Friday 18 October 2019

Hard act to follow: a transformed period home with views over Howth Harbour

It’s showtime as Howth period home is staged for relaunch under the watchful eye of an interior designer for €1.45m, writes Celine Naughton

No 4 St Lawrence Road in Howth is a four-bed detached late Victorian house
No 4 St Lawrence Road in Howth is a four-bed detached late Victorian house
The view of Howth Harbour, Ireland’s Eye and Lambay Island from the property
The dressing room is staged for the target market
The study used to be the maid's room when it was first built in 1889
The drawing room features a bay window and stone fireplace

The red velvet curtains would not be drawn for the second act. They would have to go, along with the gold rail on which they hung, the massive mirror over the mantel and the brightly patterned Persian rug dominating the floor.

Having failed to sell last year with a price tag of €1.55m, No 4 St Lawrence Road in Howth has been made up for another performance, this time under direction of a new agent, Conor Gallagher of Gallagher Quigley. His advice, after viewing the house, was to call in a professional to undertake the all-important task of stage-managing the property.

The gig went to interior designer Suzanne Walton, who has transformed the four-bed detached late Victorian house for its relaunch to market at the slightly reduced price of €1.45m. And now it’s showtime.

For decades, the exterior was painted in a shade of custard cream. This inevitably led to it being known locally as ‘The Yellow House’ — great for establishing the place as a local landmark, but not the most appealing label for prospective buyers.

The view of Howth Harbour, Ireland’s Eye and Lambay Island from the property
The view of Howth Harbour, Ireland’s Eye and Lambay Island from the property

“First impressions are hugely important in presenting a house for sale and if viewers are put off before they even get to the front door, you’re starting on the back foot,” says Walton. “So the first thing we did was to paint the outside a light grey called Shell, with a soft white for the quoins on the corners. We don’t have the skies for snow white in Ireland. It’s too cold a colour for our climate. The house is much more inviting now.”

Step two was to silence the drama in the dated sitting room. All that yellow-on-gold with red flourishes wouldn’t cut it with buyers, who Walton says can only start picturing themselves living in a house when it doesn’t scream of somebody else’s taste.

“You’ve got to be ruthless when staging a property for sale,” she says. “Owners often have emotional attachments to certain objects and wouldn’t be the most objective in terms of what to use and what to lose. Nobody wants to see your holiday snaps. In fact, personal stuff makes prospective house-buyers feel uncomfortable. The moment you decide you’re moving house, you pack up your personal things and put them in storage.

“To bring this room up to date, the walls were painted in Farrow & Ball’s Pavilion Gray; we replaced the mirror, rug and light fittings for simpler, modern designs; removed the curtains, and brought in a new sofa and ottoman from Harvey Norman,” she says. “It’s a modular piece that can be arranged in different ways, and the owner now wants it for her new house. This is high-street stuff. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune to make a house look great.”

The same approach was used upstairs. “There’s a child’s bedroom where I simply painted the wardrobe and bedstead white to brighten things up,” says Walton. “In the master bedroom, I had a bespoke bedhead fitted and added lots of pillows and cushions, and left the chaise and lamps as they were.”

The dressing room off this contains strategically placed props that speak volumes about the target market. The Brown Thomas, Hermes and Jo Malone bags are not lying around by accident.

The study used to be the maid's room when it was first built in 1889
The study used to be the maid's room when it was first built in 1889

The study remains as is. This was once used as a maid’s room when the house was first built in 1889 for a doctor who lived and worked there with his wife and children. It’s had many residents since then and, for a time, was used as a local authority office before new owners converted it back to a private residence in the 1980s.  

“A period property like this needs a bit of soul, but that doesn’t mean it should be dressed as a castle or stately home,” says Walton. “It needs to suit modern lifestyles.”

The modern kitchen has granite worktops and an island unit, while the dining room has been updated with chairs from Michael Murphy and a table that Walton bought online and painted before dressing it for dinner. At the end of the entrance hall, with its ceiling rose and coving, is a bathroom with a claw bath. The drawing room has a large bay window, twin sashes and stone fireplace, and in the family room, there’s a cast iron fireplace and a west-facing bay window.

Throughout the house, Walton used mock Roman blinds to draw prospective buyers towards the windows. They won’t be disappointed with the vistas. Set high above the centre of Howth, No 4 has views over the rooftops below, right across the sea to Lambay Island and Ireland’s Eye.

It’s a house that enjoys the best of both worlds, with an elevated position that gives it privacy, yet it’s just five minutes’ walk from the village centre with its shops, cafés, restaurants and marina. According to selling agent Conor Gallagher, it’s a perfect fit for a family with teenagers, with loads of space in the house for kids to hang out with their friends, and a bus stop down the road, so no ferrying required by mum and dad. 

The owner has pulled out all the stops to make sure such buyers can picture themselves living in the property. While some vendors might consider hiring an interior designer a needless extra expense when putting their house on the market, Gallagher says it’s money well spent. 

The drawing room features a bay window and stone fireplace
The drawing room features a bay window and stone fireplace

According to Walton, the cost of staging a house for sale professionally typically costs around €2,000. In this case, she had a budget of €5,000, but that included pieces of furniture that the owner plans to bring to her new home.

A recent survey conducted by the US franchise Coldwell Banker Real Estate Corporation found that staged homes sell for more than 6pc above the asking price. The point is echoed by Gallagher, who says that staging a house has a remarkable impact on the price that can be achieved.

“It enhances the viewing experience and generates a lot more interest than non-staged properties,” he says.

“It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money and it’s worth the investment because, put simply, staged homes sell faster and for more money.”

4 St Lawrence Road

Howth, Co Dublin

Asking price: €1.45m

Agent: Gallagher Quigley: (01) 818 3000

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