Revamped cottages close to heart of city
53 Fontenoy Street, Phibsboro, Dublin 7
Asking price: €539,000
Agent: Brian McGee, DNG Phibsboro: (01) 830 0989
24 Long Lane Portobello, Dublin 8
Asking price: €495,000
Agent: Eunan Doherty, DNG Central: (01) 679 4088
Back in the 19th century, workmen's cottages were seen as a big step up for an average Dublin family when most lived in just one room in the tenements. Dublin clans commonly featured between six and 15 children.
On the northside, 53 Fontenoy Street in Phibsboro looks at first glance much as it did when it was built in the 1870s as one of a terrace of dwellings for workers at the Broadstone Railway Station, now long since closed but at that time a busy rail terminus. Some 40 years later, the 1911 census recorded the property was home to storekeeper Adam Blair, his wife Margret and their four children, at the time a small family. There may have been only two bedrooms, but they still managed to find space for a seventh occupant - live-in servant, Anna Luby, aged just 14-and-a-half.
On the southside, in the hipster hub of Portobello, once known as Little Jerusalem due to its influx of Jewish refugees in the late 19th century, 24 Long Lane across from the Meath Hospital also began its life as one of a row of working class cottages. In 1911, 50-year-old widower Francis Donnelly lived in the house with his five children aged from 16 to 30, all gainfully employed as a saleswoman, labourer, tea mixer, housekeeper and clerk.
A century of creature comforts later, and cottages are the perfect starter homes. But in times when children rarely want to share a room, parents will tend to sell up again and move once the number of juniors moves above a pair.
In Phibsboro, recently ranked 27th in Time Out magazine's list of the 50 Coolest Neighbourhoods in the World, Muirne Lydon and Andrew Clancy decided to put 53 Fontenoy Street on the market when their third child was born 10 weeks ago. When they bought it in 2015, the house still featured its original Victorian era layout, but with her background as a painting conservator at the National Gallery, and his as an architect, they weren't put off by the prospect of taking on a fixer-upper.
"If anything, we prefer to put our own stamp on a property and it seems wasteful to do up a house that's already perfect," says Muirne. "We insulated the walls and knocked three poky little rooms that had formed the original kitchen together to make one big one, with lots of storage, an island unit and Spanish slate tiles on the floor.
"A previous owner had added a small extension at the back, and we extended that further to accommodate a study/playroom, a family bathroom and utility room. We put three double doors at the back leading into the garden yard.
"We left the front room as is. Some neighbours dropped the floor and lowered the ceiling here to create another room upstairs, but with its lovely coving and high ceiling, we couldn't bring ourselves to do that. Upstairs we pushed into the attic to create a new bathroom."
The renovation wasn't all plain sailing, however, even for a couple with professional expertise and a decent budget to spend. They bought the house for €380,000 and put €120,000 into improving it, extending it to 1,033 square feet in the process, but they didn't always see eye-to-eye on how it should look. Andrew's style is clean and minimalist, Muirne says, while she wanted a homely feel.
"We had plenty of impassioned discussions during the course of the renovation, but we're thrilled with the result," she says.
"We've done everything we possibly could to make this an amazing space to live in, but since our third child was born our needs have changed. If we could magic another bedroom into the house we'd never move.
"We're looking to stay in the same general area - Phibsboro, Grangegorman or Drumcondra. It's a place with great schools, playgrounds and amenities. The Blessington Basin is easy to get to, as is Phoenix Park, and being close to the city centre means we don't have a long trek home after work."
Across the river, Fiona O'Brien and Keith Gaynor are reluctantly leaving their beloved cottage at 24 Long Lane in trendy Portobello after becoming parents for the first time a year ago.
With its black-and-red period tiles on the pathway leading to the bright blue front door, from the outside their house also looks much as it did in the 19th century. But step inside and you're definitely in the 21st.
"The bones of the house are original, with its redbrick frontage, roof and fireplaces, but a house is a living, breathing thing and between the previous owners and ourselves, we've kept it alive and up to date," says Keith, a clinical psychologist.
When they bought the house five-and-a-half years ago, the previous owners had already modernised it by adding a kitchen extension with a skylight and glass doors to the garden. At 840 sq ft, it provided all the space the newly married couple wanted. All they had to do was paint it and put a stove in the sitting room.
"The house is much longer than people expect from the front," says Fiona, a primary school teacher. "When you come in the front door our bedroom is to the left. Then there's a study which we use as a bedroom."
That leads on to a living room, with pitched roof and skylight, timber floors and original fireplace. Next is a family bathroom and finally, the big, ultra-modern kitchen-diner and garden beyond.
Fiona and Keith plan to move to the suburbs and have already spotted a fixer-upper in Shankill. "We're very nostalgic about leaving here, however," Fiona says.
This is a vibrant community, people look out for each other and you're spoiled for cafés and bars, with new ones popping up all the time. Our favourites are the Thursday Café on Clanbrassil Street, Bibi's and the Headline Bar, and for live music gigs, Whelan's on Wexford Street is a minute's walk away. Wherever we end up, we hope we'll be as happy there as we have been in Portobello."