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06 Dec 2021

The Self-Build Diaries: Janine Renaghan and Ciaran Cassidy

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Soon-to-be husband and wife Janine Renaghan and Ciaran Cassidy are the proud owners of this stunning Georgian-inspired, storey-and-a-half home in scenic Ravensdale in Ireland’s County Louth.

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Having been gifted the plot by Janine’s parents, who still live on site right behind the newly-built house, the young Irish couple decided to embark on their route to homeownership by building rather than buying. After months of planning and saving, McKevitt’s Lane was constructed, and the pair have never looked back. Here, i-Build’s Editor, Rebecca Kemp, talks to Janine to find out all about her and Ciaran’s self-build journey and their house plans after they tie the knot.

RK: What inspired you to embark on your own project rather than buying?
JR: We were extremely fortunate. My parents had given us a site right behind their house. I had always wanted to live in Ravensdale, either build or buy. Thankfully, it worked out, planning was approved, and we got to build our very own dream home.

RK: What was the vision and inspiration behind your new home?
JR: We wanted to blur the lines between contemporary and old with a Georgian-style house – we both love the slide and sash windows. Another critical aspect for us was letting in as much light as possible and having a big garden.

RK: How did you approach finalising your design brief?
JR: We met with an architect several times at the pre-planning stage. From here, we told him exactly what we were looking for, and he designed three different plans. We changed a few elements and made tweaks before we decided on the final design. The whole planning process was actually relatively straightforward. We worked with this architect from the start of the project through to the finish; we were so lucky that both the builder and the architect were fantastic. We went to P.Herr Architects and Hillside Contractors. I couldn’t recommend them enough.

RK: How long did it take to gain planning permission?
JR: Our final plans were submitted in September 2019. From there, we were asked for further information twice between October and November and received our final decision during the second week of January 2020.

RK: Were there any challenging aspects to the project and build?
JR: No, nothing major. We had initially wanted a two-storey property, but the council rejected this as it wasn’t in keeping with the surrounding area. This meant we could only build a storey-and-a-half home or a bungalow. During pre-planning, the architect also told us that we couldn’t have pillars at the front door or stone as it also wasn’t in keeping with local needs.

RK: Did you project manage the build yourself?
JR: We had a contractor look after everything; he was terrific. We provided a lot of input, but essentially he managed the build.

RK: How did you approach material and product specification?
JR: This was arranged by our supervisory engineer (thank god because we wouldn’t have had a clue where to begin!).

RK: How does the property respond to passive house principles?
JR: We didn’t opt for a passive house build; it wasn’t within our budget. However, we did go with an MHRV (mechanical heat recovery ventilation system) and an air source heat pump.

RK: How long did the project take?
JR: The build started in April 2020, and we moved in on 20th March 2021, so just under one year. We had a six-week delay due to the ESB connection, so we would have been in sooner. It was very frustrating, but it flew by!

RK: Did you remain within the original budget?
JR: We went over the budget. We changed the size of our patio doors, adding another metre which cost much more. We also ended up spending more than we budgeted for in the kitchen.

RK: Please provide an overview of the interior and exterior.
JR: The house size is 2357ft2 in size. We’ve accomplished so much inside; almost all the rooms are complete. Downstairs, we have an open-plan kitchen/living room – which is perfect for hosting parties. We also have another sitting room with a sofa and TV; we relax and watch movies here most evenings. Our ground-floor toilet (probably my second favourite room) features red brick-effect tiles and a black toilet. I saw a picture of this design on Pinterest and showed the bathroom designer, and he was able to source everything precisely as it was in the picture. Incorporating a small utility room on the bottom storey has allowed for a larger kitchen/living area.

Meanwhile, upstairs we have four bedrooms, a bathroom and a big hot press. Moving outside, the exterior is simply a garden space with a patio for now. Over the next year or two, we hope to add fencing and lots of plants and trees.

RK: How does your current garden respond to the surrounding landscape and your new home?
JR: It fits perfectly with the natural countryside landscape. We won’t add any modern monuments or statues. We plan to keep the aesthetics as a typical countryside garden. The only plants we have at the moment are hydrangeas. We didn’t include the exterior in our budget, and with a wedding coming up, it just isn’t possible, but hopefully next year. We would love to add laurel trees around the border and possibly plant a lovely cherry blossom tree. At the moment, the site’s somewhat secluded, and it’s situated in a way that takes in all the stunning views and scenery.

RK: What does the local community think of the new property?
JR: Our neighbours (my parents, of course) are delighted; it was just as exciting for them to see the build develop and change every day. As mentioned, the house is quite hidden and private, so it doesn’t obstruct anyone’s views of the countryside or cause too much of an eyesore (I hope!). So, I’m not too sure about the consensus from the community.

RK: Is the final property everything that you hoped it would be?
JR: Yes, we are delighted. The excitement of seeing the build every day and how it developed was surreal. It’s everything we hoped for and more. We’re thrilled and love our new home.

RK: What’s your favourite thing about your new home?
JR: The kitchen. It’s the most used room in the house, and it turned out exactly as planned. The natural light coming in makes it so bright, and the views are gorgeous. We went to Sheelans Kitchen in Cooley and, again, were delighted with the entire process.

RK: Is there anything that you would have done differently?
JR: Now that we’re in the house, almost two years, there are things I would love to change. I would love to modify our bedroom layout and make the room itself smaller and the wardrobe bigger. Also, it’d be great to add another window to our sitting room, and I would love a walk-in pantry.

RK: Would you do the whole thing again?
JR: Definitely. I know many people haven’t enjoyed the ride, and I have heard horror stories, but overall we had a great experience and really enjoyed the whole build. We were so lucky and had such a satisfying journey.

RK: What advice would you offer to anyone looking to self-build?
JR: Take your time with designs, don’t rush anything, and look at self-build pages and magazines for tips and ideas; they were so helpful. More importantly, enjoy it and try not to get stressed, especially if deadlines don’t happen exactly as planned. It will all fall into place.

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