How do I turn a rural wreck into a country retreat?
Q I have an old cottage on my dad's land (pictured, above left) and I am wondering if it is worth restoring. Would it be very costly? I would like to use it for a holiday home as I live away from my homestead.
A: There are a number of issues that need to be considered in restoring an existing traditional building. I am going to assume that the dwelling has not been occupied for some time. It can surprise people to learn that an abandoned dwelling such as this needs to apply for planning to re-establish its original residential use; property tax, septic tank registration, and the introduction of eircode all ensure that all development is now controlled and co-ordinated. In many parts of the country these types of buildings are disappearing as they become a vehicle for obtaining a planning application for a new build, in doing so removing or adapting the original house beyond recognition. Most planning authorities in rural regeneration areas are supportive of reusing existing traditional dwellings even for holiday homes, which can be trickier, so long as their character and setting is maintained. As the child of the landowner with an abandoned house in a scenic area, you have an opportunity that others do not possess. The photograph you provided shows a long, gable-ended, corrugated roof farmstead in a beautiful rural environment.
It is of course possible to restore this cottage to the rural retreat you desire. The cost of servicing any dwelling in a remote location is a consideration as if that amount exceeds what you envisaged, it will reduce your spend on the house restoration. This may change your aim to ensure all the planning/legal aspects are addressed so that money is not wasted on servicing a building that cannot be sold on or used as collateral for further loans to improve it.
The following are the basic services that you need to think about in terms of cost: 1. Proximity to the nearest electricity supply; whether electricity poles have to be installed across the beautiful view or can you put them underground at extra cost. 2. Type of road access - allowing for installing a new sewage treatment system with easy access for maintenance and fuel deliveries. 3. Is there an adequate phone signal if landline communication is costly? 4. Is there a body of water, lake or stream nearby? The house seems to be located to the base of a hill, so any new sewage treatment system may need to be pumped to a higher, drier percolation area or ground drainage improved. Your father as landowner may know of a local water source or research might show whether a supply can be obtained from proximity to a rural water scheme. If not, you may need to allow costs to drill a well. You will also need to obtain enough land with the house in a legal transfer to ensure you can get the required distances between the well and the sewage percolation area which can take a considerable amount of area in itself.
Traditional buildings have solid masonry wall construction which needs to be repaired and thermally improved in an appropriate way; appropriate materials for walls are those which will allow breathability and movement. The external walls should be repaired with a lime mortar only and consideration given to removing any later concrete repairs, I would suggest that you discuss your application with an RIAI conservation accredited architect in tandem with ensuring that a registered heritage contractor with experience in the use of lime is used at building repair stage. The Atlas of Irish Rural Landscape is available as a reference book in most libraries and gives the development history of this type of house and its different forms throughout the country. A recent publication by Christiaan Corlett on Wicklow's Traditional Farmhouses examines in minute detail internal and external origins of the building and is available through the Irish Georgian Society bookshop. A publication called Re-using Farm Buildings co-authored by myself and Nicki Matthews is available for purchase in the RIAI Bookshop or online through Kildare County Council heritage department and addresses some of the more technical aspects of repair.
For a registered architect, such as Laura Bowen, check riai.ie. Laura is a conservation architect based in Kilcullen, Kildare; firstname.lastname@example.org