Many of us are drawn to historic homes by the craftsmanship and materials evident in their beautiful features, yet struggle to reconcile these with the demands of modern life. We love the look of the old but want the functionality and convenience of the new.
Remodelling and reimagining an old building as a modern home, without diminishing its essential character, is a challenge that can be made even more daunting when its qualities are hidden by its dilapidated condition or previous, poor-quality alterations. It's a complex process that requires the advice of a professional architect from the outset.
Luckily for Declan Rainsford (who for many years has been based in New York where he owns bars and restaurants), his brother Brian is an architect - a partner in the firm Horan Rainsford. The pair share a love of old buildings.
"I've always invested in property, and Dublin remains a special place for me," says Declan. "So, when Brian spotted 45 Pearse Street I was interested immediately. As kids we used to drive past often as my uncle had a shop nearby, so it's a part of town I know well."
"The building is a protected structure dating from the 1840s and was in poor condition when Declan bought it in 2014," explains Brian. "There was an estate agent's office on the ground floor and two sub-standard two-bedroom flats on the first and second floors. Nothing had been done to it since the 1970s. As often happens, once we started stripping the building back, we realised that there was more to be done to it than we had anticipated initially, in that there was significant structural displacement. On the plus side, we also discovered hitherto hidden architectural features."
Now No 45 is a credit to Pearse Street, with the smart Honey Truffle cafe - run by Eimer Rainsford, Declan and Brian's sister - on the ground floor, and two sophisticated one-bedroom rental apartments upstairs.
According to the Government's Architectural Heritage Protection Guidelines, "conservation is the process of caring for buildings and places, and managing change to them in such a way as to retain their character and special interest. Historic structures are a unique resource. Once lost, they cannot be replaced. If their special qualities are degraded, these can rarely be recaptured. Damage can be caused to the character of a historic structure as much by over-attention as by neglect."
Brian is a registered architect with plenty of experience of projects with conservation requirements. In this instance, he liaised closely with then Dublin City Council (DCC) conservation officer, Nicki Matthews [she has since moved to a different role].
"DCC has been active in encouraging people to take on projects such as these," says Brian. "It sees its role as an educational one, helping people to learn from each experience and do better on the next building. Nicki and I had a good working relationship. With an old building, you don't always know what you are going to come across so there are always going to have to be compromises."
Brian tried to retain as much of the original fabric of the building as possible, using lime mix plaster, restoring the original covings, retaining as much of the original flooring as possible, conserving the windows and shutter-boxes, restoring the original fireplaces, using a calcium silicate thermal insulation system that allows the brickwork to breathe, and installing what he describes as 'non-shouty' kitchens.
The co-ordination of all services, including the fire and acoustic separation of the apartments from one another and from the cafe on the ground floor in particular, was carefully managed to have as minimal an impact on the historic fabric of the building as possible.
"When you have an older building with lovely proportions, you have a great palette to work with. The challenge is to bring it up to a modern standard in terms of bathrooms and kitchens - water in and waste out - without damage to the coving. We took care to route everything appropriately rather than through the façade.
"Nicki would have preferred that we make it into one single home, but the compromise was that we made two very nice one-bedroom apartments."
One of the most expensive elements of the work was the removal of the inappropriate cement render to the front of the building. This involved extensive repair of the brick, and the application of traditional Irish Wiggin - or Dublin pointing - to the brickwork to provide an attractive façade.
"Nicki encouraged us to do it," says Brian, "and even though it added extra costs and was not required, Declan chose to do it. It was the right choice."
"The detailed brick work of the façade is beautiful, and I am delighted we spent the money," says Declan. "You can admire it every day."
Looking back on the project, Brian says that he learned a lot.
"Every older building is different and you learn something from each one. It gives you confidence to move on to the next. I'd call Declan an investor rather than a developer, in that he likes nice old buildings and he wants to do right by them. The total cost of the structural works, rear extension and fit-out of the apartments was around €450,000, excluding the cafe fit-out. Declan took a long-term view and was a great client."
"He means that I had an open cheque book!" says Declan. "But seriously, I didn't mind spending the money because I knew it would be well spent. You can see that just from walking around the area, and the way that Trinity spends money to look after its old buildings. We could have cut corners, kept the façade and not done as much but I reckoned that to be efficiently functional for the next 30 or 40 years it was worth doing it right.
"The buildings in the city centre have such character, it would be great if more people lived in them. For me it's all about bringing life to the area, and the fact that my sister can have her cafe there and that in the future perhaps my own children might want to do something with the space … it's a nice thing to have in the family."
The RIAI, supported by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and the Creative Ireland programme, has published Old House, New Home - an e-publication offering free guidance and advice on repairing and reusing historic buildings. See riai.ie for more details.
SPECIALIST CRAFTSPEOPLE USED ON THE PROJECT
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