Rochestown Road, Cork City
570 sq m (6,100 sq ft)
IT was good back in 2007, a top home on gardens that have repeatedly won National Garden Awards, but having sold at the then-market peak for a near-record suburban Cork price, this updated Arts and Crafts era home is bigger, even better now, inside and out, top to bottom.
Step into Kennitt House, and its gardens, a quite perfect pairing (but, priced accordingly) of property and planting, interiors and grounds, all in a traditionally-ace and prized southern city location, the Rochestown Road.
“The right-hand side of the Rochestown Road, too,” as the old line used to go about Cork’s ‘best’ property locations…
One of a dozen or so large detached homes on very large plots mostly dating to the early and mid-1900s, Kennitt House was among a small clutch of select homes which came for sale in the 2000s at various multi-million euro sums, with c €4m thought to be the price record back then, set by a home called Gortalough.
That had been sold by agents Lisney, and in 2007 they prepared to follow on that top deal at Gortalough with a listing of a 4,000 sq ft home, then called Inneskerr, and the guide was being set at €3.5 million by Lisney director Margaret Kelleher.
In the event, Inneskerr never got to the open market. It was swooped upon by a couple of medical consultants who were locating back tofor prestigious jobs. They fell for it instantly and bought it for an undisclosed sum.
This was in pre-Price Register days, and the guessing back then was that it may have made close to €4m for it not to go the test of the open market.
“I knew within seconds of going up the drive, with the ‘eleven-second’ rule that tells you it’s right, that we’d found the perfect home,” says Professor Louise Kenny this week, as she and her husband Matt Hewitt prepare now to sell after 13 years, bookended by an economic crash at one end, and a pandemic at the other, and having done a full house refurbishment in the meantime.
He’s a cancer specialist and surgeon and she’s an obstetrician and gynaecologist who came to work from the north of England to Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH), with Irish Kenny clan roots from her parents, with her own mum a serious-minded gardener and plantsperson.
Prof Kenny first visited this property with her mother on that deciding fateful day as husband Matt was in surgery. The couple already had a half a dozen or so house renovations under their belts in the UK, and so were already more or less ‘on message’ as to what they wanted in Cork, seeing some of the cream of the crop in the, eh, halcyon days of 2007.
After Matt got to visit, they consulted and concurred, then committed, taking it off-market and moving over the Irish Sea with their two sons, school-going at the time, and who today are living in Dublin and California.
After the off-market purchase, Inneskerr became Kennitt House, an amalgam of the couple’s two surnames. It’s much-changed, yet is fundamentally faithful to its original architecture of the Arts and Crafts movement, and dates to 1938.
What they bought was 4,000 sq ft, and dated internally: what they are now selling is 6,100 sq ft, to the highest spec and comfort levels. The word unstinting comes to mind, money wasn’t spared.
The decision to offer it for sale comes a few years after Prof Kenny took up a role as Executive Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, and since 2018 she has been flying back and forth to… a career commute now clearly negatively impacted by COVID-19.
They reckon they’ll keep a foot in both camps, Cork and the north of England, and as part of this adjustment, Kennitt House comes to the open market this week, at a time where there’s surprising buoyancy in the second city’s upper market echelons given it is pandemic times.
That buoyancy was seen in last month’s sale of Ashton Park House on the Blackrock Road for €1.825m, over 50% above its June launch guide of €1.25m, being a classic early 1900s detached home, in what was dubbed "a pedigree address". Likewise for Kennitt House, up in another league again and which is guided at €3.2 million by Trish Stokes of Lisney, who’s already had one or two very discrete viewings, and who feels it may well catch the eye once more or someone currently living outside of Cork and who’d return for this calibre of home, and setting.
(Ms Stokes got a feel for the market’s surprising strength when she put the A2-rated 3,300 sq ft Millfield House at the end of College Road up for sale in late July, guiding €1.35m. It’s now sale agreed for over that sum, while the nearby Linaro House, a passive build, is "sale agreed" also, at c €1.35m: both featured extensively in these pages during summer 2020.
Here, the Hewitt/Kenny family had moved in for six months to get a feel for the original house, its setting and seasonal glories, and then worked with architect Daniel Luxton of Coughlan DeKeyser on a c 3,000 sq ft extension and refurbishment.
“It almost felt like we’d adopted him, we spent so much time together on it,” Louise recalls now, and the sizeable scale of work was undertaken by Sisks who, perhaps coincidentally, has a number of hospital projects to their credit.
The scale of the work is evident to the eye, not surprisingly, and an internet search under ‘Kennitt House’ brings up the detail on a quantity surveyor’s site (cost consultants Michael Barrett Partnership) that the refurb and extension budget was a further €1.2 million on top of the unconfirmed ’07 purchase price.
It was a year-long, and painstaking project, but as the market had turned by late 2007 and the work was being done in chastened times in 2008, the many contractors brought in by Sisks did exemplary work, says Prof Kenny.
The aim of their post-purchase project was to connect the house to its gardens in a much more cogent, open and transparent way and, here’s it’s been done with architectural aplomb.
