From 'diehard fan' to becoming Dermot Bannon's co-star 

Room to Improve's quantity surveyor Claire Irwin shares the story of her own home renovation and filming the hit TV series 
From 'diehard fan' to becoming Dermot Bannon's co-star 

Dermot Bannon and Claire Irwin. Picture: Ruth Maria Murphy

So many of us watch Room to Improve eager to pick up ideas for revamping our own living spaces.

After all, hasn’t Dermot Bannon changed and shaped our concept of a desirable Irish residence?

Not least Claire Irwin.

And the quantity surveyor now finds herself in the unique position of tuning in to her favourite show and seeing herself onscreen.

“I’ve always been a bit of a diehard fan,” she says.

Claire Irwin and Dermot Bannon. Picture: Ruth Maria Murphy
Claire Irwin and Dermot Bannon. Picture: Ruth Maria Murphy

Claire developed her passion for the series while undertaking her own home improvement in her native County Donegal.

“My husband Declan and I were in the middle of a renovation of our family home and we were watching the show weekly for inspiration and ideas,” says Claire.

Then the foundations were laid for moving from sofa to screen.

“During the last episode of the series at the time, a friend of mine sent me a clip from a news article saying Lisa O’Brien [the quantity surveyor on the series] was leaving the show. My friend suggested I apply. I said to Declan, ‘God, I might apply for that, for the craic.’ 

I just applied out of curiosity, I think. But I applied."

That was in March 2018.

“It was a Sunday night. I didn’t really say anything to anyone else about it. Then I got a call and had a chat with one of the producers over the phone,” adds Claire.

“And I went for an interview. We had to do a cost plan, I had to price a house as part of the interview process, and then we had a sit-down interview — and I got the job!”

Claire made her TV debut on the show in 2019 and now returns with the crew as Room to Improve is back for its 13th season on RTÉ One this weekend.

What’s it like to share the screen — and projects — with Ireland’s most famous architect?

“We get on really well — but obviously I do have to rein him in frequently,” says Claire.

“Dermot is very innovative and full of bright ideas and creative thinking — and he’s always throwing curveballs that more times than not result in a cost. You have to contend with that. But, ach, at the end of the day we both have the same goal.

I have to protect the homeowners’ budget but we both want to present them with a fabulous home so we have to meet in the middle ground. We can’t always get the gold taps, but we get on brilliantly."

Our conversation motors along as Claire embarks on her three-hour commute home from Dublin to Donegal (the quantity surveyor’s office is in Buncrana but her work takes her between the northwest and the capital a couple of times a week).

The upcoming series features builds of all different shapes and sizes.

For instance, the celebrity architect designs a brand-new home for Marc and Lisa Daly in a suburb of Dublin near Stillorgan, on a plot of land on the side of their old family home.

Indeed, the first episode that featured Claire was in Ashford, Co Wicklow, and it saw the quantity surveyor help a couple turn a 1990s bungalow into their forever residence.

Before: The Irwins' house.
Before: The Irwins' house.

Similarly, it was transforming an older property into their dream home that had piqued Claire and her husband Declan’s interest in Room to Improve.

“We were renovating Declan’s family home. Declan’s dad had been living there but had downsized.

“When we first married, Declan and I had renovated another house and moved into that, in Buncrana, a smaller house. Declan’s dad had lived in the family home, on his own — Declan’s mum had sadly passed away when Declan was a teenager. That house was hard to run and poorly insulated, so Declan’s dad downsized, and we renovated it and moved into it.”

The Irwins' home after renovation.
The Irwins' home after renovation.

Claire and Declan, who runs his family business, Irwin Expert Electrical, now share the house with the latest addition to the family. 

“We had wee baby boy, Dara, in October,” says Claire. “We spent about a year and a half renovating our home and it’s perfect now, having all the extra space — particularly with a young baby with lots of prams and car seats all the stuff that comes along with a baby.”

After: The Irwins' house.
After: The Irwins' house.

Did it help being in the construction industry herself when it came to her own home improvement project?

“Absolutely,” says Claire.

Dermot Bannon with homeowner Lisa in a episode one of Room to Improve.
Dermot Bannon with homeowner Lisa in a episode one of Room to Improve.

“Renovating my own house was probably the biggest learning experience of my whole career. All of a sudden, I was looking at it from the opposite lens. I was the quantity surveyor and the client. It wasn’t until then that I was able to appreciate and empathise more with the concerns and decisions you have as a client. It’s not easy making these decisions.

“I can go to a store and help clients pick a wood floor or sanitary ware and I would be more concerned with the price. But when it’s yourself [as the client] you appreciate what takes them so long to make decisions.”

Like so many in the building industry, Claire always had an interest in construction.

“I just wasn’t sure which path to take, what team member in construction I would be. I fell into quantity surveying and I really like it,” she says. “It was more a male-dominated profession, and still is — but that doesn’t really bother me; it’s never been an issue.”

As for the disruption the industry has faced in terms of material supply and material cost increases and delays? “It’s gone mad — and that was probably one of the biggest challenges in this series,” says Claire.

Filming the upcoming series took place over an extended period of two years — in part due to lockdowns.

“We started two years ago, we’ve gone through two lockdowns, and endured Brexit, and inflations — I’ve never seen rates jump the way they did. It’s been very challenging,” she says.

The upcoming episodes have been “a long time coming”, adds Claire. “But we became so friendly with the homeowners — we will miss them!” she says.

  • ‘Room to Improve’ airs from this Sunday, February 20, at 9.30pm on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player



Devise a plan you’re 100% happy with before you start. Employ an architect and a quantity surveyor and ensure your plan is in line with your budget.

Then when you’re onsite, try your best to stick to the plan. It’s very easy to veer off the plan — but that’s where you run the risk of running into additional costs.

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