Monday 27 May 2019

'They don't think about it' - The tips to remember when renovating your home

Renovating was such a revelation, Fiona McPhillips wrote a guide

The living area in the extension. Photos: Ruth Maria Murphy
The living area in the extension. Photos: Ruth Maria Murphy
Make the Home You Love by Fiona McPhillips
A Victorian-style bathroom. Photo: Ruth Maria Murphy
Fiona used mid-20th century styles to transition from the older to the new parts of the house
Fiona McPhillips. Photo: Ruth Maria Murphy
The period facade. Photo: Ruth Maria Murphy
The back garden. Photo: Ruth Maria Murphy
The Victorian-inspired hallway. Photo: Ruth Maria Murphy
The kitchen
The rear extension. Photo: Ruth Maria Murphy
The open-plan living/dining/kitchen area. Photo: Ruth Maria Murphy

Róisín Carabine

When first-time renovators Fiona McPhillips and her husband John decided to take on a down-at-heel, double-fronted period semi at Clontarf in North Dublin, they weren't prepared for what they had signed up for.

Like how much renovation materials cost (loads) or how long things take (forever) or just how stressful it can all be (endlessly). "It turned out we understood absolutely nothing about renovating until we starting living it," admits Fiona.

Their year-and-a-half long renovation journey was a protracted and exhausting one that involved months of gutting, replumbing, rewiring, repairing, sanding, painting and reupholstering, as well as mountains of paperwork and endless hours to-ing and fro-ing trying to obtain planning permission.

Renovating a house can be such a nightmare that 12 per cent of couples consider divorce according to Adi Tatarko, CEO of home design and decorating site Houzz. Thankfully, not only did Fiona and John survive the experience, they have lived (together) to tell the tale. Journalist and writer Fiona has co-written a book on the subject of home renovation along with her architects, Colm Doyle, Lisa McVeigh and John Flood of DMVF.

The open-plan living/dining/kitchen area. Photo: Ruth Maria Murphy
The open-plan living/dining/kitchen area. Photo: Ruth Maria Murphy

Make the Home You Love: The Complete Guide to Home Design, Renovation and Extensions in Ireland, (O'Brien Press, €24.99) covers the entire process, step-by-step and in logical order, from design to tendering, planning, construction and decorating. It is set for release on March 26.

Purposely published in paperback, it is not your usual hardback coffee table tome. Fiona is hoping that would-be renovators "will actually carry the book about with them, make notes, turn down corners and pull it out and refer to it at different stages of their project."

And with some 9,478 Irish homeowners having spent €402m between them on improving and renovating their homes last year under the Government's Home Renovation Incentive (HRI) scheme, according to figures from the Revenue Commissioners - and that number is expected to rise dramatically this year - she has a waiting audience.

Essentially a go-to guide filled with practical tips, tricks and techniques as well as case studies of real renovation projects, the book has a lot of personal insight and even a chapter on Fiona's own story."There weren't any Irish books to guide us through the process. When we started we didn't know what to expect. We didn't have a clue about the different stages of renovating or the costs involved, or how time consuming yet important tendering is or even what happens during construction," says Fiona, who has previously shared her journey in an article in the Huffington Post aptly titled 'How to Survive a Home Renovation'.

Fiona and John first began thinking of taking on a renovation project back in 2005 and spent eight years desperately saving and searching for a suitable candidate. In 2013 they found and bought their 1930s four-bed semi in Clontarf, around the corner from where they had been renting.

"No one ever believes me when I tell them that it hadn't been touched since it was built in 1934, apart from the addition of two wall sockets in the living room and one in the tiny scullery," she says.

Fiona McPhillips. Photo: Ruth Maria Murphy
Fiona McPhillips. Photo: Ruth Maria Murphy

"It was dark and dingy and in such a derelict state, but on the plus side it had all its original features - bath, fireplaces, doors and architraves - which were in pretty good nick (and which the couple have restored), a garage, large rear garden and the price was right. In addition it had never been built on so there were no dodgy extensions to deal with." With help from architect John Flood of DMVF, the couple set about transforming it into a modern, habitable home for their children, James, Anna and Henry, and their dog, two cats and goldfish.

"John took one look at the place and immediately knew what to do," Fiona recalls. "Getting an architect in to oversee a renovation project is important; finding the right one is crucial. Many people imagine that an architect just draws up plans and their work is done. It's when you start having problems that you really need a professional on your side." The brief for this project was simple: to create one big, open-plan kitchen/living/dining area to the rear and a master bedroom upstairs, while holding on to as much of the original character of the house as possible.

"I also wanted lots of storage and it had to be easy to maintain and wipe clean," she says.

A large one-and-a-half storey glazed extension was added to the rear, the chimney breast in the scullery knocked down and the staircase moved to open up the space and let in light. The garage was converted into a home office and the former back living room divided in two to accommodate a cloakroom on one side and a large storage room on the other.

"Surprisingly a lot of people neglect the practicalities, instead focusing more on the overall look. You may want big rooms and open spaces but you need storage for mops and brooms and buckets and all the other household junk," Fiona explains. Describing their previous renting experience as "crappy but important", she says it made her think about things like insulation, heating and energy efficiency.

When it came to the interior design, Fiona's approach was to immerse herself in Pinterest, Instagram, online forums and blogs in search of inspiration. "The look really evolved during the delay in planning," she says. "I always knew I wanted a Victorian style hallway with black and white tiling and a stained glass panelled door long before we bought this house. I thought we'd stick rigidly to a 1930s look for the rest, but that hasn't happened."

The period facade. Photo: Ruth Maria Murphy
The period facade. Photo: Ruth Maria Murphy

Instead, she's ended up using mid-20th century furniture to bridge the gap between the old and new, juxtaposing with up-cycled second-hand finds and DIY Ikea hacks. The end result is a look that's carefully considered, brilliantly curated and gorgeously tasteful. And now that it's all done, would she do it again?

"I did a small renovation for my brother last summer which I managed entirely myself, but I wouldn't be rushing back," she laughs.

It may be easier the second time around when you know how, but memories take a long time to fade. Don't expect this writer's block to come up for sale any time soon.

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