Thinking of reimagining and retrofitting a bungalow?
Well, listen up to the tale of this County Galway design and renovation.
Five years ago, Niki and Davin bought a bungalow — a property that in turn was once plucked straight from the pages of a 1970s pattern book.
Houses like this may have served a purpose when they appeared on the Irish landscape in that decade, but as architect Hugh Wallace says in episode one of, they “are in desperate need of reinvention”.
The transformation of Niki and Davin’s Connemara residence unfolds, in pandemic times, in the first programme on the RTÉ One series.
We see the highs and the lows, the facts and figures — yet we are also treated to a realistic, yet pleasing ending, complete with storybook-satisfactory visuals.
The couple purchased their property for €150k and they saved for over a decade to renovate it so that it would be more suitable for family living.
Their renovation budget was initially around €225k but during the design and build that figure had to stretch to over €330k, and the final bill looks like it will be around €350k, they add, concluding it will be worth it for what Niki describes as “a really special home”.
“The previous family was here for 50 years and brought up all their kids here and now we are doing the same,” says Dublin native Davin, a furniture design lecturer.
He and respiratory specialist nurse Niki, from Naas, Co Kildare, live in the bungalow with their two-year-old son Jasper.
“It made sense to come to Galway, we would never have been able to afford a house in Dublin,” says Niki.
They had always planned to renovate the sprawling property (290sq m, over 3,000sq ft, without counting the attic).
“The kitchen and living spaces don’t work for us as a family, they were fine when it was just the two of us, as a couple, but as time has moved on, we need the spaces to be more functional now,” says Niki at the outset.
So, what made them choose this particular house?
“We bought it to renovate it before we moved in but that never happened,” says Davin.
Hugh describes the bungalow as “a warren”.
This is a house with 17 doors. “There's lots of rooms and lots of doors and lots of corridors; it’s like two bungalows stuck together,” says Hugh.
“The architect will be up against it from the off. It’s a rabbit warren, typical of its time — extended, and extended multiple times.”
Enter Nicola Ryan and Grainne Dunne of Studio Red Architects.
Nicola is determined to open up the property to its surroundings. “The sights and the views are the special part,” she says.
Energy retrofit schemes are included in the plan, as are floor-to-ceiling windows, and galvanised sheeting to be used on the roof instead of roof tiles.
The latter will ensure the house “settles” into the landscape and is also a more cost-effective option than roof tiles.
In 10 or 15 years’ time, muses Hugh, “will it look like perfection or will it look like a cowshed?”
After getting the go-ahead for the works from the planners, the family moves out — but the journey to their dream home takes many months longer than anticipated, particularly because of the post-Christmas Level 5 lockdown.
The design plan breaks down the transition between inside and outside and beautifully crafted timber-framed triple-glazed four-to-ceiling windows are key to this — particularly a sliding window.
“A big building like this needs a big picture window,” says Hugh.
“At a cost of nearly eight grand it’s an expensive piece of glass. As it slides into place I’d say it’s worth every cent. What it sort of does, is all of a sudden it brings the house to life.”
The homeowners agree.
As soon as the window is fitted, Davin says: “I think it’s beginning to feel like a home now.”
Gazing out, Niki adds: “This is a view we never had before, because this was blocked by the extension.”
Work on concrete flooring and insulation is completed. Prior to that, there was cavity blockwork “with no insulation except for the odd bit of old paper” says Hugh.
As they drive towards the finish line and with money running out, Davin not only designs the kitchen island but also builds it himself.
“This is a brave move and will save them thousands,” says Hugh. “But at three metres long and a metre-and-a-half wide it’s a kitchen continent rather than a kitchen island.”
What’s the final verdict?
“I’m gobsmacked,” says Hugh. “The green roof was a real bit of bravery but a touch of genius.
“For the first time, you can see right through the bungalow; it’s like I’m being drawn in.
Niki is pleased they now have a home where they can “make memories as a family”.
Davin adds: “This has been a dream for us for many many years and it’s nice to see it finally come to fruition.”
Every inch of it has been transformed into a bespoke home, from the reading nook at the top of the stairs to the luxurious bathroom, and Jasper’s child-friendly space.
The corridor is slightly wider and higher, with skirtings and architraves gone.
“This home just blows me away; they’ve captured the essence of what this bungalow should be — a great family home,” says Hugh.