Room To Improve review: Dream downsize in Wicklow with woodland and lake views

Dermot Bannon: 'Sleeping here is a bit like sleeping in a woodland' 
Room To Improve review: Dream downsize in Wicklow with woodland and lake views

Dropping off to the land of nod in Carmel and Hugh O’Neill’s new bedroom would, according to architect Dermot Bannon, be “a bit like sleeping in a woodland”.

But their brand-new dream A-rated bungalow has it all — trees, woodlands and, of course, lakes.

As newlyweds, the couple moved to the heart of west Wicklow in 1982, into a residence that Carmel says they believed would be their “forever home” — overlooking Blessington Lakes.

And so it was — for almost four decades.

In 2020, they invited their daughter Hilary and son-in-law Paul Fairbrother and their children to come and live with them.

“We’re getting older and this place requires an awful lot of maintenance,” says Hugh. 

The refurbishment of the O'Neills' former house, now "forever home" to Hilary and Paul and the O'Neills' grandchildren, featured in RTÉ One’s Room To Improve series last year, while Carmel and Hugh planned to move to a new residence, built from scratch, just down the garden.

And this chapter unfolds in episode three of the 2023 series of Room To Improve.

Carmel and Hugh want a home which is going to be manageable for them both going into their later years in life and Dermot’s brief is to deliver this.

He designs an A3-rated bungalow that is “functional and future-proof with arguably even better views".

The most striking design element is the roof, notes the architect.

“Because we were on this very tight site and because it was a prominent site, the roof almost acts as a cloth,” he says. 

“It’s like you’ve thrown it over this collection of buildings and then it starts to connect as a tablecloth that’s slightly oversized with the floor. 

"The roof almost connects with the ground.” 

Carmel and Hugh are impressed with the entire transformation.

“I didn’t think it was going to be as big as it is,” says Carmel.

The project has been a long and difficult one, agree the couple and architect.

“It has been a long journey, I suppose like all journeys, with peaks and troughs along the way, we’re here now at least and here ready to begin the next chapter of our lives,” says Carmel.


Quantity surveyor Claire Irwin tots up the tally and is pleased with the result, even though there is an overrun.

The budget is €230,000, she says. "It ran over by €20,000. The €20,000 was on things that were introduced in the project, an amalgamation of a lot of things: a few extra shelves, fitted wardrobes in the bedroom," adds the quantity surveyor.

Carmel and Hugh O'Neill with Claire Irwin and Dermot Bannon. Pictures: RTE
Carmel and Hugh O'Neill with Claire Irwin and Dermot Bannon. Pictures: RTE

“We re-introduced Aluclad windows instead of PVC.

"I know €20k sounds like a lot but for what they got for the €20,000 it is very competitive in this market; they were extremely wise shopping around and there was an awful lot of legwork done.” 

  • Room To Improve airs on RTÉ One on Sundays at 9.30pm and is on RTÉ Player

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