Tommy Barker visits a generously-proportioned home in Wilton, Cork, which has been upgraded with the addition of a big, bright, warm lower ground floor
TO traditional Irish minds, going down under your home to excavate a basement is very much a London sort of thing to do, or, at a push, it’s an option for the better-heeled in leafy south Dublin suburbs to consider
But the slightly unusual and particular topography at the back of a short run of houses along Cork’s Wilton Road left just such a digging-down option open to the young family, who’d bought here at Verona, for the sake of convenience, back in 2003
Over the next five years they hatched a thoughtful plan on how to maximise the potential of their super-conveniently-set home, in the very heart of the western suburbs.
Like a number of its near neighbours in this stretch of the busy Wilton Road — 250 metres from the CUH/CUMH hospital campus and within a walk too of two third level colleges plus schools — Verona was built on a slope, which back in the mid 1900s mean lots of dead work at the lower ground to build up to a road level base to start house building proper.
In the case of Verona, the suburban house was built on top of what were left as useful storage rooms/coal stores at garden level. It was while living above this untapped potential and with a family growing to three daughters, the family, who have lived abroad and travelled extensively, began to hatch quite an ambitious extension plan.
They’d go down, first, then out to the side, and then up even higher too, across the full width of this once-modest semi-detached build. Of course, it definitely helped on the confidence front that they’d engineering and visual design backgrounds to make sense of working drawings in the clan to make sure it all hung together and would work and stay solid.
Now, after all the work, it’s a completely different entity, fully finished and realised from top to bottom, bigger and better by multiples.
It’s been done with style and cleverly too, so that the lowest garden level can, if needs be, be hived off as a self-contained garden-level apartment, all very urban living in approach. About the only downside would be restricting back garden access from the main house above, if the two were to be in separate generational occupation.
The owners took the plunge back in 2008, and spent a year gutting, reappointing, extending and upgrading, to a uniformly high standard on all levels.
Having done it all, and having enjoyed it for nearly ten years in residence, they are only preparing to sell up for a move to a rare countryside and riverside property, in a privileged rural-meets-urban setting.
Verona comes to a Cork spring market starved of good quality trading-up stock, and is certainly one of those homes which fits the advice to ‘don’t judge the book by the cover’.
Selling agents Johnny O’Flynn and Sheila O’Flynn of Sherry FitzGerald described its appearance — when initially glimpsed from the Wilton Road at least — as ‘unassuming’, but be assured, it makes successful assumptions once through the smart front door and entrance where there’s only a the slightest clue as to what lies within and underneath.
To the right of the door, and under one of the facade’s now double-fronted window bays, is a small window, shallow, and almost at ground level..? Hmmm, something definitely underfoot.
Crossing the threshold to visit and meet the owners, and the selling agent, prior to market launch this weekend, prompts a debate of where to start viewings, at this level? Or by going up? Or by going down?
Down, insists Johnny O’Flynn, resisting the temptation to show this home’s three other levels first and then go for a TV-style ‘big reveal’, and his instinct is bang on: once you’ve dropped down the new stairs to the knock-out lower ground extension, the selling process is nearly done, irrespective of what’s left to see.
It’s that good.
In fact, it seems another world away from the more pedestrian Wilton fare beyond, and as it’s to the back, there’s not a hint of what’s happening in the wider world beyond.
This new level, with back wall of glass, and a 14’ tall apex room added on with four Veluxes, houses a combined kitchen/living/dining room, done with aplomb, and almost dominated by an enormous wood-burning stove, so powerful the family find they have to leave doors open to the other, tucked-away, lower level rooms and up the stairs too to allow all the heat it is capable of generating to dissipate.
How many 1950s Cork homes can make such a toasty boast?
The kitchen/cooking area effectively comes in two sections, all done by In House Design, one in the open-plan area with stout walnut breakfast bar/divide under the Veluxes. Other worktops are Silestone, and the kitchen balance is in under the original house section, which used to be the coal hole, with good enough head height, and holding lots of built-ins, display shelving, sink, worktops and other functions.
Across the other side of this wide room (full width of the sideways- extended home, so it really is a ‘great room’ in the classic US style) are sandblasted glazed double doors, in oak frames. They open to reveal a good-sized playroom with bathroom with shower beyond. It was designed to allow the playroom to be used as a bedroom next to a bathroom, if the ground floor is ever to work its passage as a self-contained apartment, or if the owner had wanted in years to come to live independently down here.
