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Another ranch renovation

6 May

This one is a bit more straight-forward looking renovation than the first ranch re-do I posted but I think they managed to vastly improve the curb appeal of this split ranch.  I like the quote from the architect that there’s “hope for every house.” I agree. .

Jamie’s house in Cork – Part 2 “Renovation”

11 Apr

Okay – so yesterday I told you Jamie’s story.  I had so many photos of her house that I also wanted to feature some of the updates that she’s done.  So, here are a few more pics to show the changes in the house since they bought it in 2002.  One of my favorites is the pass through that they created between the dining room and the kitchen.  It means that the kitchen benefits from all the natural light streaming in from the front of the house and that Jamie (or whomever else might be preparing a meal) isn’t cut off from everyone else while she cooks.  

Jamie’s house in Cork – Part 1 “Features”

10 Apr

Today I want to tell you the story of Jamie and her family.  It’s a great story.  In fact, it’s such a great story that her husband, David, who is a writer, wrote a book about it.

I lived in Ireland for a spell after college and that’s when I first fell in love with this place.  Five years ago, I moved back and yes, had a few friends from the first time I was here but I was essentially starting all over again.  I emailed everyone and their dog before I left and asked them to pass on the names of any friends / contacts they might have over here.  My friend, Mark, obliged as he had recently re-connected with his long-lost friend from college, Jamie.  I remember the day I made a very nervous phonecall to Jamie to ask her to be my new friend — it’s kind of funny looking back on it but it worked! 

I was at Jamie’s “gaff” in Cork last weekend for another visit and it’s such a cool place that she kindly allowed me to take some photos of it for this post.  

So, back to Jamie’s story — here’s the short version but I encourage you to read the full version for yourself in David’s book, Jaywalking with the Irish — here’s the link to the book on Amazon (via tiny url):

Jamie, David and their three children moved to Ireland on August 1, 2000.  Jamie has Irish ancestry and had, years before, gotten her Irish passport so they didn’t have the issue of work permits, etc. as I did.  David had done an exchange during college and had studied at Trinity College in Dublin and they had also spent their honeymoon in Ireland so their emotional ties to the country were very strong.

David’s book details the two or so years they were living in Cork and renting a home on Military Hill and it covers all the adventures and misadventures they had while they were here.  He has a great perspective on the Irish and their charm and the people who featured so strongly in their lives really come to life in the book.  

In 2002, they bought a house that was directly across the street from the house where they were renting.  It’s a beautiful Victorian but was in serious neglect so they saw it as an investment opportunity.  They lived in the home briefly after renovations but they did move back to the US in the Summer of 2003 but kept the home here and rented it out.  Their stint back in the US didn’t last long — they were there for just one year before they realized that Ireland really was their home so they came back in 2004 and have been here ever since.  In fact, they now also have a little weekend cottage on the Blackwater river in Waterford which I will tell you more about in a future post. 

The house is like the grown-up and much more sophisticated big sister of Tilly’s Cottage but they’re of the same era so they share some similarities.  The previous owner was a hoarder and there was a lot of clear out required but Jamie and David found some treasures among the muck including an old church door which they had cut down to size to fit their front entry – I love it.  Jamie also re-did some of the rooms of the house in 2008 including her bedroom with its lovely new birdcage wallpaper and she painted her lovely dresser to match. 

David has a new book out which was just published in the US in March and will be out in Ireland in May.  Rumor on the street is that it’s part of Obama’s reading list before he comes to Ireland in late May. For more info on Ireland Unhinged, check out David’s blog at:

Library in the woods

26 Mar

I’m fantasizing about the vacation home again — sometimes it’s on the beach, other times it’s in the woods but it always has a limitless build/renovation budget.  This place would suit me down to the ground — it’s called the Scholar’s Library and it’s a small, self-contained library and study in the middle of the woods.  The architects are Peter Gluck and Partners – so sweet.

Cottage campus

18 Feb

I remember reading about these cottages in Shoreline, Washington in Country Living and few years ago and then Molly and Edwin gave me a book called Blueprint Small which features these lovely little gems again.  I think I’m the kind of person who would rather have a few small cottages dotted around the world (just fantasizing a bit) rather than one big house.

One of the things I like about these cottages is that they seem to make good use of the space both with storage and light. And I love that they are built in a little community with a grassy commons in between.



Roof lanterns

16 Feb

A “roof lantern” style skylight is planned for the kitchen in Tilly’s Cottage.  I’ve heard lots of different terms for these windows but whatever you call it, I think they’re great devices for flooding a room with natural light — particularly in my case where the site in long and narrow and there aren’t many options for windows.

A recurring theme to my posts has, unfortunately, been what I hope to include in the renovation versus what I can actually afford.  I really hope that this isn’t one of those items that has to be cut from the budget. I know I’ll spend a lot of time in my kitchen as it will likely double as an office from time-to-time.  And this is one feature of the extension that I’m most excited about.

While both of my magazine clippings show roof lanterns that are much bigger than my own will be (to accompany my teeny weensy kitchen), I hope that mine will be just as appealing. Can’t wait. 

