Real Homes: a Portobello fixer-upper - before and after pictures

Real Homes: a Portobello fixer-upper - before and after pictures

Words and pictures: Reportage


Catherine Crowe, architect and director of well-known architectural and interior design practise LUCA, lives here with husband Gavin Wheatley, also an architect, and daughter Isabelle. Gavin’s daughter Caoimhe stays at weekends. The house is a  terraced Victorian redbrick, extended, with three bedrooms located in Portobello in Dublin 8. The couple has lived here since November 2008.

What they did to the house:

The couple gutted the whole house, removing all the floors and windows, the staircase, and all internal walls, then built a two-storey extension with kitchen/dining on the ground floor and bedroom with ensuite above, and  opened the house to the garden by adding a full-height glazed wall to the rear of the extension.  The stairs were reconfigured to fit in a guest loo underneath, and a family bathroom was added upstairs. High levels of insulation were added to the whole house, with solar panels for water heating and a central heating system based on a gas condenser boiler.

  • House cost:  €415,000
  • Cost of the project : €145,000 with a 4 month building time.

Portobello house - bedroom before and afternoon

The bedroom before and after

‘My Dad called it ‘The House of Horrors’ and my nascent film director cousin borrowed it as a location to film a horror flick’, called of all things, ‘The Tenant’, says Catherine Crowe, explaining the state of her Victorian terraced house when they bought it. ‘Dad did allow that it had potential…in that it couldn’t possibly get any worse. It was a really dark, poky, horrible house, with a lean-to shack for a kitchen, no bathroom, and it had been derelict for ten years’.  Gavin’s daughter Caoimhe was totally unimpressed; asked to choose a bedroom for her own, she very reluctantly selected one, purely on the basis that it had the lowest population of spiders.

Portobello house - hallway before and after

The hallway looking into the kitchen, before and after

In reaction to both Catherine  and Gavin’s previous house, which had been a lovingly-restored Victorian, with the original honey-coloured pine floors and a beige and taupe colour scheme, and their ‘dark and horrible’ new acquisition, Catherine decided to go to the complete opposite end of the scale. ‘Clean-lined contemporary Scandi style, with lots of reflective surfaces and white light’, says Catherine.

Portobello house - Kitchen before and after

A view of the kitchen, before and after

Catherine spent a year studying architecture in Denmark and learned to love the Scandinavian style and understated colour palette of soft greys, blues and pale greens. But she also spent eighteen months working in architecture and interior design in Barcelona, and fell for the vibrant, eclectic and ultimately cool design ethos of that city.  ‘Barcelona is the New York of Europe, and I still go back all the time for exhibitions and music festivals,’ she says. ‘From there I borrowed the use of very strong colour, the dark grey, navy and primaries.’

Portobello house - sitting room before and after

The living room, before and after

The house was one room deep, with a room to each side of the front door, and the lean-to kitchen on the ground floor, and two bedrooms upstairs, and an outside toilet in the yard.  Catherine redesigned the house around a centralised staircase, with the original building to the front, and the extension to the rear of the stairs, which gave her a lot freedom in layout.  Extending the house to the rear took up a lot of the outside space, so Catherine decide to incorporate the outside into the interior, creating a single room with a glazed wall dividing the garden from the kitchen. To screen them from the apartment block behind, Gavin planted four-metre high black bamboo (Phyllostachus Nigra), which reaches as high as the bedroom windows.

Portobello house - exterior and garden before and after

The rear elevation and garden, before and after

‘Gavin’s big regret is that the garden is so small, but he has solved that by teaming up with my Dad to make a huge veggie plot in my parent’s nearby one-acre garden,’ explains Catherine.  ‘They have just installed a new greenhouse, and we eat fresh produce in season all year.  For two or three weeks of the year we eat beetroot in every shape and form, cooked every way possible, and then it’s on to the next thing! Luckily we have a wide range of cooking styles, I love to cook Italian, Greek, Moroccan, any Mediterranean food, real River Café style, Gavin is into cooking Indian food.’

Portobello house - Kitchen before and after

Another kitchen view, before and after

‘We both love to cook (and eat!) and wanted a functional, stylish kitchen, but having completed the building work, our budget was so tight it really squeaked’, says Catherine.’ The kitchen and storage unit are from IKEA, white, reflective, Scandinavian, and affordable!  The inspiration for the colours came from the 1870s Wedgewood dinner service my Dad persuaded me to buy at an antiques fair, a navy and white pattern which is now in the dining area glazed storage unit. The navy blue accent colour was matched to the Wedgewood, and I used navy glass for the splashback.’

Catherine’s design for the master bedroom was based on height and light, the absolute antithesis of its dark and poky predecessor. The larger, east-facing window can have the blind down, to block out the apartment block, but there is still plenty of warm sunshine coming in.’ I  also angled the window to catch the south light as the main part of the window faces east’, explains Catherine. ‘As a bonus, it also just catches a distant view of the Dublin mountains.” The skylights were installed so that there is always lovely light in the room, at any time of day, reflecting from the white wardrobe storage and walls.  The accent colours are soft greys, and aqua which is one of my favourites.’

the finished living room

‘We moved into the house a month before Isabelle was born and I really like that fact that it has evolved as a family home from the beginning,’ says Catherine.‘Isabelle loves running in and out of the kitchen and garden, Caoimhe got to chose and design her own (spider-free) room and the indoor/outdoor nature of the kitchen and garden means that we can put up an awning and double the area for those great summer parties.’

‘But best of all I love how the light changes throughout the seasons; it always gives us a feeling of well-being and security that there is always somewhere in the house to find a patch of sunlight to sit in.

Catherine Crowe – Sourcebook


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