Thursday 25 April 2019

Energy efficient Hill House - and successful Airbnb stables conversion - going for €420k

Hill House and Blueberry Cottage Blacklion, Co Cavan

Asking price: €420k

Agent: Savills, (01 6634300)

Hill House comes with a separate cottage that’s rented out for holiday lets.
Hill House comes with a separate cottage that’s rented out for holiday lets.
One of Hill House's four bedrooms
Old world charm: The kitchen cabinets were built by a local craftsman
The farmhouse bathroom
Bluebell Cottage is let out as a self-catering retreat
Hill House has been renovated
Current owner Síle Mills
The vast greenhouse provides the current owner with a steady supply of produce
The farmhouse living room
The living room of Bluebell Cottage

It's not often you come across a 120-year-old farmhouse that is so energy efficient it puts some new-builds to shame. Hill House in Blacklion, Co Cavan, was restored with sustainability at its core, and it's also as a refuge for city dwellers who need to step away from their hectic lives and try growing their own food.

It was while living in Dublin and running her own art gallery that owner Síle Mills realised she needed a break from the stresses of city life and began planning to get out of Dodge. In 2000, two artists she was representing showed her images of a cottage they were selling in Manorhamilton, Co Leitrim. Mills bought it almost straight away and made the big move.

It was while restoring this house that she furthered her studies into organic food growing and renewables. As much as she loved the old building she had just invested in, she knew the land around it didn't have the space she needed.

Mills was looking for a small-holding around the Cavan area when she came across Hill House and its cottage.

Old world charm: The kitchen cabinets were built by a local craftsman
Old world charm: The kitchen cabinets were built by a local craftsman

"The cottage was really my primary interest, but it was the beauty of the site itself and the location; it was very close to amenities but had a sense of being really isolated that made me realise this was the perfect spot for me," she says.

Mills got down to work immediately but it was a process that took nearly two years as it was 2005 and builders were busy with boom-type construction and not so interested in restoration work.

The project may have been slow-going, but it never failed to throw up surprises. One of the best moments of the build for Mills was when they pulled the thick rhododendron bushes off the front of the farmhouse to reveal the most magnificent sandstone brick façade.

Inside, the floor and internal walls were removed, dry-lined and replaced. Designed so that it could be heated through passive solar means, the centre of the house was opened up to allow the sun to come in from the south and west-facing windows.

On days when the sun isn't shining, the Rayburn in the kitchen is used to keep the entire home warm. And if that isn't enough to keep out the cold, there is also a new auxiliary oil system with a boiler to provide heat and hot water.

All windows are made of sustainable hardwood and were crafted by a local carpenter. A double-roof was put on to further insulate, and the height of the ceilings was adjusted to make more of the light and views.

The farmhouse living room
The farmhouse living room

"The light and shadows that come in from the woods around it is fantastic," says Mills. "It makes it a very harmonious house. It is also more energy efficient than I ever could have imagined and has a BER rating of B3."

When asked if it was a labour of love, Mills laughs that it was all pure devotion. "I was there every day throughout the build. I know every single stone and where it came from. It meant if something needed tweaking it was done before the builders had a chance to leave the site."

Mills lives in the farmhouse and rents out her converted stable block, Blueberry Cottage, as a self-catering retreat. With five-star reviews on Airbnb, it has visitors raving about the peace they find there. Mills says the house and land have been fundamental to her good health. Outside she keeps four ponies and has a huge greenhouse that produces enough food for her as well as friends and neighbours.

"I salvaged the greenhouse from a nursery outside Enniskillen and brought it over pane by pane, all 480 of them," recalls Mills. "We had to document every attachment so we could reconstruct it, which was probably the most completed job in the whole project. It's since made up for the pain it caused with the amount it produces. What I eat day-to-day is what is being harvested at the time, with any surplus going to neighbours and friends, so I've very little overheads."

In the renovated farmhouse, the entrance hall has a boot room to the side which leads into the sitting room. This cosy but bright room has French oak floors, a wood-burning stove, and large window that faces southwest to make the most of the views.

Off the sitting room is the kitchen with the Rayburn stove. The blue solid timber units were made by a local craftsman and all the radiators were salvaged, stripped and repainted. There is a utility and guest WC off the kitchen.

The living room of Bluebell Cottage
The living room of Bluebell Cottage

There are four bedrooms, one of them on the ground floor with an en suite. The other three are upstairs, along with the main bathroom.

Across the way, down a little stone path, is her Blueberry Cottage rental which it could be an instant money-maker for new owners. Its open-plan living space includes a kitchen, dining and living room with wood-burning stove. The three en suite bedrooms, called Lily, Viola and Peony, each have a separate entrance.

The properties come with six acres of gardens, pond and woodland that are low-maintenance with mature trees, lawn and wild flowers, attracting newts, frogs, dragonflies and bees are .

The village of Blacklion is only 7km away and is probably best known for Neven Maguire's award-winning MacNean House, Restaurant and Cookery School.

The area is also popular with walkers and anglers. Within a short drive of the property is Cavan Burren Park, Fowley's Falls and the Marble Arch Caves. Lough Melvin is about 30 minutes away from Blacklion, and is home to a sub-species of brown trout that can't be found anywhere else in Europe.

For Mills, it's on to a new phase of her life, as a grandmother. She will miss the land and her hammock under the oak tree, but will be content if her beloved home goes to a family who use it to its full potential and enjoy it just as she did.

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