Handled with care - peek inside this restored Victorian terraced villa
Renovating a protected home comes with its challenges and rewards
When the owners of 40 Carysfort Avenue in Blackrock, Co Dublin decided to renovate and extend their charming 1838 Victorian terraced villa it wasn't simply a case of knocking unwanted walls to open it up and then letting an interior designer loose on the inside.
Bringing a 'local landmark' back to life involved months of pre-planning discussions with the local county council, hiring a registered conservation architect and finding a team of specialist builders, contractors and master craftsmen. Oh, and money, lots of it.
You see Number 40 is no ordinary period property, it's a Protected Structure. Simply put: 'of special interest from an architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical point of view' by the planning authority. As such, it's subject to strict controls regarding renovation and extension - and even maintenance. Normal Exempted Development provisions do not apply.
As an owner of a protected structure you're legally obliged to 'protect the building against neglect or damage or allow any work to be carried out that could alter its character without planning permission', the penalties are severe.
And there's the rub. While most understand the importance of safeguarding our built heritage, few are cut out to be museum curators.
Ronan O'Malley, associate director and branch manager of Sherry Fitzgerald Rathmines, says that the red tape factor can put buyers off. "A lot of our clients want a period property but they'd prefer not to hear that it's protected. One that's listed as 'BER exempt' is usually a clue that it is."
Owning a home that's protected brings cachet and making it your own can be rewarding - both aesthetically and financially.
Bought in 2003, the owners of Number 40 waited seven years until they were financially secure before embarking on a major renovation.
They engaged Tania Miller of Kelliher Miller Architects, an RIAI Grade III accredited conservation practice, who transformed the property by adding a striking 1,356 sq ft double height extension to the rear, almost doubling its original size - to include a kitchen/dining room, living room, playroom and bedroom - in addition to a garden room of 312 sq ft.
"We worked very closely with the conservation officers at Rathdown County Council," says Miller of the refurb.
"We didn't change the internal room layout of the original house but we did remove a small back staircase. That was our only major intervention but it allowed us to open up the house and connect the old and the new," says Miller.
"Planners know that such properties have to be made liveable but you have to make a case for why you're extending," adds Miller whose 'whole-istic' approach to the project involved upgrading the original home at the same time - damp proofing, dry lining, insulating walls and repairing windows and cornicing.
Having successfully transformed this place - and made some money doing it - the owners are seeking a new project. Number 40 is on the market for €1.55m through Sherry FitzGerald.
According to most recent statistics (2015) from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage there are over 42,000 protected structures in Ireland. Your house becomes protected when it's added to the Record of Protected Structures, which is compiled by each local authority. You can check to see if a property is protected on the Buildings of Ireland register (buildingsofireland.ie).
Protection includes the exterior and interior of the home, land and any structures within it. Any changes you wish to make will require an application for 'full' planning permission.
Building conservation surveyor Frank Keohane says the best way to get permission is if you're willing to compromise.
If applying to extend Keohane advises avoiding an extension that detracts from the build by virtue of its size, shape and materials used. "The extension must speak for itself and be of its own time, although it can't be a big carbuncle either."
Would-be restorers would do well to read Keohane's book, Period Homes, a Conservation Guidance Manual, Dublin Civic Trust (2001) and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht's publication, Architectural Heritage Protection, Guidelines For Planning Authorities, which can be downloaded from their website (www.chg.gov.ie).
The Irish Georgian Society in partnership with Dublin City Council also runs an annual Conserving your Dublin Period House course, with advice on protected structures. The programme starts on March 13.
Meticulously adhering to guidelines however is still no guarantee an application will proceed smoothly or without delay.
"Every structure is different. You never know what an application is going to throw up," says Lisa McVeigh, a conservation architect and director at DMVF Architects.
When applying for permission to restore a red-brick Victorian, two-bay, two-storey over basement in South Dublin (that had been sub-divided into two separate properties), to a family home, McVeigh was advised to reinstate and replicate a staircase that the previous owners had removed, and revise her plans for a single storey, 323 sq ft extension that "impacted too much on a rear return".
Her advice to would-be restorers is to "check the response other planning applications on the road got from the conservation officer. Reports can be viewed online."
The practice in association with author Fiona McPhillips has put together a book Make the Home You Love, The Complete Guide to Home Design and Renovation in Ireland which is due for release on March 26.
John Monahan of Sligo-based practice NOJI has words of wisdom of his own: "Don't be afraid of it. Planners are more amenable to good design."
His most recent PS project is a 'brick addition' extension to a three-storey late Georgian house in Mount Pleasant Square, Dublin 6 .
The angular, north-facing two-storey 155 sq ft extension was designed to provide more space and a better connection to the garden and contains a kitchen and bathroom above.
Reclaimed bricks were used to complement the existing house, while still being of its time.
"Being a terrace added its own challenges, including how to maximise the space and get in light while minimising overshadowing to the neighbours," says Monahan, adding that pre planning discussions were an essential part to the success of finished design.