Inside the red-brick Victorian which will compete in Home of the Year
Building surveyors are notorious for pessimism about houses but the house Darran Heaney and Eoin Callaghan bought turned out to be worse in reality. But they had unusual luck when it came to replacing the door fittings
The world is enamoured of Marie Kondo and her decluttering philosophy, but spare a thought for the likes of Darran Heaney and Eoin Callaghan starting out with their first real home - something they probably couldn't have done without bits and pieces relatives had around their houses; their clutter, in other words.
Throughout their compact but charming pad, they point out many examples of their resourcefulness in turning things people didn't actually want or need, but yet hadn't thrown out, into wonderful additions to their decor and furnishings. Certainly, they wouldn't have their lovely front door if Darran's late grandfather had been a fan of decluttering. "We wanted a front door in keeping with what might have been in the original house, so we wanted solid mahogany, and that is really expensive," Darran explains, adding, "My dad said to me that in my granddad's garage, there was an eight-panel solid-mahogany door. My granddad was a joiner who died eight, nine years ago. He never threw anything away. My dad said, 'Ask your granny if you can have it'. We measured it up and it was a perfect fit."
Even given great help - and both acknowledge that as well as invaluable donations from Darran's granny and other members of their families; and Darran's dad and brother, who are both builders - what this dynamic duo have achieved is noteworthy. It's not easy for a young couple - they are both in their early 30s - to get a mortgage in the first place, and to take on a wreck of a house, which is what they did, is daunting in the extreme.
What's also unusual is that neither works in any area connected with the arts or creativity. Eoin, who hails from Kildare, is a radiation therapist in St Vincent's University Hospital. "I was very interested in science at school, and I wanted to work in the hospital setting, so it was either pharmacy or radiation therapy; it was literally a flip of a coin," he explains. The latter won out, and after studying for four years at Trinity, he got into St Vincent's. "The department I work in prepares cancer patients for breast and prostate cancer treatment. I really like the work. With early detection, the chances of survival in both are very high," he notes.
Darran, who's from Blanchardstown, studied arts at UCD and then became an event manager at the Helix, which is attached to DCU. After seven years there, he went back to college and did a master's at night in education and training, with a particular interest in e-learning. That led to a six-months' contract with DCU to start a programme with transition year students in a school in a socio-economically disadvantaged area, to encourage the students to go on to third-level education.
After that, he was taken on full-time to the Access Service in DCU. "Every third-level college has a responsibility to run an access programme," Darran notes. "I work with 20 schools in places like Darndale and Donaghmede, Ballymun and Finglas. I run college modules within the schools in subjects like multimedia and app design, and then we do talks on campus with the students and parents. I love it; it's very rewarding. I started in 2014, and I'm only now seeing students coming to DCU from the schools I've worked in. You hear the challenges they have, particularly if there's no previous history of education in the family. We have some amazing students in college who've had lots of struggles. I was talking to a girl last week who had to study in secret because people in her area wouldn't think it was cool; now she's doing a master's in law. Someone like her is an ambassador for the others. I'm seeing them at 15, 16; it's really important to give them a positive experience of college life."
The two guys met on a night out in the city centre six years ago, and three years ago, they decided to buy a house together. "We wanted a project. We wanted an old house, so we decided to save, and start looking," says Eoin. Their ideal location was Drumcondra, but they couldn't afford any houses in that area. So they started looking in Dublin 7. "We looked at so many, every Saturday morning; the only good thing was they were all near each other," says Eoin.
As it happened, they initially discounted the house they eventually bought as they didn't love it when they first saw it. "We were outbid on loads of houses, so eventually we made a list of our top five out of what was available. One reason was the mortgage approval is only for six months and then it runs out, so it was a bit of a panic," says Darran, while Eoin adds, "They don't make it easy to get mortgage approval. You've to get all this documentation, and then there are surveys and valuations. We spent a lot of time and money; it's all very draining."
The house they eventually bought was one of the five, but it turned out that there was more to be done than expected. "It was a two-bedroom, split-level, red-brick Victorian, and we loved all that. We also loved the front room with its high ceiling. But the kitchen and bathroom were practically one room, and it was very damp. However, it wasn't the worst we saw, and we got a surveryor's report and it didn't seem that bad. But it actually turned out worse than it was on paper," Eoin recalls.
In the end, they had to gut it, and were left with three walls and no roof. "A mini digger had to be brought in to dig out the floors; we had to put in new steel to reinforce the back of the building. We had to spend a lot on insulation," Darran says, adding, "Then my dad said the roof might last five years, but it would go if there was a big snow. So we got a new roof, which was lucky, because you'll remember, there was a big snow last year."
They got an architect, John Langton, on board, and combining his ideas and theirs, a plan was worked out. Darran's dad, Declan, and his brother, Niall, of NH Construction, did all the building.
They added a kitchen/dining extension, which is completely new; they turned the two bedrooms into one with an en suite, and they converted the attic into another bedroom, also complete with an en suite. They also added a loo on the kitchen level, so there's no shortage of toilets in this house. "It took the best part of a year before we could move in," Darran notes.
The result is a really well-thought-out home - a real blend of contemporary style and Victorian character - so it should come as no surprise that it was chosen to compete in this season's series of Home of the Year on RTE One. Their house features on March 19, which is the fifth of eight episodes.
Extra kudos to the two guys as this was not an easy mix to achieve, as virtually all the period details - mantlepieces and cornicing - had been stripped away. The period mantlepiece in the living room came from a similarly aged house in Portobello, which Darran's dad was working on. "The owner there wanted an A-rated house and so the fireplace had to be taken out. My dad asked him could he hang on to it, and he gave it to us," says Darran. They put the cornicing back into the front room. "Dublin Plasterwork did it. They told us it's the same as they put into Dublin Castle," says Eoin.
The piece de resistance in this house is, however, the kitchen/dining room, which is natural given that both are into food - Darran cooks, while Eoin bakes. "I have an aunt who is a fantastic baker, but if Eoin is coming with me to her house, she just lets him do the baking," Darran says with a laugh.
It's ultra modern, with poured-concrete flooring, and one wall of glass doors, which turned out to be another lucky fluke. "I happened to be in Macs Warehouse salvage in Kilmainham, and they had these glass doors. They were new, never used. The company which made them had gone into liquidation and Macs bought all the stock. And they fitted," Darran marvels.
While contemporary can often mean cold and bland, in this case, it's welcoming and full of personality, thanks to the warm brick wall - the bricks were taken from upstairs; navy kitchen units, velvet-covered kitchen chairs, and the many lovely pieces the guys have brought home from holidays in different parts of Europe. "We like to bring something home from most trips away," says Eoin.
While Eoin and Darran acknowedge they couldn't have done the house without the imput of their respective families, it transpires they did a lot of jobs themselves, too; including hanging the wallpaper in their bedroom. "It's Little Greene. It was our first time wallpapering, and at €90 a roll, it was a lot of pressure - why didn't we go for a €10-a-roll wallpaper?" Eoin says with a laugh.
Darran is particularly handy; he made the curtains in the guest room, covered a chair which Eoin's mother had given them, and even made two beside lamps out of shoe lasts. "We saw them in The Store Yard in Portlaoise and bought them without knowing what I'd do with them, so I googled 'shoe lasts' and made lamps. I'm a bit like my grandfather, I can't throw anything away," he says.
So Marie Kondo's books won't be making an appearance here any time soon.
'Home of the Year' airs on Tuesdays at 8.30pm on RTE One. Darran and Eoin's home will appear on March 19 Instagram @oldvictoriannew
Edited by Mary O’Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine