Lisa Skov Jensen and Maura Henderson had been looking for a house in the South Circular Road area of Dublin for some time; they liked the locality and it was close to the city centre too.
"There was a definite 'AHA!' when we saw this one," says Maura. "We liked the proportions, and it felt warm and welcoming. There were three bedrooms upstairs and three good-sized rooms downstairs. Of course, it was quite rough and ready. It was covered in old wallpaper, which hid the crumbling plaster, and the fixtures and fittings were old and shoddy, but we still knew it was for us."
They both had a good idea of what they wanted from the start. Lisa is Danish, and Maura has lived in Denmark; they both love the clean lines and contemporary look of good Danish design. "We wanted a nice big bright kitchen with direct access into a garden where we could eat out in the summer. That was one of the most important aspects of the makeover for us," they explain.
In common with many Dublin houses of this era, the bathroom was over the kitchen in a two-storey projection from the back of the house, leaving a dark and dank little alley as access to the garden. The work started with having the original bathroom and kitchen demolished. A new kitchen and bathroom was built, with timber and glass exterior finish to give a clean, modern feel to the outside space. The garden was partly paved and then finished with a deck, which was designed for storage; large drawers pull out from underneath. That meant the garden space was clear of the sheds and clutter that were there before.
The wall between the dining and living rooms was knocked and the dining room door from the hall bricked up. The entry to the living room was then enlarged and fitted with glass doors. This brings in light and gives a more open feel to the ground floor. In the stairwell, half of the ceiling and attic were removed, resulting in a double height space with a roof light, which is much brighter and more spacious. The two front bedrooms were knocked together to make one big, sunny pleasant room, and the entire house was rewired, replumbed and replastered.
It wasn't all plain sailing. After 10 weeks in expensive rented accommodation, instead of a finished house, Lisa and Maura moved back into a building site – no kitchen, no hot water, and only one habitable room. The dust was dreadful and they both got chest infections.
"We didn't plan things very carefully," they explain. "At the second meeting with the designer he asked us if we could move out by the following month. We're both a bit impulsive and we just decided there and then to go for it. We rented rather expensive accommodation, and moved out before we even had the financing in place. We never did get extensive working drawings for the project, just sketch plans; to this day we don't know where the plumbing etc runs, which is a problem if anything needs to be looked at. If we were doing this again, we would take our time, document everything and agree more detailed plans before we went ahead."
It took longer than they expected, but eventually the house was finished, and they are very happy with the results.
"The best thing about the makeover is definitely the kitchen, it's fabulous," says Maura. "We worked with the designer on this one. We knew exactly what we wanted: a functional kitchen that was completely clutter-free. We needed lots of storage, but also to be able to see where everything was. I love to cook; I collect cookbooks and I'll cook anything. I want to be able to put my hand on any spice or utensil without hunting in the backs of drawers. The glazed storage wall works very well and also blocks off the untidy boiler/cloakroom space. The glass-topped counters are also easy to use and clean. We both love the brightness of the space and the glazed wall into the garden, which gives us loads of light and a nice view. It really comes into its own in the summer, when we eat al fresco."
There are some things they would have done a little differently.
"I wish we had taken out the Victorian fireplaces when the building work was being done," says Maura. " I love an open fire, but I think the cast iron is too heavy and dark. I would really like a more contemporary Scandinavian look. We would also have gone for darker floor tiles. We did specify no carpets, because of the two dogs, but the light-coloured tiles, while they look fantastic, are complete hell to keep clean. But we couldn't face any more building work now. In fact, never, ever again."