Watch: Cork Harbour home has craftsmanship and detailing second to none
Saturday, February 25, 2017
This one-off property is sure to attract a buyer looking for a unique family home.
Oak Lodge, Shanbally, Cork Harbour €695,000
Size: 373sq ft (4,000 sq ft)
Best Feature: Oaklodge has exemplary wooden workmanship.
Creating a large chess board, and a clutch of carved chess pieces atop posts, as part of an exceptional staircase and the centrepiece of his family home was easy as child’s play for second-generation, master craftsman James Farquhar — but he’ll have to be retired and actually have time on his hands to learn to play the game of chess on any of his creations.
“I need to take some time to learn to play alright,” admits this craftworker par excellence whose handiwork adorns Oak Lodge, the Cork Tudor-faced home he built and finished practically single handedly back in the early 2000s.
OK, there was a bit of input from other top tradesmen, including from his father John Farquhar, a skilled decorative plasterer who did the coving and hefty, moulded-on-site ceiling roses here as a sort of heirloom gift to the next Farquhar generations.
But now, with a family of four headed in the college/university-going years, James and his wife Liz have decided to move on from this one-off they designed and built by Cork harbour at Shanbally.
They are opting for a more urban-based lifestyle in the city, as his work continues to bring him all over Ireland, over to London, and up to Belfast and to the homes of the incredibly rich and famous (international golfers??? He won’t confirm) in Holywood Co Down, where his travelling days start at 4am and his talents are widely appreciated; examples of his prodigious output in the finest woods are creations for life.
UK-born James Farquhar started his apprenticeship as a decorative plasterer, like his father John, and slowly developed his passion and talent for woodwork as well.
In his earlier years he did renovations on various old, elegant English houses in places like Surrey and Kent, the sort of pedigree properties which may have spilled over into some of the design touches of Oak Lodge.
More recently, he runs a Munster-based business called floordoctor.ie, and does bespoke projects (flooring, mostly) for the likes of Belfast-based designers Kris Turnbull Studios, who have clients across the North, the UK, and the Middle East.
The Farquhar family’s decision now to move house brings the absolutely one-off Oak Lodge to Munster’s open market, and it is set by Shanbally village, on the way from Carrigaline towards Ringaskiddy; it’s a home where the only corners cut would have been in the laser-like cutting and jig-saw fashioning of the widely-sourced timbers, parquet floors and various inlaid exotic woods.
Apart from being an incredibly plush family home (selling agent Barry Smith of James G Coughlan & Associates bills it as “opulent”) it’s a remarkable calling card of trade skills which will be appreciated by those who value timeless workmanship of a type only created by long apprenticeships and dedication to standards. It’s that well done.
The Irish Examiner last met with James and Liz Farquhar around 2000 when they sold up a previous home they’d extended in Maryborough, Douglas, and at the time, they bought a site at a fledgling clutch of serviced sites at a spot called Ard na Gréine, Shanbally, to build their dream home, all 4,000sq ft of it, from scratch.
The under-the-radar build took a few years, to a design by Liz Farquhar finished out by architect Ken Owens, who worked off a luxury, timbered Tudor template, and the search for materials to finish it with spanned continents, with timbers coming from near far and from near.
The closest material used was felled green oak from the Coolmore Estate, on the Owenabue estuary between Currabinny and Carrigaline, and it features in mantles over immense fireplaces around powerful Jotul stoves, and in the sheltering wooded porch/portico entrance especially, and which just so happens to be floored in a chequerboard pattern of black and white tumbled marble tiles.
The steeply pitched roof and gables are in Brazilian slate, brick on the front and back facades as well as throughout much of the interior was sourced from Belgium, while the first floor dormer windows are topped and weatherproofed above with decorative, scalloped lead done by skilled roofers who normally work with copper.
Up at the apex, highest points, James had the ornate gable finials made up in steel, then galvanised and painted them, to last a lifetime: even the pot planters either side of this home’s imposing entrance were especially commissioned, fabricated and galvanised to add decades of lifetime to them: there’s a uniformly high standard throughout Oak Lodge, it quickly becomes apparent.
Start by opening the solid double teak doors to the hall, and the roll-out of high end flooring and parquetry begins to impress.
Practically all of the flooring, at ground and first floor level, is in slow-to-fit, two and a quarter inch wide American oak strips, seamlessly laid, and lusciously varnished and lacquered.
There’s 400 square yards of American oak flooring, mentions James almost in passing.
Well, there was 400 yards of it. Some was subsequently taken up, just inside the front doors, to allow for a dark wood parquet panel with feature spoked design to raise the tone even higher than it had been beforehand.
“I took up the old section and started it again just two days before Christmas Day that year, Liz wasn’t too pleased…” he recalls with a (recovering) smile.
Turns out, the floor was finished in time for the big dinner, which could have been eaten off the high-gloss, flawless finish.
That parquet and inlay floor ‘upgrade’ quite probably was a walk in the park compared to the central, bifurcating stairs, this house’s signature calling card with its carved chess piece motifs topping the newel posts.
The stairs was painstakingly created from 300-year-old oak from the Ukraine, and “it’s hard as flint,” James approves.
Its central section, where it splits left and right from a seemingly-floating mid-half-landing to the first floor landing, is supported on invisible steel joists now covered in oak, and the flat, wide section is marked out as a chess board; it’s done in red gum timber for the black squares and pale sycamore for the alternating white ones.
Then, the same mix of timbers is replicated under the stairs section in another chess-board grid of 64 squares, while narrow strips of yew are inlaid top and bottom for demarcating effect.
