Design for life: Fresh take on an old home

Rose Martin visits interior designer Bernadette Pey’s restoration project.

SHE said the builders would be out by now and, hey presto – they are.

Interior designer Ber Pey is cool as ever in handling the huge project that is the transformation and restoration of 3 Newenham Terrace in Cork.

Relaxed, competent and easy-going, there are no diva strops here, (not that you’d notice anyway, and the happy temperament of the builders is also a good indication).

The woman who styles some of the finest homes in the county is practical to a fault while at the same time living in little better than camping conditions while this massive overhaul continues.

That doesn’t stop her showing me round No 3 in canary yellow loafers, however, and she vaults over missing floorboards and glides past wet plastered walls in the crocodile numbers, all the while enthusing about the build, the quality of the work and the next phase.

There’s the absolute assurance of the head girl here, but the glint of someone who’s not unfamiliar with the bike shed – a combination that makes for a good project manager, especially in such a male-dominated environment.

But then, Ber Pey is not new to this kind of work, it’s her stock in trade and this creaky old house will be the location from which she’ll run her interior design business in future.

A townhouse that’s a showhouse at the same time is what she’s aiming for and it will be finished to perfection, she emphatically states.

We start at the top floor first, where Shane Murphy of Cornerstone is sweeping out the stray clumps of glass fibre insulation which missed being between the floor boards.

PJ Lane, who supervises the build, says it’s for sound transference and heat reasons, explaining that you couldn’t light a fire in the rooms below and have the heat travel all the way up to the roof: better that it’s contained per room, he says, and it’s best practice.

The attic level, with its brand new dormers, has casement windows, (the only room where double glazing was allowed), and they’re painted in bright white, matching the rest of the newly refurbished sashes throughout.

The rear elevation looks good too, with its newly pointed brick and spanking white windows and razor-sharp plastering on the chimney stacks.

This is a fine piece of work and it’s no surprise that Dave Higgins’ Cornerstone Construction also worked on Castle Hyde for Michael Flatley and are experts in building conservation. He’s also achieved a certain amount of collateral fame as the father of Maeve Higgins, the comedian.

And in No 3, the walls are skimmed and ready to go for painting, save for the main hallway and stairwell, where the last intricate jobs are going on, and where the new is blended with the old layers of plaster, giving a messy, patchwork look.

However, you know that in a few weeks, the glaring difference will be integrated into a smooth, well chosen colour palette, or a wallpaper design that will soothe the eye.

The pods are also installed in the attic room: these dual spaces for bathroom and walk-in dressing room have been studded and prepared, (they’re going to be wallpapered), and are made to be removable – all the better to preserve the intrinsic structure of the house. This ideal teenager’s room will also have a little built-in sink/ kitchen area designed to be a piece of furniture when not in use.

Another addition is the moudoir, or man’s room in the second floor, back bedroom where Pey plans to build in masculine furniture redolent of aged whisky and fine leather to provide a sanctuary/ office/ den, with a strong masculine feel.

Most of the upper rooms are now complete, they’re waiting for the 21st century input of smart home technology, which will run inside the 19th century fabric of No 3. Wires worthy of the Space Shuttle coil from every opening under the stairs and leading out to the back garden, where the former sheds have now been converted to systems/ boiler room and a separate guest WC.

The kitchen is going to be the final piece in the jigsaw and Pey is definite about the style – but the exact design will have to wait until our next visit.

Meanwhile, the painters are moving in to begin the highly detailed work of filling the gaps, cracks and holes of a century and priming walls and wood that haven’t seen a brush for the same hundred years.

Then the real work begins for Pey, who is still holding tight to her September deadline.

We shall see.


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