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How Dublin's Little Jerusalem became the holy grail of restored period homes

Once known as Little Jerusalem, the South Circular Road offers some of the capital’s finest red-bricks. Here Alison Gill looks at three recently renovated Dublin 8 abodes in walk-in condition

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'Lovely lighting and space': 216 South Circular Rd

'Lovely lighting and space': 216 South Circular Rd

No216 went from a G BER to a B3 after major renovations

No216 went from a G BER to a B3 after major renovations

In the kitchen of No216 South Circular Road, interior designer Wesley O'Brien decided to keep things simple with a cream-coloured worktop and mid-century light over the table

In the kitchen of No216 South Circular Road, interior designer Wesley O'Brien decided to keep things simple with a cream-coloured worktop and mid-century light over the table

The master bedroom of No486

The master bedroom of No486

The kitchen of No182 is on the first floor

The kitchen of No182 is on the first floor

No486 is a three-bed terraced home

No486 is a three-bed terraced home

Bathroom of 62 South Circular Rd

Bathroom of 62 South Circular Rd

Baila Erlich, snapped in the 1980s in her D8 shop

Baila Erlich, snapped in the 1980s in her D8 shop

The exterior of No182, which spans 1,884 sq ft

The exterior of No182, which spans 1,884 sq ft

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'Lovely lighting and space': 216 South Circular Rd

The 1911 census showed that 28pc of the 1,185 households around Dublin's South Circular were of the Jewish faith, numbering 329 and lending the area the popular name of 'Little Jerusalem'.

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The South Circular and its side roads through to Portobello were home to one of the two main Jewish population centres in the city, the other being located in Terenure and Rathgar in Dublin 6 not far away. The families living around the mostly Victorian and Edwardian South Circular mostly traced their origins to two population movements: in the 1870s, following economic crisis in Germany, while another wave came in the 1890s driven by vicious pogroms in Russia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Most who came here had planned on starting a new life in the USA but stopped mid-route in Dublin.

Jewish families were well known in the area for being hard-working and entrepreneurial, and this community founded some of Ireland's most iconic businesses and brands. Among them was Maurice Elliman, who arrived in Ireland from Russia in 1894. The penniless immigrant, who started off as a grocer, became a big player in the entertainment industry.

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In the kitchen of No216 South Circular Road, interior designer Wesley O'Brien decided to keep things simple with a cream-coloured worktop and mid-century light over the table

In the kitchen of No216 South Circular Road, interior designer Wesley O'Brien decided to keep things simple with a cream-coloured worktop and mid-century light over the table

In 1911, he transformed a disused premises on Pearse Street into his first cinema. He opened Ireland's first high-end cinema, the Theatre de Luxe, on Camden Street. In 1916, he bought Hotel Metropole on O'Connell Street and turned it into the famous Metropole Cinema and Restaurant. The Elliman family also owned the Gaiety Theatre.

Then there was Abraham Briscoe, who came from Lithuania and started as a brush salesman before becoming a furniture magnate. His son Bob and grandson Ben both served as Lord Mayor of Dublin.

Retail families who traded in the area included names like Goldwater, Erlich, and Rubinstein. Reminders of the area's heritage today include the Jewish Museum at Walworth Street off the SCR and, of course, the hugely popular Bretzel Bakery on Lennox Street. Set up by a Jewish baker called Grinspon in 1870, it still sells challah bread baked with the original recipe.

But by the 1970s and '80s, as Jewish families moved out to suburbs, the area began turning into flatland until the gentrification of Dublin 8 kicked off in the late '90s.

No216 (pictured above) was such a flatland house. When the vendor bought it at the end of 2017 for €720,000, to say it was in need of work would be something of an understatement. There wasn't a part of the house that didn't need replacing, repairing or reconfiguring. It underwent a major renovation that included an extension to the rear, the restoration of period features like coving and picture rails, and the installation of new windows, which were instrumental in taking the house from a G Ber to its current B3.

Interior designer Wesley O'Brien was the man behind the slick finish that we see today. His area of expertise is staging, so he knows a thing or two about getting inside the mind of interested buyers. When it came to No216, O'Brien was delighted the architect had made the job easy for him.

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Bathroom of 62 South Circular Rd

Bathroom of 62 South Circular Rd

"When designing the house, the architect allowed light to flow right through from the hallway to the back," he says. "There are no doors at the end of the hall or kitchen area, so there's lovely lighting and space."

The first things he looked at were the fixtures and fittings. "When people are getting their homes renovated, the electrician will put in standard cord sets that are about a foot long and everyone tends to think they're stuck with this length. They're not. I took the lights down quite low in the kitchen and living areas, which is nice with a high ceiling. Ikea has a great lighting section where you can buy a longer cord set."

In the kitchen, O'Brien decided to keep it simple. "To contrast with the dark units, I put in a creamy colour mid-century light coming down over the table. Then I got a great set of canvas paintings in Ikea that have a template that tells you exactly where to hang them, so they went up easily and picked up the colour of the units."

O'Brien is a big fan of Ikea and believes you don't have to spend a fortune to get results. "The beautiful oak table in the kitchen is from Ikea, as is the mustard couch, which surprised many. A lot of people think of Ikea as cheap and cheerful, but if you go towards the more expensive items, you can get some really great pieces."

O'Brien is a firm believer of people bringing their own personalities into their homes, but finds many end up going too far. "I find Pinterest is difficult because people are exposed to so much stuff that they think they can have an à la carte approach," he says. "It's important to keep things as simple as you can. Things like panelling have a place in a house, but not everywhere. Keep your walls plain and hang some art. I know I'm saying Ikea again, but its prints are great. Everyone thinks they're going to be in every house around the country, but they really aren't."

He is forever telling clients that less is more and if they feel they really want to experiment with mad wallpaper, he tells them to do it in the downstairs loo. The days of colour cards and feature walls are also gone, according to O'Brien, who says we should all try to stick to one colour throughout the house.

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No486 is a three-bed terraced home

No486 is a three-bed terraced home

"When I started, everyone wanted a different colour wall in every room and houses ended up looking like a Lego collection," he laughs. "Little Green Paint is my favourite paint company and they are the only company I know that do a French grey in a series of different colours from pale to mid to dark, so you can create a lovely atmosphere throughout the house by just changing the tones slightly, not the colour."

When staging a house for the market, he would always encourage clients to go the extra mile. "Make sure you do things like painting the walls, buying flowers and plants, and putting in fresh duvets and rugs," advises O'Brien. "Keep it minimal and tidy and take the clutter out." While this stretch running from Kilmainham through Rialto and Dolphin's Barn to Portobello offers a lot of properties in need of heavy work, two more homes currently for sale on the SCR were recently restored to walk-in condition. It's on the market through Felicity Fox on (01) 633 4431, with a guide price of €825,000.

No182 is a double-fronted red-brick with a floor area of 1,884 sq ft. The layout is unusual, with a living room, two bedrooms and a bathroom on the ground floor. Upstairs, there is a large living area that includes the kitchen, three more bedrooms (master ensuite), a family bathroom and a utility room. It's on the market through McNally Handy (01) 661 2003, with a guide price of €650,000.

Also guiding at €650,000 is No486, a three-bed terraced house that has been renovated and extended in recent years. It will be easy to mix the old and the new in this property as it has retained much of its charm, with restored floorboards and original fireplaces.

The insulation has been upgraded and the house has solar panels. It's on the market through REA Forkin (01) 286 5370.

See wesleyobriendesign.ie

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The exterior of No182, which spans 1,884 sq ft

The exterior of No182, which spans 1,884 sq ft

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