The newel posts at the start of the stairs were carved to depict the vital crowned king and queen pieces, and the top, landing section has two more carvings of mitre-topped bishops, and ornate hewn rooks or castles.
The knights, meanwhile, are on newels on the floating half-landing, this time in black cast iron for a sense of contrast. Pawns? Pshaw, no need for the foot soldiers…
And, finally, ornate tracery work in walnut done to a gothic pattern is used as an infill between the oak spindles, while a hand carved floral display serves almost as heraldic shield in a vertical mid section.
The stairs is left open between the treads, with no risers, so that there’s a view through the
staircase from the house’s front door to the back of the far-distant sunroom with high, vaulted ceiling up on old oak beams beyond.
The narrow-strip oak flooring runs past the hall, under a folding/hinged set of six glazed doors in cedar, housed in a cedar frame, leading to a dining area, and beyond is the sun room, overlooking a thoughtfully planted, enclosed and private back garden.
Much of the rear interior walls are in Belgian brick, and there’s patio access from both the kitchen/casual dining section and from the sunroom too.
Doors pull back wide for patio access, making it very much a room outdoors and, quite uniquely, even the finishes out here are down to the handiwork of the owners: James cast them individually from ground Cotswold stone, in 4” thick flags.
Oh, and in case other self-proclaimed self-builders out there are starting to feel a tiny bit inadequate at this stage, just give in, throw in the trowel.
The same man also built the chicken coop, the children’s playframe and slide, a simple corner pergola, and a glasshouse with oak frame, fashioned from off-cuts and which is home to a fruiting old or black Hamburg grape, useful for making the odd run of muscadet.
Elsewhere, the quarter acre of gardens has an array of decorative trees, shrubs and tender exotic plants plus water feature.
There are acers and palms and ferns, tree ferns too, box hedges and box spirals, plus an extensive surrounding hedge of copper beech, as well as a fast-maturing wedding cake tree; Latin/botanical names fall from the owners lips as they name-check what they’ve planted.
There’s even a yew tree, which may in a century’s time or so yield some of its bulk for another decorative timber project, by some future occupants of Oak Lodge.
By any yardstick, this is a bit of a whopper of a home for growing family. It has five first floor bedrooms, with 38’ by 12’ master en suite, with feature veined slate and marble fireplace.
The main family bathroom has a salvage claw and ball cast iron, rolltop bath that the Farquhars brought from their last suburban home, plus a double vanity unit topped with marble, and the water and heating system (with commercial grade boiler) is pressurised.
Flooring upstairs is the same, narrow strip oak as below, no change in quality, there’s a large hot press for linen storage with stained glass doors and the roof’s high pitch means masses of attic storage space.
Accommodation at ground level is simply sumptuous: there are reception rooms left and right of the central hall, each with fireplaces, one is a sort of sandstone (composite) surround, with antique ornate firebasket.
Across the hall the second reception has a heat-churning cream Norwegian Jotul stove, pumping out as much as 16kw of heat, and set into a brick inglenook with oak beam.
This stove is matched for size and capacity by a second, identical, Jotul stove by the open plan family living/dining area, with matching cream flue. Most times, when the stoves are lighting, the double doors at ground level are left open, and the wood-scented heated air permeates the house.
Kitchen units are solid maple, hand-painted in classic country style with rubberwood tops, and there’s a plethora of integrated appliances plus range cooker, enough to feed an army on the march.
Also at ground level is a back hall with utility, guest WC, pantry and boiler room for the gas boiler, and the one-time 20’ by 14’ garage was converted to a games room, utterly atmospheric with appropriate den lighting, and it easily accommodates a regulation size American pool table: it seems there’s something here to please just about every member of a family, on cue.
So, who’ll be queuing here to view? Agent Barry Smith in James G Coughlan’s offices reckons although it’s a niche buy, he stresses “there’s nothing else like this in the Cork market, not done to this quality, you could scarcely afford to buy craftsmanship to this sort of luxury level.
"Oak Lodge combines Tudor opulence with modern practicality to create what must surely be one of the most appealing homes to come on the market in recent times.”
If it were in Surrey, it’s the sort of place you’d see on acres of English countryside, with double garage, housing a Bentley, Ferrari or Range Rover.
If it were in Rochestown, Cork, it would still have the Range Rover, perhaps with a tow-bar for the yacht, RIB or horse-box, and would be valued in the seven digit price bracket.
Instead, it’s guided at €695,000, and Mr Smith says it has got an appeal to relocators from overseas, returning ex-pats used to the good life, to traders-up, to executives in the harbour area’s strong employment and pharma base, and to families around Carrigaline looking for something quite unique.
In most cases, even the easily managed quarter-acre of gardens here at Oak Lodge would be a stand-out selling feature, here they have to play second fiddle to the interiors.
And, for those worried about maintenance, all double glazed windows, as well as fascias, soffits etc are all pvc for longevity’s sake, and the brick will just get more mellow with age.)
Oak Lodge is one of 10 or so one-off homes, mostly dormer in style, built in a cul de sac of serviced sites with turning circle, in community-minded Shanbally, where hopes are high that the existing N28 running out to Ringaskiddy will soon be redirected and turned into the M28 to allow for the harbour area’s continued pivotal growth.
Shanbally is on a bus route, both Monkstown and Carrigaline are within a five or 10 minute drive, the airport’s 15 minutes away — and, Cork city’s 20 minutes or so, ‘though you be slow to leave home like this in a hurry.