RTÉ's The Great House Revival is back and looking for new applicants – are you planning on taking on a project like Fiona's 200-year-old Georgian home on the verge of collapse?
Following the success of its debut in 2020, RTÉ’s The Great House Revival is returning for 2022 and architect Hugh Wallace is putting out the call for applicants for the new series. So if you’re about to jump into a renovation or restoration of a building older than 100 years of age with the aim of converting it into residential use, now might be the chance to get your face on the telly.
To celebrate its return, we’re taking a look back at one of our favourite homes from last year – Fiona’s 200-year-old Georgian home in Phiborough.
Fiona took this house from a crumbling wreck that was just a few years away from collapsing completely, into a bright and comfortable four-bedroom home.
However, the journey was a long and winding one. Just back from a few years abroad, Fiona admits, “I hadn’t actually been looking for a house at all.”
But, after walking past the for sale sign in the summer of 2017, she decided to check it out and fought off a number of other interested buyers to make it her own for a significant sum of €435,000.
While looking deceptively large, the house is only one room deep, with two rooms on each floor dissected by a central staircase. As well as falling head over heels for the empty building’s light, high ceilings and black canvas appearance, she also saw a number of encouraging signs when it came to its practicalities.
“It was the location, there was off-street parking, it was the orientation of east-west facing, the access to the back I thought would be good from a construction point of view,” says Fiona, “I am quite practical and logical so those things were definitely part of the decision making process.”
As the house is listed, Fiona and her architect Maoliosa Molloy, set about applying for planning permission and waiting on their chosen contractor, Mark Flynn of Duffy & Sons, to finish a previous project, they were ready to get to work in June 2018.
Admittedly being over-optimistic with her initial five-month timeline, Fiona’s home took 16 months to complete, eight of which were spent on tackling structural work.
Derelict for ten years, the house had serious damp and subsidence issues, with a leaky roof and one corner falling into the ground. To prevent the house from falling further, they had to underpin the entire house and the whole roof was eventually written off and replaced.
“I wouldn’t say much of [the work required] surprised me,” says Fiona diplomatically, considering the house was built in the 1820s and had been a tenement for some time. “It was kind of like yeah, well that makes sense.”
In fact, the things that did surprise Fiona were the pleasant ones, like the chimney flues all in good working order and that most of the floorboards could be saved.
The new extension was a significantly more straightforward project, adding a kitchen onto the ground floor and a bathroom to the first. These are strikingly more contemporary than the period house but are linked by the same level of opulence.
The brass countertop and splashback of the kitchen tie in with the elements of the other living spaces, and the matt grey walls of the bathroom mirror with the exposed plasterwork that’s been framed along the stairwell, framing the layers of history this house has lived through.
“I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat,” responds Fiona unequivocally when asked if she could go back and talk to herself three years ago. Throughout the whole project, the delays and the problems and mounting costs, she says she only had one moment where she questioned her decision to buy the place.
After completing the underpinning and beginning work on the roof (which, as expected was worse than first thought) they realised the wall plate in the upstairs bedroom had collapsed. “Basically, you could see daylight through the corner where the two walls met. That was the point I was wondering if I’d ever get this house back together again.”
Thankfully, the house did not suffer a Humpty Dumpty fate and Fiona officially moved in in November 2019. So what has she learned from this experience? “Don’t take no for answer,” she says simply.
“When contractors and guys on site say something can’t be done, what they really mean is that it can’t be done in the time I have allotted for this job.”
Committing to doing her homework and a natural problem-solver, Fiona nearly always got her way and the result is a spectacular period home that’s really a restoration triumph.