An insider job - peak inside this architect's renovated Georgian home
In the TV room of Colm Doyle and Peter O'Reilly's enormous terraced home in Dublin 2, there hangs an arresting print by artist Brian Maguire.
The artist is a friend of Colm's family, and for that reason alone it means something special, but Colm - who bought the print as a birthday present for Peter - chose this print for a particular reason. "It's a painting of the Anglo [Irish Bank] headquarters. It's now part of the Central Bank, but it was a failed bank, a derelict bank, and this house was a failed bank, a derelict bank, too, that's the reason I bought the picture for Peter," Colm notes with a laugh. The couple loved the syncronicity, the link between the painting and their home - which was, indeed, a finance house in the 1960s; although back when it was built in 1815, it was actually two adjoining houses, comprising 8,000 sq feet in all.
Not many people would take on a property that not only spans such a massive space, but which was, to say the least, in rag order, but the couple were looking for a project. And, of course, Colm, an architect with the award-winning firm DMVF, has the expertise to undertake such a venture.
Colm from Bray, Co Wicklow, has been steeped in buildings, both old and new, since his childhood. "My parents are both in the property business. They're chartered surveyors, and I was dragged around to building sites all my life," Colm says with a laugh, adding: "And I grew up in a very interesting house, which my parents built, and which was designed by an architect, Lindsay Johnston, a friend of theirs."
Colm went off to Scotland to study architecture in Dundee in 1998, and, after graduating in 2004, he spent a year in London. "I had the most wonderful year there," the handsome 30-something enthuses. "I worked on big old London estates, owned by massive landowners. I was doing quite small-scale work, mainly conservation work on apartments, and houses."
Colm loved it so much he planned to stay in London, but changed his mind when he was offered an apartment development in Bray. He then teamed up with architects Lisa McVeigh and John Flood, and together they formed a practice, DMVF, and they had an exciting few years. Then in 2008, things fell off a cliff, as he describes it. "It was overnight. I remember phone call after phone call after phone call; the big jobs were gone. It was vicious. We were lucky in that we were doing a lot of domestic work, but we had to scale back the company to feed ourselves," Colm recalls. "Business was on the floor till 2014 - now, each year is getting better, and we're back with a 12-strong team of architects, doing a mix of commercial, residential, domestic and conservation projects; we hold conservation accreditation."
Colm was lucky too, in that, just before the crash, he had sold an apartment he had bought. "I got out in time; that saved me to a certain extent," he notes.
But houses are part of his DNA, and when he and Peter started dating just over seven years ago, almost immediately they started looking at properties together. "This is only the second property I'd ever viewed in my entire life, it was quite terrifying," Peter notes with a laugh, while Colm says, "It was pretty skanky, with concrete panels over the front. It was uninhabited, unloved, unwanted."
Fortunately, although Peter was quite the novice, he had a good idea of what he was getting into. "I wouldn't have taken this on if I wasn't dating an architect," he notes, adding, "It was pretty bad, but pretty bad was good; pretty bad was high on our list of priorities," he says, meaning they wanted something they could put their own stamp on, and, as they hadn't a huge budget, they could only afford something in terrible condition. "The idea of breathing new life into an old building really appealed to me, and regenerating such an important area," Peter says, while Colm adds that beyond architecture, they are both interested in all design, as well as furniture, ceramics, and art.
When they first viewed the property, they couldn't afford the asking price and continued to look at other properties, but everything was beyond their price range. So they went back to the Dublin 2 property owners and made a "low ball offer". "I discovered later that my mother prayed we wouldn't get it," Peter notes with a laugh, but, to their surprise, their offer was accepted. "We went sale-agreed in 2013. I remember we were walking back from Bloom [Garden Festival] and the sign was up, we had a few sherries on board and the sun was shining, and it was exciting. Everything looks better with a few glasses of wine," Colm says with a laugh.
It was sale-agreed for 10 months before they actually got the house, but that was not a bad thing, as it gave them time to look at the building and research what needed to be done.
