Image Interiors & Living May-June 2018

Cottage Industry

Breathing new life into old buildings is as noble as it is daunting. Nathalie Marquez Courtney explores three innovative makeovers.

RENOVATION ADVICE – BE BRAVE The thought of refurbishing an old stone building can be daunting, but it’s important to remember that most were built to last. “People come to my design clinics and always start off saying they were told by their builder to knock it, or that an engineer told them it will never stand,” says Patti O’Neill. “We’re talking about buildings that have been standing for hundreds of years. There’s often a lack of knowledge and understanding, but my advice is to go for it, it can always be rescued.”

O’NEILL ARCHITECTURE Having admired it from afar for years, when award winning architect Patti O’Neill finally got her hands on this ramshackle 250-year-old cottage in Ballycommon, Co Tipperary – one of the only remaining thatched cottages around – she got straight to work, moving in after just six months when only one room was completed.
Over the years, several renovation attempts had added layers of cement to the walls and floors, suffocating the old stone and lime mortar construction. Patti painstakingly removed at least 60 tons of cement in an effort to bring the property back to its original state. “It was unfortunate, but since the 1920s and 1930s, that’s how people were renovating old cottages,” explains Patti. “But they were doing more damage than good.”
Older houses need to breathe and move, but cement completely prevents this, leading to a humid, dank and dark environment that slowly but surely destroys the structure of the building. This led Patti to explore how new, modern techniques and old building methods could dovetail; there is underfloor heating connected to solar panels, which in turn are connected to the stove, which is all helped by having a dry, breathable construction. The result is a warm, rustic and cosy space. “I’ve studied architecture for years, but I think that my latest, biggest teachers have been the old buildings,” she says. “The principles stay the same: always natural, always breathable, and 100 per cent recyclable.”
The cottage is simply and tastefully furnished, with some clever design touches that mean you’re always presented with opportunities to admire and enjoy the original structure. In the kitchen, Patti opted for a modern, free-standing stainless steel kitchen so as not to detract from the beautiful old stone walls. “I found it worked well as a contrast, the metal and sharp edge versus the stone,” she says. “And it was very cost effective – you don’t always have to throw money at kitchens to get a good effect.”
And while these older buildings might require more TLC, the results are always more interesting and worthwhile. “The advantage with something old is, even if you add something new to it, you immediately have an atmosphere and a feel-good factor,” says Patti. “That is much harder to achieve in a new property.”
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View Thatched Cottage Restoration, Tipperary