When Amy O’Sullivan and Conor Dunne step into their newly renovated dream home, it’s into a design that balances old with new, and merges Amy’s taste for all that’s sleek and contemporary with Conor’s love for comfort.
The renovated century-old residence, in Tullamore, Co Offaly, is Conor’s late grandmother’s home, and where his father grew up.
A year before, it sat empty. “One weekend I said, I’d like to go see this house you keep talking about,” says Conor’s fiancée Amy.
She immediately understood its appeal. “I just loved it,” says the Cork native at the beginning of episode one of this season’s Room To Improve on RTÉ One.
“For me, coming up to Offaly, it’s lovely that it’s a family home.”
The property has been gifted to them by Conor’s parents.
“We were looking back at text messages from a few years ago and I’d obviously broached the idea with Amy about moving up to Offaly and she said, ‘The only way you’d get me up there is if Dermot Bannon designs our house’ — so she has the proof, it’s there in writing,” he jokes.
As they get ready to meet Ireland’s most high-profile architect, Conor’s fiancée Amy adds: “I was told at the time that I’d serious notions, but look where we are.”
Dermot sees the potential of the homestead the moment he approaches the gate and is taken by one of the first spaces they show him: “This was the kitchen — it was everything really — it was the kitchen, the sitting room, it was where everything happened,” says Conor.
Dermot agrees it is “a perfect open-plan room”.
“There’s an amazing soul to this place,” adds the architect.
The couple have a budget of €320,000 all in — “new-build territory”, as Dermot says.
He shows them a plan that aims “to strike a balance between old and new” and create a “shed house” that sits behind the original farmhouse.
Contractor Ronan Scally and his crew arrive on site in early June 2021 and the project is completed 12 months later.
At the time of construction, the couple navigate restrictions caused by Covid lockdowns and in addition, military police officer Conor is called away to serve in Kosovo for six months.
During this period, Amy takes on the entire project management of the build, while Dermot also tries to find a compromise between the couple’s opposite tastes in interiors.
When it comes to the design, he retains the original structural layout of the old farmhouse.
The two existing ground-floor rooms become a bedroom and a living room, with the porch repurposed as a new home office.
To the rear of the house, a new corridor opens into a bathroom at one end, with a new entrance at the other.
This corridor continues externally in the form of a shaded pergola with deep fins that frame views to the yard.
At one end of the extension is an open-plan kitchen, living and dining space, south-facing with a vaulted ceiling opening out onto the courtyard.
At the other end, there is the utility and guest bedroom, while the first floor of the old farmhouse retains two existing bedrooms and a bathroom is on the new first-floor return.
Both Amy and Conor are delighted with the result: The farmhouse has doubled in size with its new extension framed by a free-standing pergola — a 1920s farmhouse reborn with all its old charm intact. “It’s still the same house that it ever was,” says Conor.
The estimated budget is €319,233 with “no wriggle room whatsoever”, says Dermot.
The contract value is €340,000.
The couple receives a €20,000 SEAI energy upgrade grant, which brings the spend down to €320,000.
Extras bring the total spend at the end of the project to €326,000.
Quantity surveyor Claire Irwin says the final tally is “quite remarkable for what we’ve got”.
In order to fulfil the requirements of the grant the project had to achieve a B2 energy rating.
But it “went over and beyond that: this house is now an A2 energy rating which is quite fantastic”, adds Claire.
- Room To Improve airs on Sundays at 9.30pm on RTÉ One
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