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Taking on the big job alone – the owner who project-managed his own period house renovation

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Taking on the project-management for the renovation of a big period house is a prospect that would normally scare the pants off anyone devoid of experience in construction.

But when marketing executives Dermot Mulligan and his wife Louise bought a 1928-built red brick on St Mobhi Road in Glasnevin, Dublin 11 in 2015, they decided that supervising the job themselves would be a good way to optimise their limited budget.

“We had always wanted a period red brick. We loved the style and the character and all of those classic features like the fireplaces, cornicings, stained glass and so on,” he says. “2015 was a good time to be renovating because there was value to be found in properties needing work and in the cost of tradesmen.”

No149 had been in the same family since it had been built and all those original features were still in situ, but it needed a complete overhaul.

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The dining/living space The dining/living space

The dining/living space

The dining/living space

The couple were smart enough not to go into it totally blind.

“We decided to call in the architect John Henry. Not only did he draw up the plans for the renovation and the extension, but he was there once a week on site to make sure everything was going smoothly and that the various tradesmen were doing what they were supposed to. Looking back, he was integral to making it work.”

First came stripping out. “There were layers of wallpaper over layers of wallpaper, carpet over lino, that sort of thing. The rear of the house was configured as it was originally with a small kitchen, a small living space and some outbuilding spaces which blocked the light coming into the home from the rear. So we’d have to knock some walls, reconfigure space and add an extension.”

The job also involved rewiring, replumbing, new heating, kitchen, bathrooms, plastering and so on.

“We decided we weren’t going to take much away from the garden. We like to entertain and we wanted to keep that amenity space in as much as was possible. So our extension was just [big]enough to allow us to provide a bright open-plan kitchen and living space downstairs along with a utility room and a bathroom.”

That extension involved some deep intervention, including the tricky demolition of a chimney stack which ran all the way up to the roof.

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The kitchen extension The kitchen extension

The kitchen extension

The kitchen extension

“Our single biggest challenge was managing the schedule. So if the window guy didn’t turn up, that threw the builder out and in turn impacted on other trades. We also spent all our weekends out looking at materials and fittings.

“And while our tradespeople were great, we soon became familiar with the tendency of one trade to blame another for things that go wrong. Managing often meant dealing with two sets of tradespeople on site who actively didn’t like each other. Resolving tensions was part of the process.

“As well as having John to consult, I have friends in the building trade and I drove them to despair with constant queries.”

In an effort to have the second period fireplace restored, the tiled inset got damaged and it to be replaced. “We looked high and low for a period replacement that matched but after a time we just had to give up.”

The pair also discovered their day job organising skills proved useful. “We did the research and we were always on top of budgets. The toughest parts of the job were the more technical bits. Ordering steel for example, and foundation work was also complicated.”

They sorted off-street parking in their front garden thanks to planning precedents set by neighbours; they floored the attic and made a decision to keep the period pram porch recess rather than building into it as some neighbours had done.

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Best laid plans: Dermot Mulligan in the front living room. Photo: Bryan Meade Best laid plans: Dermot Mulligan in the front living room. Photo: Bryan Meade

Best laid plans: Dermot Mulligan in the front living room. Photo: Bryan Meade

Best laid plans: Dermot Mulligan in the front living room. Photo: Bryan Meade

“We felt it was an important part of the house. We replaced the old aluminium replacement windows with triple-glaze and for the front door we got the best option we could from the Period Door Company, who were really excellent.”

Insulation work brought the house up to a C1 BER. Removing the fireplaces would have got them to a B, but for the Mulligans the period pieces were a big part of the character of the house.

“We did prioritise jobs we needed most. So we left the driveway, the attic and the painting until the very end. But finishing was quite frustrating. It was difficult to get tradespeople to come back. If we were doing it all over again we’d hold money back to incentivise it being done more promptly.”

The Mulligans’ renovation went just 5pc over budget and it took nine months rather than the six they had planned. But overall they achieved their goal by saving a whopping 30pc on their spend.

“We only had a certain budget and we needed to get the most from it. But to be honest, it’s a lot of work and time and we wouldn’t project-manage again if we had the money to pay for it.”

Now with two children on board they plan to trade up in the area. No149 spans 1,474 sq ft, half as big again as an average semi. The period features are here with most fireplaces, internal doors, stained glass work, stairs, architraves and joinery and is set off by the bright decor with lots of white and cream.

There’s a hall with original stairs, a front living room which opens into the big kitchen/living room/dining room. There’s a utility and downstairs bathroom. Upstairs are two double bedrooms, a single and a family bathroom with a free standing tub.

The rear garden is 34 feet long, and the floored and insulated attic could easily provide a large fourth bedroom.

It’s ready to go another century and REA Grimes seeks €720,000 on the Mulligans behalf.

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