Some things I’ve learned about planning permission

12 Feb

I’m not exactly sure how to characterize planning permission when I compare it to the system in the states.  It’s a lot more involved than just getting a building permit which I had to do for the place in Beantown — but, given that the house in Boston is in a commercial zone, there weren’t a lot of restrictions on what we could do.  I remember the process there only taking a matter of days. Planning Permission in Ireland is done in a number of stages which, as far as I can tell, take a minimum of 3 months and sometimes longer.

To say this has been a hard process would be a gross understatement. My first submission went in back in October and the official “grant” arrived about a week ago.  While it wasn’t all bad, it wasn’t the decision I was hoping for so, to some degree, I’m starting the process all over again and looking at another 3 months before I can progress the full renovation plan. My mother would probably say that “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”.  And stronger, and a lot poorer, I am.  But I do feel a lot wiser about the whole process and if I had a “do over” here’s what I would do differently:

1)  Context, context, context: While there are definitely some hard and fast rules, with the city council, it seems that there are also a ton of “guidelines” which may be ignored if there are contextual exceptions for your property.  In my case, the big bugaboo has been that my drawings don’t meet the new guidelines for “private open space” — meaning that the city would like residential homes to have plenty of green space in relation to the size of the dwelling.  The context that I hope I’ve been able to provide is that any open space we create at the site is rather poor in light of the number of extensions surrounding the house and a huge wall at the back of the site.  So, basically, if I created a big back courtyard, it would be sitting in shade and overlooked by a lot of walls.

2) A picture tells a thousand words – related to the above, an architect’s plan alone does not tell the city planner the full story.  These are busy people and they can’t be expected to know every inch of their given planning area so it doesn’t hurt to include photos — but I would strongly suggest making notations on the photos!

3)  Tell your full story – I wish they knew, before I submitted my first application, that the house had been vacant for 10 years, that it had been the eyesore of the neighborhood, that the neighbors were supportive of my changes and had reviewed the plans, that my mother has mobility issues so she and stairs don’t mix, that the neighbor’s property goes over the party line, therefore, compromising the back of my site significantly….the list goes on.  Let’s just say that next time, I’ll make sure they have both the rational and the emotional story of my house.

4)  Get a pre-planning meeting – In fairness, my architect and I did try to get a pre-planning meeting on the first go-round but the first available meeting date practically exceeded the typical planning permission period so we thought it was worth a shot just to put in our submission given that we felt we were very closely adhering to area precedence in terms of our design.  What we didn’t know is that planning guidelines were changing during the time of our submission so we learned a lot of new information after the fact.  We have now since had a meeting and a site visit with the planner to review our proposed changes on the portion of my plans that were unapproved – fingers crossed that in light of new information, the council say “yes”.

This is a longer post than I would normally write but I wanted to get it all down while it’s still fresh — my thick file of paperwork related to this is also something I’m definitely keeping in case I elect to do another renovation. I hope that I don’t make the same mistakes twice.


A Nate Berkus Makeover

7 Feb

This is such a fantastic story that I won’t try to retell it all here but I do suggest you check it out on Oprah’s website: A couple of years ago when Christiana was still living in Dublin, she got a very excited phone call from her good friend, Kari, that she suspected she might be a finalist for the Nate Berkus home makeover on Oprah because one of the producers phoned her to ask some questions.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Kari and her family won the makeover and there was a lot of excitement in their corner of the world as well as ours at the time as we waited for the show to air and the chance to see the big reveal of the magic they worked on their home.  To say he transformed it is an understatement.  I really encourage you to check out the photos on the site to see for yourself ( ) but I have included two photos of the front of the house before and the front of the house after.  Several people mentioned to me that they liked the Ranch Re-do blog entry ( )  as so I thought this might be inspiring on more levels than just the renovation!







Although I’ve  never met
Kari but I feel like I know her from hearing Christiana talk about her but also from reading her blog on life and motherhood:

Ranch Re-Do

28 Jan

Check out the black and white “before” photo – there are lots (and I mean LOTS) of these types of houses all over Massachusetts.  You don’t see many ranches in Ireland but if I were still living in Boston, this renovation would inspire me to buy and re-do a ranch. The renovation gives this house a lot more curb appeal not to mention the light that must have transformed the interior of this house.  Whereas before, it looks drab and depressing, I think the re-do is very inviting. So if you’re in the market to buy a house and have been put off by ranches, I hope this provides a bit of inspiration for the possibilities.

Stable conversion

16 Jan

Sadly, Tilly’s Cottage will never end up looking like this gorgeous stable conversion but one can always dream of future projects!  I love when I come across places which retain architectural features — it sounds obvious that one would do so but I’ve come across a lot of places where features are boarded up.  Case in point are the fireplaces in the condo in Brookline which were long-ago plaster-boarded in…

Wood beam ceilings, arched windows and French Provençal design lend a lot of warmth to this conversion.

Clever use of lighting also keeps things cozy.