ROOM TO IMPROVE

Dundalk man takes on major Georgian restoration project

Áine Kenny

Reporter:

Áine Kenny

Email:

Editor@DundalkDemocrat.ie

Stephen Hickey from Blackrock has been working hard for the past five years to restore a Late Georgian House on St Mary’s Road in Dundalk. The house is number three St Mary’s Road, near Wellington Hall, and is a protected structure due to its age. Stephen is originally from Dublin but has lived in Blackrock for many years.


“I bought the house mainly for financial reasons,” explains Stephen, “I was just keeping an eye on the price, and it kept dropping… it went down from €140,000 to €45,000. I think there was a woman living in the house on the ground floor with no immediate family, and her niece sold on the house after she passed away.”


“It wasn’t in great condition to begin with,” admits Stephen. “I’d say the people who went in for viewings turned on their heel and left as soon as they got in the door,” he jokes.


“But I thought I could turn it around within a year… it’s been five years now. It was only through this project that I became interested in restoration and period houses.”


The Blackrock man says that there are benefits to restoring a house rather than buying a new house. “It is cheaper to buy a house that is in a poorer condition than to purchase a new one,” he says, “There is also an element of control over the house. You can decide on door handles, fixtures, things like that."


“My house is a protected structure. People assume this means you can do whatever you want on the inside as long as you don’t touch the outside, but this is not true,” explains Stephen, “When a structure is protected, this encompasses the entire property, so the interior, exterior and any outside structures. You cannot alter the character or the aesthetic of the house.”


“All original features have to be retained, whereas any items that are severely damaged or beyond repair can be sensitively and authentically replaced,” Stephen explains, “And if you have a stone outbuilding or a stable on a protected property, these can’t be altered either. I still have a lot of original features. I have fireplaces, shutters, window sashes, floorboards, lime plaster and a ceiling rose."

 
The local restorer adds that the ceiling rose was only uncovered after a man came in to do coving. After years of paint was stripped away, the delicate petals were revealed. Stephen says that by right, other houses nearby should be mirror images of his house, but they aren’t. Some have a good deal of their original features left, while others have very few.


“It was a common theme from the 50s to the 70s to ‘modernise’ your home,” explains Stephen, “The Georgian houses were viewed as old and archaic, and stuff was ripped out. The structures which weren’t ripped out were covered over. I was in one house and the Georgian door detailing was covered over with a panel of wood.”


He says that restoring this house to its former glory has taken a lot of time and perseverance. “I started my blog about the house in 2013, so it has been five years. The reason it took so long is because I have to save money to pay different traders and workers, and I also have to have conservation experts,” he explains.


“However, I hope to be moved in by this summer. If the kitchen is put in, this will be possible. At the moment, the house is a building site. With the level of dust, it’s just not possible to keep anything clean.”


The key to restoring a house is to plan accordingly. “Start from the top down,” advises Stephen, “There is no point in fixing the stairs and then realising you have to lime plaster the ceiling above and have cart all the materials up and down the stairs and wrecking them.”


Stephen also says that Dundalk town has plenty of Georgian buildings. “When you think of the courthouse, the houses around Seatown, and here in St Mary’s place, they are all Georgian, and that period ended around 1835,” he says, “The buildings on Clanbrassil street would be considered Georgian too, being built in the mid-1700s. But if you go back to St Mary’s Road and walk down towards St Helena’s Park, the houses are getting newer, some being Victorian." 

If you want to find out more about the restoration or just see how the house is coming along, visit Mr Hickey’s Instagram account www.instagram.com/georgianrenovation/ or his blog https://georgianrenovation.blogspot.ie/