A gracious family home
Built for a bishop in the mid-nineteenth century, Dunlavin House was derelict when the current owners took possession. Over the past 20 years they have turned it into a warm family home. Declan Cashin reports
Dunlavin House, Dunlavin, Co Wicklow is one country property that gives new meaning to the term 'the quiet life'. "The walls alone constitute between 65-74sqm," explains owner Kate Hovenden. "We discovered that when we had the footprint of the house measured originally. They are so thick that you can't hear the outside world at all. You're totally cocooned in here."
It's just one feature of a home that Kate speaks about with evident affection. She and her husband Frank Kenny first bought the Georgian residence from the local parish 23 years ago, as it was originally built for a bishop in the mid-19th century.
They were soon to discover that they'd need a few prayers and the odd miracle to make the place habitable in any way. "When we moved in, it was in a bad state," Kate admits. "I don't think we realised how much we had to do.
"That said, the minute I walked in, there was a lovely feeling to the place, even though it was a shambles, and the paper was peeling, and there were no floors in parts. Some people said we were mad to take on such a project as a young newlywed couple, and to get a four-bedroom bungalow instead. But we stuck by it, and I'm so glad we did."
Over the course of 20 years, Dunlavin House has undergone an intensive refurbishment, with extra care being afforded to its original period features such as the sash windows, marble fireplaces, stucco work, solid wood floors, arches and coving.
"The first couple of years were focused on just getting electricity and heating in," Kate laughs. "After that, we focused on the details, and it was a real labour of love. For instance the shutters were all nailed back so we restored each one of those. Even the brass window clips had been painted over with white, so my dad cleaned, polished and restored them, as well as the brass handles."
Their efforts can be seen in every corner of the house today. The 396sqm, five bedroom property has three-storeys, with a garden level that at one point didn't even have floors in it. Now that section houses the kitchen, wine cellar, storerooms, and two rooms that could be transformed into bedrooms but which Kate's clan uses as a playroom and en suite gym.
There are three other bedrooms upstairs, along with several reception and living rooms. Kate and Frank's three children -- Florence (16), John-Henry (14) and Theodore (11) -- have all grown up in the house, and by all accounts have had great fun exploring all its nooks and crannies.
"There's a tunnel that runs beneath the front steps from one side to the other," Kate says.
"In the past, John-Henry hooked up a microphone in there for when his younger brother had birthday parties, and he'd put on a ghost voice in the dark tunnel, frightening the wits out of the younger ones.
"We've turned part of the back garden into a playground for the children with swings, climbing frames and trampoline. There's also a little wooded area to the side of the garden. It's like a little forest, and the kids adore it. Many is the time I've gone out there and found them 15-20 feet up swinging like monkeys from tree to tree. Even John-Henry will bring out a portable TV and sit quite happily up there watching television."
What's more -- random fact alert -- local legend has it that those very gardens were used by The Furey Brothers to film their video for 'When You Were Sweet Sixteen' in the early 1980s. There are also outbuildings measuring 24sqm that could be easily made part of the house.
Given all the work they've put into the house, and the memories it has given them, it's a bittersweet time for the family as they think about moving on. "We have some family land in Narraghmore a few miles away from here, and we intend to build there," Kate says.
"We could do with some extra space because Florence is horse-mad and we're paying for liveries. The boys love go-karts, quads and rugby so they need space too. It's hard for all of us because it's our family home.
"At least we'll still be in the area. The kids can walk to and from school. I can't remember the last time I was in a traffic jam because you're well served for everything you need in the village, Naas and Newbridge.
"Yet I can be in my friend's house in Goatstown in Dublin drinking cocktails within 40 minutes. It's a big house on a small site so we're hoping to attract a professional couple who don't want the maintenance of land, and yet would like the big house experience."
Dunlavin House on c 0.75 acres is on the market with Knight Frank ( 01 6623255) asking €825,000