is indeed a rare bird of an offer.
The house’s low-slung design, with wings set at right angles and topped with mono pitch roofs, mimics the hills which climb up from this 1.65 acre site. Visible near one hill’s crown is a slender
stone cairn, one of two such stone edifices used by sea-farers along the rocky, indented coastline to, literally and litorally, get their bearings.
Here too, on the property, there’s a steeply climbing gravel path up to a seating spot which has the full 360 degree views over hills, valleys, sky, and sea, and of Ireland’s teardrop the Fastnet rock and its precarious-looking lighthouse, miles out to sea, and where Terry O’Driscoll’s own brother has been a lighthouse keeper.
They surely must have been tempted to each use the line “I can see your house from here...!”
The sibling who designed, and built, and kitted out this one-off pad is modest about the building itself, saving his energies for eulogising the site and telling tales of the wildlife which has come to colonise the enhanced lake, now moved from brackish pond to clean water asset.
There are ducks galore, mallard as tame as anything, moorhens and waterhens, herons, foxes, hares and rabbits, and freshwater fish too have started to increase in species (the fish spawn comes on in ducks’ feet, Terry explains).
The mallard, it seems, are as at-home on the water as they are on the deck, and in the house itself, and the ducklings love a waddle through the living room in search of crisps, pasta, and anything else that grabs their fancy: “I have to check around the house before locking up when I leave, in case they’re in and would be stuck,” Terry says of his native worldly-wise webbed waddlers.
In terms of creature comforts for humans, Lake House has its living quarters in one wing, ranging from kitchen through to a dining room, and on via retractable, sliding doors to a main, lofty-ceilinged 22’ by 18’ living room, with feature chimney-breast flanked by an artily-stacked log store and book shelves.
This main room’s scene-stealing, scene setting piece de resistance is the full-glazed gable wall, with French doors to the pointed deck, seeming to cut into the lake like a ship’s prow, and with chunky, wharf-like ropes (from CH Marine in Skibb) threaded between posts as a suitably maritime-looking protector (in case it all goes wrong, there’s a lifebelt on the house’s gable wall...).
The two-winged rock-solid house, on immense foundations packed with steel, is entered via a central linking hall with on-high clerestory window, and there are views from the hall through a study to the lake.
Then, it’s off to the left to the bedrooms wing, with three of the four bedrooms here having exterior access, via glazed doors, to the graveled paths skirting the lake.
The master bedroom’s off at the far end, a decent 17’ by 10’; it too has a stack of corded timber logs up the side of an open fireplace’s chimney-breast, and has a large en suite bathroom with enormous wet-room double shower at one end with rainforest shower, and a bath at the other end.
Following the principles of good design, the main bathroom, and another bedroom’s en suite, are also grouped close by for easy plumbing pipe runs, and also allowing for the lake views from the maximum number of rooms.
Decor wise, it’s muted, calm and contemplative, with clean lines and angles, and with long interior views too.
Most walls are white, with the odd blast of earthy colour, but it’s up to the artwork and furniture in the main to inject colour and personality.
One bedroom has a feature brick wall insert section, painted, acting as sort of visual bedhead but rock solid to the touch, and floors are walnut, in the main, cream tiles in kitchen and bathrooms and carpet in the bedrooms.
Heating is via oil and radiators, plus the sizeable Esse multi-fuel stove in the living room’s and the main bedroom’s fireplace.
Solar panels provide lashings of hot water, and there’s even an outdoor shower by the floating pontoon on the lake, where a raised seating wall is much used in fine weather for barbecues and al fresco dining (locally sourced duck, anyone?).
VERDICT: A new ‘bog-standard’ bearer, with its toes in the water, the Lake House is head and shoulders above the throng.
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