Monday 16 September 2019

A Victorian love affair in Drumcondra

11 Dargle Road Drumcondra, Dublin 9

Asking price: €550,000

Agent: Michelle Keeley, DNG (01) 830 0989

Reclaimed: Barbara Davitt outside 11 Dargle Road. Photo: Bryan Meade
Reclaimed: Barbara Davitt outside 11 Dargle Road. Photo: Bryan Meade
The main reception room with a spiral staircase leading to the mezzanine bedroom
The landing
The living room
The kitchen and dining room
The back patio is paved in reclaimed 19th century bricks
Peter Davitt fixing the roof of their other property

Between Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, email and cheap flights, there's never been an easier time to date somebody who lives in another country. But when Dubliner Peter Davitt set eyes on German visitor Barbara Lange in the west of Ireland in 1980, wild Connemara ponies couldn't have stopped him striking up a long-distance romance way before the advent of the internet.

The pair first met in O'Grady's seafood restaurant, then located in Clifden, Co Galway, where she was holidaying with her parents and he was on a weekend with his mates. The restaurant, which has since moved to Barna, has been described by one food critic as "one of those places where summer memories are made". For Barbara, originally from Germany's Ruhr Valley, and Peter, it's an occasion they'll never forget.

"It must have been love at first sight, because Peter told my father that evening, 'I'm going to marry your daughter,'" recalls Barbara. "For the next two years we visited each other and wrote letters, and then I came to stay."

The pair celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary this year at home in 11 Dargle Road, Drumcondra in north Dublin. When they bought the Victorian end-of-terrace in 1982, it was in a dilapidated state. Built between the late 1880s and 1890s, the then two-bedroom red-bricked cottage with a bay window to the front had fallen into such disrepair, it was "uninhabitable", says Barbara.

The main reception room with a spiral staircase leading to the mezzanine bedroom
The main reception room with a spiral staircase leading to the mezzanine bedroom

That didn't faze schoolteacher Barbara or Peter, a builder by trade. Looking beyond the creaking floorboards, draughty windows and dark, boxed-in rooms, they quickly set about converting the run-down property into a bright, three-bedroom family home.

"Peter and his friends did the renovations and I helped in the evenings," says Barbara. "It took eight months to complete. We stripped the roof, lined and insulated the walls, put in new windows, floors, plumbing and electrics, the works. We took out one wall and a piece of the garden to create a sunroom downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs, and in doing so extended the living space to 1,270 sq ft. We kept period features like cornices, a ceiling rose and a mosaic tiled path."

The hallway features a typically high ceiling for the period, along with original coving and dado rails. Off this is the main reception room with the same high ceiling where an antique, wrought iron spiral staircase, headed for the dump from the old Phibsboro post office before Peter rescued it, leads to the couple's mezzanine bedroom.

"Peter had renovated the post office and was horrified to find that this gorgeous, hand-crafted staircase was being thrown out," says Barbara. "In those days, beautiful things often ended up in landfill."

As well as saving the antique staircase, Peter used reclaimed materials from other sites he'd worked on to maintain their home's Victorian character. He put in beams and floors using pitch pine salvaged from a nearby convent and warehouses on the docks. The patio to the rear is paved with reclaimed 19th century bricks, while old chimney pots originally destined for scrap now serve a new purpose as plant containers.

"Peter has a great feeling for aesthetics and is largely responsible for the beauty of the house, although my tastes are reflected too," says Barbara. "My mother was a painter and a potter, and my father an art historian. Between them they made and collected a lot of art, so our home is a mixture of German and Irish influences. Mum painted the icons over our bed, and the cross in the middle is from my grandparents. I remember sleeping in between them as a child and that cross was above us. Every room has special memories for us."

The living room
The living room

Down a small set of steps from the front reception room is a living room with recessed lights and a raised fireplace and hearth, leading on to an open-plan dining room and kitchen. The modern Italian Scavolini kitchen with integrated appliances and an island unit was installed 10 years ago. Beyond that is a sunroom, with floor-to-ceiling glass doors opening on to the rear patio.

There's a downstairs wc under the stairs which leads up to a landing room. This was once used as a playroom when the couple's two children were small but is now a home office that doubles as a guest bedroom. Also on this level are two further bedrooms and a family bathroom. Outside there's permit parking for two cars.

Barbara and Peter also turned their attention to colour throughout the house. Unlike many contemporary showhomes safely decorated in neutral tones, the couple were not afraid to explore the full spectrum, not least on the landing where the walls are resplendent in cerise pink. The living room is a warm ochre and the reception to the front with the mezzanine bedroom features terracotta walls and a light green ceiling, making the white coving and ceiling rose stand out in contrast.

"We put our own stamp on this house and we expect the new owners will do the same," says Barbara. "A house is much more than a dwelling, it's a home and a story chest that evolves over time as people's lives change. We're at a stage where our children have settled abroad - our daughter, ironically, in Germany, and our son in America. I retired this year after 34 years working as a primary teacher in St Kilian's German School. Peter plans to retire later this year. We're moving to a gate lodge between Carlow and Kilkenny, which we've had as a holiday home for some years.

"I'm a country girl at heart, but raising a family so close to the city has been a joy. We have cafés, bars and artisan food markets on the doorstep. Pizzas from the Pizza Company around the corner are to die for. It's a 20-minute walk to the city centre and 10-15 minutes' drive to the airport.

"Drumcondra is changing. Young people are moving in and Peter and I are now among the older residents on the street. We hope that whoever buys our house will love it as much as we do and make it their own."

The back patio is paved in reclaimed 19th century bricks
The back patio is paved in reclaimed 19th century bricks

But what will the new owners make of the other aspect of living in Drumcondra - the Croke Park effect? According to reports, locals rarely venture out on All-Ireland days when fans converge on Croker, and there's no escaping the noise when the likes of The Boss and other global superstars pack out the stadium.

"We knew Croke Park was here when we bought the house," says Barbara. "We're massive Dubs fans anyway and as for the concerts, what's so bad about listening to Bruce Springsteen rock the city while sipping a glass of wine in your back garden? I enjoyed every minute."

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