The bathroom has a high-up clerestory window... It’s the window seen from an entirely different perspective by the front drive (pic, above).
Flooring in the great room is engineered oak, and the entire lower ground level has been tanked to keep it dry as a bone. Meanwhile, a large sliding glass door in the back wall (triple glazing’s used down here) comes back to yield patio and garden access, and the east facing garden too holds a few more surprises up its sleeve.
There’s an appealing Wendy house, up on stilts, reached by a ladder and with a slide for getting back down even more quickly. Tucked away in the far corner is a large rabbit hutch and run and, grazing gently on the Irish Examiner’s visit, was a guinea pig, a companion for the rabbit, while the family’s dog was away across the road.
Livestock aside, there’s even more grass and grazing potential over the back boundary, acres of it.
Houses on this stretch of the Wilton Road back onto the playing fields of Presentation Brothers College’s rugby pitches, about 11 acres of amenity land in all, and a vital green lung for the ’burbs. Verona’s inhabitants are lucky to have an access gate to the playing fields, a facility enjoyed by only a handful of private houses here and in the parks behind such as Liam Lynch Park.
Having that expanse of flat ground makes it almost a private domain in the summer and holiday months, and forms the near panorama from the upper floors of Verona, with city landmarks in the further yonder. It’s a great view for the human inhabitants, and a contrast to the Wilton Road to the west, but, perhaps for the family pet rabbit, in his secure 20 sq ft private domain, it’s a frustrating testimony and proof to the adage that, yes, the grass is, indeed, greener on the other side.
Viewed here, from the back, Verona far more readily reveals its true size, breadth, height, and scale.
Having approved of this lower level, it’s time to go back inside and explore up above.
A guest WC is handily placed at the foot of the stairs, and there’s another WC/shower room in the hall/main entry level, next to a useful cloakroom, and elsewhere off the walnut-floored hall (slightly split level) are a suite of multi-purpose rooms, variously used as a sitting room with fireplace and front bay window, a bedroom with bay window, a study and a workroom/optional guest bedroom.
The family have used one, on and off, for an au pair, and as Verona prepares to move to new ownership and occupation, they’re as adaptable rooms as any home hunters could wish for.
Go up a well-carpeted stairs and the first floor holds four bedrooms, three of them doubles, and the master bedroom has twin, extra-deep window to maximise the view over PBC’s playing fields and city vista, plus an en-suite bathroom, and there’s also a large family bathroom to the front of what’s now a double-fronted home.
There’s more to come, in the shape of a fully-compliant attic extension and conversion, described as a study but usable as a bedroom, with masses of eaves storage on almost all fronts, plus this hot press. The main room’s roof slope is cut through by four deep Velux windows in a square grid pattern looking out to the east, overlooking green fields from this elevated perch.
It’s almost surprising the owners didn’t opt to put a roof light or two out on the west-facing roof slope too, and new residents might seek permission for such an ope from planners as, after all, these glazed roof panels are no more or less intrusive than the rapidly spreading sight of solar panels (the green-painted house next door, Verona’s ‘other half’, appears to have solar panels facing both directions, east and west.) As the owners prepare to vacate, having already bought a few miles away to the west, Verona’s in impressive condition, served by solar panels, has high insulation levels, plus sound-proofing fitted between the various floors, and is cosseted by zoned gas fired heating, as well as by the huge stove in the lower ground, whilst there’s TV cabling throughout and CAT 6 points too.
In front, there’s off-street parking and turning for several cars, neat lawn and perimeter planting, and an electrically-controlled gate slides to and fro.
Verona’s set towards the Wilton/CUH end of the Wilton Road, on the stretch between Dennehy’s Cross and the Wilton roundabout, and nearby is evidence of several other detached semi-detached Wilton homes being upgraded for family use.
Selling agents Sherry FitzGerald say the sale “is an amazing opportunity to acquire a very fine family home in a mature residential location.” The wider area, and the road outside, can get congested at peak traffic times given the presence of so many major employers and colleges, but, thanks to Verona’s smart rear down-under adaptation and other attributes, its inhabitants are immune to it, once over the threshold and ensconced in this ‘unassuming’ abode.
VERDICT: Verona has to be seen to fully appreciate just how much home there is here, hidden away in plain sight.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved