Thursday 23 November 2017

Peek Inside: Artist's stately Old Bank home - where wine is kept in bank's vault - for €875,000

Old Bank House, Regent Street, Muine Beag, Co Carlow €875,000

Artist Laurence O'Toole at work in his studio at Old Bank House, Muine Beag Photo: Tony Gavin
Artist Laurence O'Toole at work in his studio at Old Bank House, Muine Beag Photo: Tony Gavin

Fran Power

If you are planning to buy a period property that has seen better days, then you need to be either very wealthy or capable of doing the lion's share of the restoration work yourself.

Luckily, artist Laurence O'Toole, owner of the Old Bank, is, he says, capable.

The former Bank of Ireland building with banking hall to the right Photo: Tony Gavin
The former Bank of Ireland building with banking hall to the right Photo: Tony Gavin

He bought the rundown seven-bed Georgian house in 2003. He replaced part of the roof, and all the valleys. He dipped the beautiful old shutters and doors and sanded the acres of wooden floors. He rewired throughout. He replaced the sash windows, keeping the old glass. He installed central heating. He rebuilt a former coach house that had been destroyed by fire. And he made all the kitchen cabinets and pantry shelving.

"It was fabulous," he says now of the three-year restoration job. "It was a journey. There were issues here with time, that's all. Time had got in."

From the outside the main house looks a little austere, a sturdy two-storey over basement property faced in grey render. Behind the double front door, however, it's a different story - a sunny, spacious house decked out with wit, period flourishes and a fine collection of contemporary art, some of it by the artist-in-residence, some by painters whose work he admires.

It's grand but not stuffy - two formal reception rooms lead off the square hall. To the right, the drawing room and, to the left, the double aspect dining room that can comfortably seat 12. Behind the hallway, proportions are more domestic - there is a small kitchen and pantry, as well as a loo and cosy family room. Back stairs lead down to the original kitchen, which still boasts its large cast-iron range, while umpteen store rooms and cold rooms branch off it.

The restored dining room Photo: Tony Gavin
The restored dining room Photo: Tony Gavin

The first floor has three vast double bedrooms, all with original fireplaces as well as a roomy landing which doubles as a gallery for Laurence's art. The bathroom has a shower and bath as well as a floor-to-ceiling linen cupboard.

The second floor has four more bedrooms. Two smaller ones to the rear probably once served as staff quarters. One is now a gym and the second would make a good additional bathroom. To the front are two more large bedrooms with elegant fireplaces and painted floorboards.

To the rear of the house, across a gravelled and high-walled courtyard, is the restored coach house. It has a high-ceilinged living/dining space on the ground floor, while upstairs are three bedrooms, two doubles and one single, as well as the family bathroom. It would make an ideal rental property, staff lodgings or Airbnb stay.

The garden that Laurence unearthed from beneath a tangle of bramble is surrounded by a high wall and very private. It is laid out on two levels, both now in lawns with a large greenhouse against the south-facing rear wall, which could, with a little investment or DIY, once again be the source of many a fruit or flower.

Upstairs hallway Photo: Tony Gavin
Upstairs hallway Photo: Tony Gavin

The house was originally built as a hotel in 1814 by Thomas Singleton for £22 10s, a vast sum. He was hoping to capitalise on the trade coming into the town via the canals. By 1846, however, the railway had arrived and the hotel went out of business. The Bank of Ireland took over the property and it became a regional outpost.

In those days, says Laurence, "the bank manager conducted business at home. It was mostly gentry who had bank accounts, and you talked about your investments and you had a cigar and you had a brandy with the bank manager."

By 1904, however, business was so brisk that a banking hall was built on to the side of the house. It now functions as Laurence's studio. "This," he says, gesturing at the bright, airy space, "is what sold the house to me."

Many of the studio's original features are still intact, including the bank's vault. The heavy steel door still bears its maker's seal and is inscribed with the words 'Fire-resisting, Thief-resisting'. These days, though, its contents are no longer the jewels and gold bullion of the burghers of Muine Beag but Laurence's well-stocked wine cellar.

Drawing room Photo: Tony Gavin
Drawing room Photo: Tony Gavin

Most of Laurence's work sells privately or through Gormley's Fine Art gallery in Dublin and Belfast. In the past, he has also painted murals for movies such as Michael Collins and Saving Private Ryan, but these days he's often to be found travelling or as artist in residence abroad.

Laurence paid €340,000 for the Old Bank House in 2003, 14 years later, and post restoration, it is now on the market at €875,000, which represents good value for a period property in turnkey condition with rental potential.

He is on the hunt for something very different. "I'd like to buy an old shop in Dublin, something with two-bedrooms upstairs, maybe mid-terrace," he says. "Something nobody wants, with a roller shutter on it and loads of light and then I'll just paint away."

Agent REA Southern (059) 913 1218

Hall Photo: Tony Gavin
Hall Photo: Tony Gavin
Kitchen with view to pantry Photo: Tony Gavin
Kitchen with view to pantry Photo: Tony Gavin

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