Wednesday 19 December 2018

New twists on Corporation St

Affordability and adaptability is the main appeal of ex-council houses

The kitchen in the new single storey extension in the end terrace
The kitchen in the new single storey extension in the end terrace
The redesigned kitchen/dining/living space in the corner home
The bathroom at the corner house
In the end terrace the kitchen/dining room opens out to the garden via bifold doors. Photo: Matteo Tuniz
The living room at the mid terrace home in Crumlin - the ground floor was opened up to maximise light and space
The kitchen at the mid terrace home in Crumlin
Architect Michael Frain
The corner house in Drumcondra
The exterior of the end terrace in Crumlin

Róisín Carabine

Stylish, sophisticated and kitted out with on-trend furniture and furnishings, these three gloss magazine-worthy Dublin homes all have one thing in common. They are all former council houses.

Once regarded as stepping stone homes by eager first-time buyers desperate to get on the ladder, humble Irish 'corpos' are being imaginatively transformed and remodelled and are enjoying a new lease of life as the forever home of choice for a new generation of buyers charmed by their unsung potential.

Helping to change buyers' attitudes is award-winning Dublin architect Michael Frain of Blackrock-based practice Bright Design Architecture, highly commended as RIAI Best Emerging Practice 2016.

Set up in 2012 by Frain and co-director Alan Burns, the practice is quietly making a name for itself as the go-to architects for council house transformations.

The redesigned kitchen/dining/living space in the corner home
The redesigned kitchen/dining/living space in the corner home

Frain's interest and affinity to these modest suburban homes runs deep. He lives in one with his wife and three kids. It's a 1940s terrace in Dublin 12 which he remodelled and radically renovated with a striking black, double height side extension, bagging himself an RIAI commendation for his efforts.

"Like many homeowners we bought just to get on the ladder," admits Frain. "It's now become our family home."

Suburban ex-council houses are still considerably cheaper than regular stock. In fact according to How Much Is Your House Worth? 2018 recently published by the Irish Independent (you can use it to value your own home online) the former council houses built by Dublin Corporation now offer one of the few sources of affordable homes in the capital which are loan applicable on two average salaries.

Buyers can still find good versions in need of work in the city's council estates of Crumlin, Marino, Cabra, Ballyfermot, Drumcondra and Inchicore from as little as €230k. The challenge has always been getting would-be buyers to look beyond the often eclectic council exterior colour schemes and the perceived stigma that some in society still attach to owning them.

They were envisaged as family homes back in the 1930s when the State first rolled them out under the direction of visionary Dublin City architect Londoner Herbert 'Herbie' Simms.

Built to rehouse families living in the city's slums with good sized bedrooms, fitted kitchens and indoor bathrooms Dubliners took to them with enthusiasm.

In the end terrace the kitchen/dining room opens out to the garden via bifold doors. Photo: Matteo Tuniz
In the end terrace the kitchen/dining room opens out to the garden via bifold doors. Photo: Matteo Tuniz

Their appeal was short lived however and their 50s heyday was followed by decades of decline and deprivation.

The recent surge in popularity is partly due to their affordability but also because their locations, once on the periphery of Dublin, are now considered convenient and central after decades of development since.

"What they lack in character and period detailing they make up for in adaptability and flexibility," says Frain of these simple, vaguely modernist, dash-fronted homes with a distinctive unifying platband that runs right across their middle.

"Many have large rear gardens or space to the side providing an opportunity to extend, and so are perfect for growing families. It's also a style of house that appeals to professionals."

Built to clearly defined regulations these sturdy, cast concrete homes, are very solidly built and while "they may look fairly standard on the outside, inside they provide a blank canvas for owners who want to create a highly individual home," says Frain.

The good news is that transforming them is fairly straightforward.

Architect Michael Frain
Architect Michael Frain

Frain's three ex-corpo makeovers are typical examples of homes that can be found all over the city's suburban estates - mid terrace, end of terrace and the corner house.

In Crumlin, Dublin 12, he radically reworked a two-bed mid terrace into a contemporary three-bed by adding a 323 sq ft two storey rear extension, that maximises space and light.

Frain removed the entire back wall and opened up the ground floor with sliding glass doors that connect the kitchen to the garden. Upstairs a strategically positioned lightwell cut out of the landing ceiling floods the central rooms with light from above.

"We worked with as much of the original interior as possible," says Frain of the design which makes the most of existing nooks and crannies with built-in storage and furniture.

Frain estimates that a similar sized extension and refurb would cost upwards of €120k. "With very competitive tendering single storey extensions can be achieved from €60k upwards," says Frain.

By contrast, the transformation of a three-bed end terrace in the same area with a sizeable 603 sq ft extension (almost doubling its size), keeps its former council house layout of separate rooms.

"We reworked this property with a double height extension to the side," say Frain. "By relocating the stairs we were able to make the existing rooms bigger, creating three double bedrooms upstairs and adding storage and a hotpress downstairs."

A part single storey extension to the rear has created a large kitchen/dining room which opens out to an enclosed south facing garden via glazed aluclad bifold doors.

On the north side in Drumcondra, Dublin 9 is Frain's most challenging but rewarding revamp - a corner home.

"Its redesign, from three-bed to four-bed with large kitchen cum dining and living space, required a more sensitive approach and we had to liaise closely with the planning office," says Frain of the 495 sq ft side and rear extension which thoughtfully replicates its original build in scale and modesty.

Inside it's a sleek and streamlined, light and white contemporary space. The only nod to its former past is a reconditioned fireplace.

While the appeal of these ex council houses lies largely in the relative ease with which you can make them your own, they can come with caveats attached.

Owners thinking of selling on are advised to check any covenants that may be in place in terms of who you can sell your home to.

Likewise would-be buyers are advised to check the freehold of any prospective property. While former tenants had the right to buy their homes, not all bought out the freehold, leaving them leasehold. This can cause delays and add to the purchase price.

Indo Property

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