From ramshackle parish hall to luxury home, all for under £150,000 – The Irish Times

In a photograph taken before the renovation of the West Cork home of Caragh MacCloskey and Jonathan Parson, you can see impressive piles of rubble, rough walls, piles of bricks and the legend ‘Ballydehob Youth Centre’ spinning around. over an old stove. Although he grew up in the pretty coastal village, Parson does not recall the former Methodist parish hall being a feature of his own teenage adventures. “They had discos,” he recalls. “There was a pool table and table football when we bought it. And some of my friends’ older kids remember having their first kiss there.

Today, it is still a romantic perspective, but of a completely different order. The large, double-height main room features thick walls and deeply recessed windows. The stove is built into a brick chimney, under which are spaces for piles of logs; and the floor is covered with a warm honeycomb of terracotta tiles. Relax amid the cushions on the plush sofa or head to the adjoining en-suite bedroom where the decor is a well-judged blend of cottagecore, pushing the modern and sleek enough to escape any hint of twee.

It helps that MacCloskey has a background in interior design, having worked in the past with the late and famous Peter Johnson, whose own credits include Kelly’s Hotel in Rosslare, and projects with the Office of Public Works in Farmleigh and Castletown House . Parson is also a designer, with his own graphics and animation studio. The couple first lived in Dublin.

“Then we went on a trip,” says Parson. “We wanted to stretch our legs a bit to see if there was another place we wanted to be. We knew we couldn’t afford to buy where we were renting. We went around the world, but then we came back home.

The home was Ballydehob, where they built their own home in 2003, after buying land from Parson’s mother, and set about raising their children, Sean and Luc, now aged 16 and 19. ), they always knew they wanted to tackle a renovation project. “There’s an armchair architect in all of us,” Parson says, wryly considering some of Grand Designs’ more over the top episodes. Keeping an eye out for a ‘top repairman’, the couple missed out on a spot but then thanked their luck when the 200-year-old disused church hall came on the market.

More than a beautiful construction, it is also a timely project. Visitors to Housing Unlocked, the Irish Architecture Foundation/Housing Agency’s current exhibition at the Science Gallery, Dublin, can see a wealth of ideas for creating homes in unexpected spaces, including former churches and bank buildings. There they are presented by a selection of models and drawings by talented and thoughtful architects, but it may take something like MacCloskey and Parson to help you see how wonderful things can be in real life.

Parson says that, optimistically, they were encouraged by his general condition. “It had been redone in the 1980s and it was dry as a bone. They knew how to build things in 1825!

Love at first sight was also, thankfully, a love at first sight that wasn’t going to break the bank. “We bought it in 2018. It was listed at €50,000 but we offered €40,000 and got it.” Awards like that make you wonder how daunting a prospect that might have been, but Parson says they were optimistically encouraged by his overall condition. “The roof had been redone in the 1980s and it was dry as a bone. They knew how to build things in 1825!

Change of use

The next step was to plan the change of use, but the couple consulted local architect Mark O’Mahony and the local planning office directly. “They were receptive,” says Parson, understanding how vital it is to bring buildings back to life in town centers and villages. Working with what we already have can be an antidote to the sprawling developments that eat up the countryside.

‘Our tiler Bobby could not be phased. When presented with 80m² of handmade hexagonal terracotta floor tiles, many turned on their heels’

Using lessons learned and skills acquired through their own home building project, Parson and MacCloskey were happy to tackle what Parson describes as “the menial tasks” themselves, including demolition, repointing stone, insulation and some of the carpentry and plumbing. “However, he says, through our local contacts, we have also discovered some absolute legends. Our tiler Bobby could not be phased. When presented with 80m² of handmade hexagonal terracotta floor tiles, many turned on their heels. But not Bobby! Meanwhile, Donie Bowen at the local steel forge designed, built and installed the bespoke staircase to the second mezzanine bedroom.

Work was steady, but slow: “We started timidly in 2017, but real progress was only made in 2020-2021 – the Covid years.” The combination of time, what some like to call sweat equity (meaning staying stuck in yourself) and good local contacts meant that the renovation was completed for around €100,000. “It’s hard to judge,” Parson said, trying to add up his own time, but then wandering off to describe his enjoyment of building the fireplace himself. “I had never built with brick before, but I was working as I went, so I knew it would be easier to do it, rather than standing in front of someone else explaining.. .”

Touches like these add a beautiful layering to the home, so it looks timeless and on point. “We really wanted the interior to feel like it’s evolved over time,” admits MacCloskey. “We weren’t interested in creating a ‘show house’ look, but we wanted an honest space, a place where friends and family would feel completely relaxed.”

“There is no comparison between the quality of old furniture and what is mass-produced today. It was very satisfying to reuse and reuse where we could’

Giving themselves time also meant they could put together an interesting and eclectic mix of furniture and odds and ends. The raw white stone background lets the textures of terracotta, oak, steel and brick sing; then books, ornaments and upholstery add pops of color without it seeming overdone. “I spent a lot of time on DoneDeal and Facebook Marketplace,” recalls MacCloskey. “We’ve met some lovely people along the way, and there’s no comparison between the quality of antique furniture and what’s mass-produced today. It was very satisfying to reuse and reuse where we could.

Testimonies of this approach are the beautifully salvaged set of 1960s dining chairs, bought for €50; a chandelier for a ten from the local charity shop; and the kitchen cabinet doors made with wood from the local sawmill. In the bathroom, the elegant console is actually a second-hand desk, sawn in half and clad in marble from a Clonakilty junkyard.

Parson says the long-term plan is to move in when their family, complete with dogs, cats and children, has moved out. “We approached the renovation with this in mind: to create a comfortable home that we can look forward to.” In the meantime, if you’re intrigued and want to see what ideas you can steal for yourself, or just smitten, The Old Church Hall is currently available for stays through Airbnb.

The ups and downs

The biggest mistake: After walking through a construction once and having the luxury of time, Parson says there was no real “oh no!” moments. “It was truly a slow process. Mistakes often happen as a result of haste.

Biggest win: “The floor: we knew from the start that we wanted terracotta. Finding a supplier in the UK, who sourced from Bangladesh, the couple ordered “even before the ink was dry on the purchase contract. A friend graciously stored them in his barn for a few years, until they were ready to be installed.

Best Advice: “We spent our budget on the things that mattered to us: beautiful flooring and quality fixtures,” says MacCloskey. “Invest in the fabric of the building and pay experts for their skills. Save in the right places,” adds Parson. “Above all, go for it! »

And after? “Our next project is to upgrade the windows.”

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