1930s semi-detached house in Clontarf, Dublin

1930s semi-detached house in Clontarf, Dublin

Welcome to our first every house tour! I (Fiona) will be your guide today as this is my house. It was designed by DMVF Architects, photographed by Ruth Maria Murphy and is featured in the book (of course).

In 2013, my husband and I bought a ‘blank canvas’ property, i.e. a shell. It was a double-fronted, semi-detached house with a garage and a large rear garden. Apart from the addition of a couple of electrical sockets, the house had not been updated since it had been built in 1934. It needed rewiring, replumbing, central heating, insulation, new windows, new floors and a kitchen. I don’t mean a new kitchen, I mean it didn’t have a kitchen; the original scullery with sink and stove was still (barely) functional. 

On the plus side, the house did have all its original features and, because it had never been built on or altered in any way, most of those features (archways, doors, architraves, picture rails, fireplaces) were in relatively good nick. It sounds adorable and it kind of was, it just wasn’t liveable. 

The original house was 124 square metres with two living rooms, a scullery and a garage downstairs, and four bedrooms, a bathroom and a separate toilet upstairs. At the time, we had three children, aged 9, 5 and 3, a large dog and two cats. Each family member had their own requirements and some of them were getting bigger and more demanding all the time. In a decade, we’d have three teenagers; in two, we’d be on our own again.

We knew from the start that we wanted to add a large kitchen/living/dining room, a communal area that was completely missing from the original house. With an almost 30m long garden, there was plenty of scope to extend and still maintain a space big enough for all of us to enjoy outdoor living. This was really the crux of the whole design and half our wish list was taken up with features for this new room, including a wood-burning stove, a kitchen island, room for a tall fridge and freezer and room for an eight-seater dining table. Keeping the front living room relatively unchanged would mean a separate space for the inevitable times that one of us wanted to get away from the others. Although there were already four bedrooms, two of them were very small so we hoped to build a fifth, which would be the master bedroom. We also wanted to convert the garage to an office as I work from home.

What was less clear to us was what we would do with the rest of the downstairs space. An extension would block the flow of light into the back living room and the hall, which was already quite dark and gloomy. We also needed to accommodate a utility room and a bathroom. On his first visit, our architect saw the solution – take out the chimney breast in the scullery and the separate toilet upstairs and move the stairs into that space, giving a clear run through the hall to the extension; double doors with glass panels leading into the extension would allow light to flow in both directions for the entire length of the house. You’re hired!

I love my home. Every morning, I get up, walk down the stairs and  can’t believe my luck. A large part of that joy comes from the work that went into it, not only the renovation itself but also the eight years of saving and searching before we found it. I love that every part of it has its own story, from the vintage furniture finds to the DIY Ikea hacks, from the under-stairs playroom to the art-filled bathroom. Because the house was in such a bad state when we bought it, it meant that every single aspect of it had to be considered. So now, whether I’m looking at our floor tiles or worktops, shutters or taps, I remember the hours of Internet research, the quest to find the most affordable options while keeping the vision alive.

There’s not one single thing that I love most about our house. I adore the Victorian hall floor tiles that I worked so hard to fit into our budget. I’m proud of the photo wallpaper at the top of the stairs, and the G Plan chairs that are the result of a hardcore Internet search. But most of all, I love the openness at the back of the house. The light, the space, the view. There is nothing like curling up on the window seat with a book and a full view of the garden, connected to yet insulated from the world outside. It’s such a peaceful place that often, nobody even notices you’re there. Apart from the cats, who live there. Such clever creatures.

The kitchen

The living area of the extension

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