The property comprises two Georgian houses combined, five storeys in total. A bank had combined them into one at ground-floor level in the 1960s and built a big extension, also at ground-floor level.It immediately struck the couple that they could make a roof garden over the extension. The other thing that struck them was that they could make the lower floors work for them financially, and they could make their pad above, so they rent out the ground floor and basement to a restaurant. They did the shell and core and fire regulations for the restaurant and left them to do the decor.
They then set about the massive restoration involved in the floors above. Certain things were fine, such as the roof. "The bank had a dry-rot problem back in the late 1980s and they replaced the roof then, so that was largely good," says Colm.
The floors weren't good. "We had wet rot, dry rot, practically all of them had to be replaced," Colm notes. They had to remove a lift shaft; they had to take out fire escapes. It wasn't a protected structure, but they treated it as if it was. "We kept the important bits and we did a very delicate job on it," Colm says. "We did a huge facade restoration, took off the concrete panels and revealed the red brick to the street. We restored eight sliding sash windows on the facade. Because we're not a protected structure, we could have replaced all of them, but we chose to restore them, we felt it was more suitable. We also kept the cornicing." He adds, "Where something was new, we tried to mark it as new, so if any new opening needed a window, we put in a steel window."
There's a stunning new double-height steel window to the back of the house which adds huge drama to the hall; meanwhile, to the front, there are wonderful restored sash windows overlooking the street. Colm had the clever idea of dividing the shutters on the windows into two parts; the lower parts can be kept closed for privacy reasons, while the upper parts are kept open to allow the light in. Other stunning features include two Georgian spiral staircases to the attic.
The build took eight months. The two men are full of praise for the people who worked with them, including the builders, Minnis Developments, and foreman, Paul Reilly, who did a superb job.
Colm says they came in under budget because they had that time between sale-agreed and getting the house, to research the different elements of the project. "People always go over budget on the finishes, but because we had that time, we shopped hard," he says.
"We had to compromise on some things, but you don't miss those compromises - it'll still be the same house, even if you spend 5pc less on sanitary ware," he notes.
Being an architect, Colm knew how to use less expensive products but make something special of them. For example, they used very basic, big square tiles on the kitchen floor, but Colm had the tiler cut them up to create a herringbone pattern, which adds interest. "Project Tiling were most obliging in cutting them up for us," says Colm. Another money-saving exercise involved using the offcuts from the kitchen countertop in the bathrooms.
When it came to decorating the rooms, they found they had enormous expanses of wall on which to hang pictures and they cleverly framed interesting wallpapers and fabrics for some of the walls.
They are endless decisions in restoring a house, particularly one that size, and tempers can get frayed, but all went relatively smoothly. "We enjoyed the process," says Colm, although Pete admits that while he enjoyed researching ideas for the house, the endless decisions became wearing at times. "After a while, I was shell shocked. Decision fatigue nearly killed me," he says.
The restored house now comprises four receptions with interconnecting double doors between each two; these rooms are all very high-ceilinged and spacious and formal; they love to use them for entertaining. "When we bought the house first, we had three derelict dinner parties. One for my friends, one for Peter's and the third was for our families. The following day, my parents bought us the 12-feet-long Irish hunting table," Colm notes affectionately, adding: "Actually, the four reception rooms are great and very unusual, and people have hired them for fashion and book launches and wine tastings, and it's fun to see the house perform," says Colm.
As well as the reception rooms, they've a cosy TV room where they spend week nights, particularly in winter. There's also a gorgeous kitchen, an office, and three bedrooms, all en suite.
The colour palette is muted; lots of greys, very grown-up, as Colm says, but the couple add a touch of whimsy with bits of kitsch, like the dogs that double as lampshades. They are very pleased with the house, and love the fact that they are living right in the city centre. The piece de resistence is the roof garden, all 1,000 square feet of it, and they both love it, singing the praises of Mark Grehan of The Garden, who designed the planting: "I have to pinch myself that we have such a lovely home; we feel lucky and happy," says Peter. The house is not totally finished; at attic level, there's a library and an unfitted-out gym, but it's hardly essential. Given all the stairs, they each get a workout just going from one level to another.
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin