Harvey Appelbe, vendor of the 19th century Old School House in the sleepy village of Ardclough in Co Kildare, could run a master class in the dos and don'ts of restoring old properties.
He and his wife Ciara were renting a cramped space in Dublin in the crazy days of the Celtic Tiger and wanted to get onto the property ladder.
Either they could take 10 years to move up the ladder step by step, from a starter home to a big family home, they reckoned. "Or we could buy a basket case of a house and spend our days working on it to get the house of our dreams."
They chose the latter option.
"It was 2005, and we were fully insane," he says now of those boomy days of the property rush. Back then, just like today, any so-called bargains were to be found outside Dublin and in the second hand market. They spent €500,000 on the two-storey property, "a completely ludicrous sum of money", he now says.
"We were wildly unrealistic about the extent of work and, of course, everyone that we know who had done this before had told us you're not going to cut corners - every time you take something away and find something rotten, you're not going to leave it there, you're going to have to replace it and so on, and so it was."
It helps that Harvey is an engineer - though an aerospace systems engineer by training - who works in film and TV building stuff like machinery motion platforms. They did much of the work themselves - he even made most of the furniture. The kitchen units, for example, are fashioned out of old shelves because the coffers were empty when it came to fitting it out.
"We were younger and full of energy and starry eyed," says Harvey, "but we got into the house and got one room done and made it into a base camp. I don't know how many places we put the kitchen. Every so often we'd finish renovating another part of the house, so we'd move the temporary kitchen to that part that was cleaner."
It took five years to restore the entire place. "There were many deadlines we set ourselves that whooshed past," says Harvey, but since both of them were working fulltime - Ciara is a film producer - they could only work weekends or evenings.
"We did spend every penny we had, so from month to month, we'd say, 'OK, we have 500 quid, what are we going to do now?' And we'd buy the equipment to do it and chip away at that."
The final bill came to about €250,000, excluding "the blood sweat and tears". They didn't extend or add on but restored, says Harvey, "26 windows, a roof, plumbing, basically everything, and all lime plaster and hardwood windows - authentic isn't that cheap. It's surprising how many cast-iron downpipes you've got to buy and just how much they cost.
"In the end, what we had imagined would be a patch-up job was a complete restoration right down to taking it back to the bare stone and starting again. I'm not sure the maths worked out but we did get to live in a lovely place for a time and only had to move once."
On the ground floor, the hallway with the original timber floor leads through to the dining room, and down a set of steps to the kitchen. This is a good-sized, bright room with a Stanley and hob, a Zanussi oven, stone countertops, and a double Belfast sink. There is access to the southwest-facing side garden, which was planted by a former owner, the artist Philippa Bayliss.
The kitchen leads into the former coach house, now a TV room with pitched roof and Velux windows as well as a solid fuel stove with back burner. It has access to the rear courtyard where there is a greenhouse, garage and outhouse.
The ground floor also comprises two double bedrooms, and a smaller single bedroom that could be used as a study, as well as a guest bathroom and utility room.
Upstairs, there is a large, triple-aspect master bedroom, en suite and walk-in dressing room, as well as a formal sitting room with a door onto a terrace that overlooks the canal and gardens and is also triple-aspect.
The property sits on a third of an acre, overlooking the Grand Canal. There is even a picture-perfect jetty where Harvey has spent many a summer's day fishing with his two young children or poddling about in a dingy. Here, wildlife lovers can enjoy spotting otters, heron and crayfish.
The village of Ardclough has a vibrant GAA club and a school. It is a short walk to the Cliff at Lyons, where a fine coffee is served - or something more epicurean, if you manage to bag a table at the Michelin-starred restaurant Aimsir.
The Old School House is close to both the N7 and the M4, and 8km from Hazelhatch and Celbridge train station, with an express service to Dublin Heuston Station.
The property first went to market last summer asking €700,000, and has just relaunched with a guide price of €650,000. It is a charming and meticulously restored house, ideal for a family in search of a historic home an hour's commute from Dublin - it was built by Lord Cloncurry for the children of the workers on the Grand Canal.
As for the Appelbes, six months after they completed the house, they began to get itchy feet and hunted down their next project - a mill in Ballymore Eustace on 25 acres. Harvey says it will keep them busy for years.
Agent: Coonan Estate Agents (01) 628 6128
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