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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C

'How I created my dream home from a house that hadn't been renovated since 1934'

Home renovations often take more time and money than planned.

IRELAND’S LOVE AFFAIR with home renovations is well documented.

Many people dream of remodelling or extending their home and those who do often find that it’s a bigger commitment – both in terms of time and money – than they initially anticipated.

Irish homeowners have spent €1.737 billion in total through the Home Renovation Incentive scheme since it was launched in 2013.

Figures released by the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) in March show that 107,386 home improvement projects have been carried out via the incentive over the last four years. On average, €16,187 was spent on each project.

The CIF said the success of the scheme is likely in part due to the popularity of TV shows such as Room to Improve, where architect Dermot Bannon helps members of the public design their dream home.

DMVF Architects Ruth Maria Murphy Fiona McPhillips Ruth Maria Murphy

Fiona McPhillips started to renovate her 1930s semi-detached home in north county Dublin in 2013. It was essentially a shell at the time and needed a lot of work.

She told “We bought the house in July 2013 and moved in in December 2014. It took a fairly long period to complete.

“It literally hadn’t been touched, apart from three sockets that were put in, since 1934. People don’t believe me when I tell them that but it’s true. In one sense that was great because it had all the original features, but it also needed absolutely everything done to it.”

‘It always takes longer than you think’ 

McPhillips, an author and journalist, said the planning stage took much longer than anticipated.

“We thought, as everyone who comes to a project like this, that it wouldn’t take as long as it did. You kind of hope for the best without really having investigated the worst.

“I remember saying to the architect that we hope to be in by April and him spelling it out that July would be the earliest, we were thinking ‘How can we last?’ We ended up doing everything we could to get in by Christmas.”

DMVF Architects DMVF Architects One of the bathrooms DMVF Architects

DMVF Architects DMVF Architects The kitchen DMVF Architects

DMVF Architects DMVF Architects Part of the living area DMVF Architects

McPhillips said having an architect involved in the process was “invaluable”, given the scale of the job.

She said some people think an architect just creates a design and isn’t very involved beyond drawing up the plans. In her experience, the architect spent months on the design, planning process and tendering.

“People just don’t realise how much they do and what an architect brings to it,” she said.

DMVF Architects DMVF Architects One of the bathrooms DMVF Architects

DMVF Architects DMVF Architects The living room DMVF Architects

DMVF Architects DMVF Architects The view from the back of the house DMVF Architects

For smaller projects, she said an architect may not be needed but could still prove useful.

“At least get a consultation with someone, just so they can come in and give you some ideas.”

McPhillips said the Simon Open Door initiative is great in this regard – where a person can get an hour-long consultation with a certified RIAI architect in exchange for a €90 donation to the Simon Communities.

Don’t buy everything new

Another piece of advice McPhillips has for people is to buy as many second-hand items as possible.

Don’t feel like you have to buy everything new, keep an eye on second-hand websites. You’d be surprised at how many people buy and resell things within a few years – beds, for example.

“You can find anything with the most precise search term if you’re prepared to wait for it. You can save a huge amount of money this way.”

McPhillips said you should start planning as early as possible by visiting other houses and creating mood boards from sites like Pinterest and Instagram.

“What the architect or designer or builder can see from these photos might be things you can’t see yourself, themes will jump out,” she said.

Move out

If it’s a big job, McPhillips also advises that people move out of their home.

“It’s so difficult to live on a building site. It wasn’t really a decision for us, we discussed living in the house or camping in garden but that wasn’t realistic.

I know people who have done it – moved everything into one room, the cooker, sink and toilet all in a small space.

“It might be doable for a single person, but not really for a family. We have three children and two cats and dogs. Whatever about the children, there’s no way we could control the dog.”

McPhillips said the project went somewhat over-budget due to circumstances beyond their control.

“We didn’t go over-budget on the build itself, but the planning phase took more time than we thought and we were paying rent for an extra six months.”

She said, at the start of the project, a quantity surveyor helped them devise a plan and change certain things to help them cut costs – they switched from external to internal insulation, for example.

So, would McPhillips renovate again? “Hopefully never,” is her response but she adds: “If I had an elusive lottery win I would love to do it all again.”

Fiona McPhillips has co-written a book about her experience, Make The Home You Love, alongside architects Colm Doyle, Lisa McVeigh and John Flood. You can read more about it here (5% of royalties will go to Focus Ireland). 

All designs featured are from DMVF Architects.

Read: Irish homeowners have spent €1.7 billion via renovation scheme

Read: PHOTOS: Take a look around Dermot Bannon’s home

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