The main living space now is the c 1,100 sq ft rear kitchen/living/dining room/snug or den. It’s L-shaped and open to the very large terrace, patio and ornamental fish pond on two sides, with walls of glass folding and accordion-ing back to reveal wide openings, and a welcome interplay of inside and outside.
The kitchen’s by House of Coolmore, with top-end appliances, including twin, extra-wide ovens, the Wolf-brand, sourced from the US and big enough for a couple of Thanksgiving turkeys.
Other appliances (inc tall wine fridges) include Miele, Fisher and Paykel, Gaggenau hob and there’s a four-oven Aga to crown it all off, plus sweeps of granite tops.
Flooring is polished limestone, rich in embedded fossils, and it’s a good match for the terrace outside, done in tumbled limestone, as when the patio/terrace gets wet, it glistens like its interior, finer-finished relative.
Glazing, including the walls of sliders, is by Munster Joinery, and while the ‘inside-outside’ link has been on-trend for over the past decade, and it’s done in lots of cases with success, it’s pretty rare to have the same goal achieved in gardens of this calibre.
It’s still a gardener's nirvana, and when lived in by previous owner John Barry for c 30 years this property had won the National Championship Gardens of Ireland five times, and IPBS prize for best garden in Ireland eight times, and was much visited by garden clubs.
Back then, it was on 1.5 acres, now it’s on 0.7 acres after the Barrys built a discrete new home to the back, setting a trend for other neighbours on the road to take an individual trade-down site or two off their very large gardens.
Prof Kenny and Mr Hewitt kept the healthiest, best and the most prized plants and specimens, and altered and added, putting oaks at the back boundary, and bringing in many stunning Japanese acers and maples which gently brush cars on the curved drive up the front door, giving screening and serenity.
They added to the hydrangeas, azaleas, magnolias and rhododendrons, put in a wisteria walk, along with other scented climbers like jasmine and honeysuckle, and sourced many other rare varieties from Kew Gardens, and others with New Zealand roots which they’d only seen growing in Garinish Island, in the West Cork Gulfstream.
The family say they’ve been able to grow tender plants successful in/Rochestown thanks to the kinder microclimate, with fewer frosts than in the north of England: “if we could pick the house and gardens up and move it, we would,” says Prof Kenny wistfully.
Other plants include a Lady Handkerchief tree, and a couple of Cork favourites, Wedding Cake Trees, and the loamy soil also is favoured by numerous and varied bulbs, phlox lilies, crocosmia, dahlia, camellia, daisies, and geranium.
Needless to say, lawns, walks and seating areas are flawless, as the property includes an immaculate gardener’s room, and gardener’s WC off the attached garage/playroom.
Pride of place on the south-facing limestone patio is an ornamental fish pond, rebuilt in place of the earlier one, with discrete fountain and families of super-sized koi and carp: as some of the fish have recently had babies, the fountain is currently turned off, despite the property just staring its impressive select viewings, so as not to distress the little ‘uns!
The grounds and drive have lighting for night display, and the pristine, shrub-edged patio is plumbed and wired for a no carping hot-tub.
Pretty much all of Kennitt House’s best rooms overlook the sunny back gardens, including the interlinked living room, dining room and kitchen, with attached snug with stove.
Overlooking it too is a teenagers’ den (complete with framed, classic limited edition B&W photographs of Liverpool/The Beatles, and including other ‘60s icons such as Bob Dylan and a stunner of Mohammad Ali with the Fab Four, in a boxing ring. Next up is a hall which is now effectively a room with garden views and a fireplace, and further along is the double aspect, formal lounge of c 530 sq ft.
Above, Kennitt House has six bedrooms, all with en-suite bathrooms, and they are served/reached by two separate staircases, with the main bedroom over the side wing, overlooking the back garden with a sheltered balcony under a hipped gable soffit, with glass baluster.
Also in this ‘wing’ are dressing rooms/walk-in robes, office/den, and an en-suite bedroom, over the garage/playrooms and which was used by the family as a gym. (In the previous owners’ time, this was a distinctive first-floor conservatory.)
The wide house and side wing are now crowned with slate roofs, with the main top floor’s wide dormer matched by new ones in the main bedrooms wing, and there are solar panel tubes up here too, helping to get an excellent B2 BER for the comfortable home which has a pressurized water system throughout, individually thermostatically controlled rads, commercial boiler and a mix of gas/open fires and a stove.
Finishes include chrome sockets and switches, high-end lighting, American oak floors mixed with refurbished original wood floors, there’s surround sound in places, CAT 5 cabling with a Nuvo system which works well with home assistants like Alexa, plus there's now superfast broadband, for home-workers, streamers and gamers.
There’s all the evidence too of homeowners working well with Coughlan DeKeyser architects, which prompts Kennitt House's Lisney selling agent Trish Stokes to say the ground floor accommodation “gives some of the best use of space seen in the Cork residential market.”
VERDICT: A well-met balance of high-end home, and deep-rooted garden, in a Cork setting which never lost its cachet.