World’s best tenants

IF renting is the new buying, meet a couple who may well qualify as Ireland’s best tenants – and who were never really tempted to buy.

For a duo who swim against the prevailing tide, maybe it is appropriate that Michael Haberbosch and Monika Hary ended up metaphorically pitching their tent, by the sea, in Ireland, at Fountainstown, in a 1930s-bult Swedish kit house. Which, by the way, they are more than happy to rent, and yet to invest time and money into.

When Irish Examiner Property first met up with this warm-hearted German couple, it was around 1996 as they opened their design-grounded furniture and high-end household goods shop Mimo in Cork city. They had the shop up and running – but were living in a small VW camper van that had been their home for several years after they set off on a world tour, and stopped short in Cork.

They went on to open a second Cork Mimo shop, but closed it down in 2003 when – faced with the dilemma of growing big, or staying small, they decided to downsize completely, and leave Ireland.

Of course they stayed on to fulfil orders, and took fresh orders too, and May moves in 2004 turned to October, and they fetched up in Fountainstown, a half-an-hour spin from Cork city where their new house and home is also their showroom.

Back around the year 2000, Irish Examiner Property featured their then rented Cork city home, off Albert Road, which they also helped upgrade. At one stage, they were offered it for around £85,000, and when they left, it sold by the landlord for over €300,000 – due in small part at least to the level to which they’d raised it.

Still, no regrets, and once more they’re happy renting in a spectacular setting off the Coast Road in Fountainstown.

Here, the house’s owner had gotten to know them through the Mimo business (40% of which comes from Dublin, the rest from around the country but mostly from Cork) and asked would they be interested in renting it. First they refused, as they still had departure plans, but once Monika stood looking at the view on a bright day, she was hooked.

The chalet-type house was one of a number built as a holiday home in the 1930s, brought in in kit form from Sweden (a cut above the Ford box homes of subsequent decades) and has weathered well – especially given how exposed a spot it is in.

Now, they are just over five years in situ, and what they have as a home and place to show the wares they sell is in bigger and better shape than ever before.

It was then single storey and had a flat roof, and when that needed work, Michael suggested to the owner that they raise roof a bit, and by doing so they gained an extra large bedroom for guests who are smitten by the look, feel and views.

The backdrop is ever-changing, by dint of tide, weather, light and passing maritime traffic. Some days, up to a dozen tankers can be at anchor outside the mouth of Cork Harbour, and they hove into view from Michael and Monika’s Swedish/Irish cabin perch.

As Michael says of the circa 900sq ft home (now with replacement decking and decades’ old stone terraces very much used as rooms outdoors): “I like a very simple house. People here think that wooden houses don’t last but this is doing fine.”

Better than fine, in fact. There’s a strong 20th century classic design era feel to the interior and its almost boat cabin-like decor, contrasting with the wide 8 inch pine planks on the horizontal for walls, and on the vertical for doors. When Monika first moved, in, she felt it was all too dark, but painting the ceiling timbers plain white and the brick arch chimney breast black and white, made all the difference.

Art on walls comes from a variety of sources, including friends and Crawford Art College Degree Shows, and furniture includes versatile shelving by USM and Vitsoe, storage and display cabinets in quality formica and ply by Moormann, cube chairs by Le Corbusier, lighting from a variety of sources including Floss and Artemide, with a floor lamp and other items by Ettore Stosass. There’s a table produced by Anthologie Quartett and a 1980s armchair/chaise longue called Torso, made by Cassina, designed by Paolo Deganello, while floors are either sanded original narrow strip oak, or dark neutral Tintawn.

In the past five years, not only has the roof gone upwards, the house has also been extended out behind over the yard to the old garage, now a studio for Michael, and it is brim-full of sleek adaptable aluminium Vitsoe shelving, holding brochures, catalogues and design guides, reflecting both Michael’s training as an architect, and their continuing line of business. There’s a strong feeling that they only sell what they like, and they have discerning tastes, moved by design principles rather than fads and fashions.

Guru for Michael Haberbosch is Dieter Rams, whom he worked for some time with in Germany and he shares his ethos of rejecting the superfluous in design. Rams was sort of a Bauhaus originator of minimalism, at a time of ‘50s flashness, and in fact a retrospective on Rams and much of his work for Braun is running in London’s Design Museum from this month to March 7.

One of Michael’s prized possessions is a Rams designed Braun World Radio, capable of picking up long-wave radio stations from around the globe. It dates to the early 1950s and at the time cost the equivalent of several months’ wages to buy. One was found in every German embassy around the world, back before faxes, telexes and the Internet came on stream.

Michael paid a couple of weeks’ income for it, but then he’s an avid collector and as he notes of a lot of the furniture Mimo sells, “it holds its value. When we left Germany, we sold all of our furniture, for more than we paid for it. That’s never the case with cheap, mass-produced stuff.”

Making money on leaving furniture behind is, then, an ironic twist given the money Monika and Michael have put into this chalet’s improvements. Michael reckons it is in the order of €15,000 to €20,000, and it doesn’t bother them one whit. It includes new bathrooms, and a Siematic kitchen from Houseworks – not cheap.

“Everything we spend, the landlord matches it, we go half and half on the cost, and ask permission first” he explains in what is surely a pretty unique meeting of minds – but one that will have 99.9% of Irish tenants scratching their heads.

But, the couple are already here five years, and have no intention of moving any time soon. They clearly love it, and get all the benefit while they are here, almost 24 hours a day as they have pretty much forsaken the city life for coastal living.

The house earns its keep for them too, so to speak, as clients and customers call down on a fairly regular basis, but of course only by appointment, after all, it is a home.


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