With award-winning gardens and a tennis court, this Rochestown Road, Cork, property ticks all the right boxes, says Tommy Barker
OPPORTUNITIES to buy Cork homes as good as this Rochestown Road property come along only rarely. Oh, about once in a lifetime — it’s about as an idealised (and realised) a vision of the good life as many would hope for.
Built in 1939, as an almost textbook-perfect example of the Arts and Crafts/Tudor revival, it’s one of the southern area’s very best property packages, a large family home of huge character and build integrity, on award-winning and much-admired (by the horticultural cognoscenti) gardens of three acres, which include a tennis court.
This great Cork home called Windyridge has that classic ’English’ balance of garden, and elegant house design, a genteel a the celebrated architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, whose Irish works include the Irish National War Memorial Gardens in Dublin’s Islandbridge.
Match that ‘Lutyens’ quality, (sympathetically realised here by Daniel Levie of Cork architects Chillingworth and Levie), with a soft, surrounding naturalistic garden quality a la Gertrude Jekyll and this is some pairing, a Domestic Double Act, home and garden, in genteel Douglas.
Factor in a more precise location on the start of the Rochestown Road, a real surprise as it is so rural-feeling once past the entrance gates and wooded avenue, with its green canopy of cover, and with Douglas’ amenities all beyond its walls and, well — it’s where you want to be if you have the money, and a hankering for the unchanging fine things in life. It’s a sort of timeless gem, with a boundary fringe of some century-plus old trees soaring skywards, and with many more recent specimens within.
It has got gardens that took decades (and two visionary owners) to get so close to tranquil, tasteful perfection.
Just publicly going up for sale, it’s been in the same family’s ownership since 1972, and before that it’s sole owner was Sam Thompson of Thompsons’ bakery, who was given a choice as the Second World War was breaking out: one option was to hunker down and be careful and mindful of uncertainty and adversity. The other was to drive on and build when the labour market was down, and materials still available. Fortunately, he chose the latter.
It’s very much end of an era, in classic Arts and Crafts style, a design vogue which had held sway in the post-Victorian/Edwardian era, from the 1860s to the Second World War.
Expertly maintained, yet not hugely altered, Windyridge is one of a handful of top Cork homes built around this area of Rochestown on the former wooded grounds of Maryborough House.
With over three private acres it’s effectively on a double site, probably the largest of the original clutch of homes here, where some have sold off garden portions as sites, whilst some few others have added to their original generous sites.
Top prices paid here in this classic stretch of desirable residences were around the €4m mark, one public, one off-market back around 2004/05.
This rare home offer comes along with a €2.25m price guide quoted via Johnny O’Flynn and Sheila O’Flynn of Sherry FitzGerald, continuing that company’s good run of high-end Cork house offerings and sales.
Visiting on Friday afternoon last, in full sunshine, and with birds in throaty song, it was as close to garden paradise as you’d want to be, with a shelter belt of tall trees at its out-of-sight boundaries and judiciously retained specimens — such as some splendid magnolias — as well.
The owners, now retired and downsizing, recall their first year of ownership back in 1973 when a tremendous storm felled 80 of the largest trees: it was a chore to remove them (a lifetime of firewood, though!) but, in hindsight, it was in some ways a blessing as it allowed them put a more formal structure on the grounds, creating vistas from the house to many of the previously wooded corners that predated the house’s construction.
They didn’t rush into remaking it, but rather every year or two they identified a section, nook or niche, and created something beautiful there, be it a rockery or a resting place, or an architectural avenue of pleached trees (Acer Crimson Kings, given hard cutbacks each year) that would, in time, fulfil a hopeful vision.
The owners can tell you what quarry or great house stone came from, where trees, shrubs or plants originated, and there’s an array of sublime statuary and urns looking right at home, sourced from Ireland, the UK and beyond from busman’s holidays to other great gardens.
With three acres to play with (and a secret garden too) there’s a natural generosity of scale and areas of very different character, displaying a breadth of knowledge and experience that will pay dividends to the next, extremely fortunate owners. The work done will go on yielding rich rewards for decades, and the more recent years have seen the owners concentrating on growing “what the garden likes” rathern than the esoteric (though they’ve done that very well too in the past mind you. It was a Munster winner in the 2000 All Ireland Garden Competition)
It’s a fair bet that half of the select few who’ll get to consider a purchase like this will be enchanted by the gardens, while the other half will fall for the house’s originality and authenticity. It’s also going to be a great place to rear or transplant a family to.
The house, cloaked with climbers, roses, wisteria and virginia creepers and with a scented Lady Alice Fitzwilliam rhododendron by the kitchen window, is a period charmer, with a Tudor feel from its dark timbers, but with rooms big enough to carry it all off.
It’s well-realised, from architectural vision to detailing, from the heft of its assymetrical roof pitches and bonnet ridge tiles to the dash, brick and beamed walls, the timber and leaded steel windows and French doors. There’s an immense natural softness to the materials palette, and nary a u/PVC window to be seen.
Inside, the same is true, from oak-block and oak plank floors to thick clay tiles on select sills, brass light switches and door furniture, tactile craftmanship is everywhere in abundance. A few of the original brick fireplaces are gems, with humble brick of several sizes and shapes formed into arches, workmanship and eye for proportion to be admired.
The upstairs has up to six bedrooms, with a dual aspect master bedroom, plus its en suite, and most other rooms (the stairs splits in two directions) have character shapes thanks to dormer slopes and box windows, and there’s a family bathroom and ancillary shower room in situ.
At the more spacious ground level, rooms include a pale, blue-hued family living room with brick fireplace and with garden and covered loggia access, a more formal 20’ by 18’ drawing room, with double aspect, lovely garden views and access via French doors. Off via via sliding doors is a hospitable dining room.
There’s also a playroom/nursery, and beyond the family kitchen/dining room is a rear hall with laundry, small enclosed courtyard and a sympathetically-added dainty reading room, with east-facing garden seat.
The kitchen is home to a large four-oven, fiery red Aga used for all the family’s cooking (parties held for 70!) New owners will want to update the kitchen, but the Aga surely has rights to remain in indentured, hearth-of-home service.
On a wider front, a new generation of family owners will want to put their own personal stamp on the house, but it’s a home that will ask to be respected for its authenticity and integrity as its stands -—working with furniture, decor and a design flair can give it the necessary updates without huge detrimental interventions to this relatively young Arts and Crafts timepiece.
Selling agents Sherry FitzGerald note that the 1930s in Cork saw this stretch of the Rochestown Road ‘gentrified’ by large houses on big sites and say “it has been synonymous with the grand homes of prominent and influential Cork personalities, and this is the exemplar for just such a home.”
Set just a couple of hundred yards from the Douglas Fingerpost and within what was, in effect, a double site, Windyridge’s main rooms face south towards its glorious gardens and rose-bedecked terraces with a circular pond ringed in sandstone in pristine presentation, ready to reflect skies, clouds — and benignly on new occupants.
VERDICT: As good as it gets, a touch of old Surrey in southern Ireland. The house is a gem, and the gardens are more than a match for it.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved