This Cork couple built an allergy-free guesthouse

A Cork couple built their dream home — a passive, allergy-free house — which they open up to guests. The house and all furniture inside were built using local trees, writes CHRIS DUNNE
This Cork couple built an allergy-free guesthouse

GREAT OUTDOORS: The Lake Room at Inwood.

IMAGINE an escape to a lush valley synchronised by nature, where the pine trees finger the sky, where the spring water meanders down the Caha Mountains close to a magical ancient Ring Fort.

Imagine a newly-built passive house which sits perfectly in the woodland setting in the Baurearagh valley, created by Cork couple Liz Spillane and Oliver O’Donovan, who are committed to taking care of the environment as much as their guests.

“We welcome guests coming here from all over the world,” says Liz, who is a textile artist, and teaches part-time in the textile department at the Limerick School of Art and Design, who originally lived in Blackrock, Cork.

Oliver, a master wood-worker and talented carpenter, originally living in east Cork, suffered from asthma and needed clean fresh air and much less pollution to live a healthy life.

TALENTED: Liz Spillane.
TALENTED: Liz Spillane.

“People and their families come here to stay at Inwood from as far away as Kuwait, South Africa, Switzerland, Canada and the USA,” says Liz.

“Imagine! They all rave about the dark skies!”

I bet they rave about the breakfast too, with fresh juice, fresh fruit, fresh eggs from the Inwood hens and the freshly made brown bread?

They do,” says Liz. “We often come into the dining-room and guests are taking photographs of the array of food for breakfast!”

On entering Inwood, you are requested to refrain from using any body spray, deodorant, perfumed products or hair conditioner.

“I have a heightened sensitivity to chemical-based products such as deodorants or cleaning products, which can cause me to have a severe allergic reaction,” says Oliver.

“We decided to build a house to a passive standard. We wanted to achieve a pure space build for people who suffer from allergies like I do.”

How did he suffer?

“I always had asthma triggered by various chemicals,” says Oliver.

“I was pretty much OK after the age of 15. Then, at 40, I was working with industrial MDF board and the glue I was using proved toxic, giving off gases 24/7. I suffered an anaphylactic fit, causing my tongue and throat to swell, leading to panic attacks. I was in intensive care for two weeks.”

The allergy to certain chemicals, including cleaning products, must have made life difficult for Oliver?

“Yes, it was difficult for me to socialise,” says Oliver.

“Even going to the pub for a pint was a problem. People who smoked stood at the door of the pub and the smoke still wafted in.”

Going to weddings was a bit of a minefield for Oliver too.

“Lots of people at weddings seem to be coated in fake-tan and in after-shave! Both give me a bad reaction unfortunately,” says Oliver.

“Travelling on aircraft going on holidays was tricky. Once, I sat next to a lady on a flight putting on her nail varnish. That was not a good experience!”

TALENTED: Oliver, a master wood-worker and talented carpenter, used wood from local trees to build the house and all the furniture inside.
TALENTED: Oliver, a master wood-worker and talented carpenter, used wood from local trees to build the house and all the furniture inside.

When the practice of stubble burning in the fields affected Oliver when he lived in east Cork, he knew it was time to move to a wild, unspoilt part of the world.

Oliver and Liz pooled their resources, sold their respective properties, and decided to start a new life together in the beautiful five and a half acres at Gortabinny in Bonane, 10 minutes drive from picturesque Kenmare.

How did the couple land in such a beautiful spot, where frogs abound in the lake and the lichen clings to the trees?

“We were both married before and we knew that we were like-minded people when we were introduced by a mutual friend,” says Oliver.

“We discovered this unique site with mature trees and a stream when we were hill-walking in the area.”

The ancient Ring Fort really sold it for Liz and Oliver.

“The Ring Fort on the site is really special,” says Oliver.

He and Liz discovered they were both committed to researching their joint project, a labour of love, creating a beautiful passive chemical-free house.

“We lived in a mobile-home while we planted and landscaped the land,” says Oliver, who built a workshop with an apartment above it during the construction of Inwood.

The name of the house, Inwood, is self-explanatory, isn’t it, with Oliver making all the furniture in the house; the stairs, the doors, the beds the tables and chairs — from local trees for the house?

“It is, yes,” says Oliver.

“Although I was toying with the idea of calling the house Ollywood!”

Oliver spent 12 months preparing the wood for the construction of the couple’s dream home.

“I worked before in the construction business, building houses,” adds Oliver.

“Liz and I designed the house together. The wood was treated with special chemical-free oils and the house is highly insulated so the cosy temperature prevails throughout.”

A MAGICAL PLACE: Inwood Retreat, which is a passive house, allergy-free and chemical-free environment, and is home to Oliver O’Donovan and Liz Spillane, who run it as a guest house.
A MAGICAL PLACE: Inwood Retreat, which is a passive house, allergy-free and chemical-free environment, and is home to Oliver O’Donovan and Liz Spillane, who run it as a guest house.

Oliver and Liz moved into the house in 2014 and three years after, opened Inwood as an allergy-free guest-house.

“The house has an insulated foundation as well so that the walls don’t leak heat into the ground. Rising damp will never be an issue,” says Liz.

“The walls are thick and filled with cellulose, which is processed recycled sheep’s wool and newspaper. They’re made of breathable sheeting. There are no draughts anywhere in the house because all the joints are sealed with special tape.”

Inwood has two heat-recovery ventilation systems. In the winter, the couple use a gastification stove which burns off cuts of waste timber from Oliver’s woodwork, heating the 5,500 square feet building.

It is a win-win situation.

“So no heating bills!” says Liz.

What about cleaning bills?

“I don’t have a dishwasher,” says Liz.

“I wash all the dishes by hand, and I use an Irish made chemical-free product for the laundry. Vinegar and bread-soda are great natural cleaning products.

“We don’t have carpets or curtains in the house, designed to combat the presence of dust and dust mites.”

Going out to the lake in the morning after a refreshing hot shower, using fragrance-free soap made by Airmid in County Clare, you feel the hills are alive as you breathe in clean, unpolluted air watching the mist rise majestically above the Caha peaks.

“Do you want the recipe for my brown bread and home-made granola?” Liz enquires, as I wonder can things get any better after having dined like a queen in the ambience of the chemical-free castle.

Liz’s and Oliver’s creativity is displayed around the house, and in the gallery treasures like the blue duck eggs all in a row, framed in beech and pine, adorn the walls.

“And my studio is my escape, where I create knitwear and jewellery,” says Liz.

Does it ever get lonely in the valley cloaked in greenery whose slopes give a home to so much life?

“You know, we get asked that sometimes,” says Liz.

“But there is always someone coming and going here.

“Our neighbours are not that far away from us. We love getting together with them for dinner and a chat. Our families often visit us with their children. So no, we are never lonely and we’re never bored.”

People often visit Liz and Oliver to avail of their creative workshops.

“We offer textile-making and wood-turning workshops,” says Liz.

“They prove very popular with people and we like travelling around to craft-fairs displaying our work and meeting other crafts people. It’s good fun.”

Discovering their little piece of heaven and building their dream home, living a lifestyle of calmness, beauty and simplicity, driving past the meadow and hearing melodic bird-song, you can’t help thinking that Liz and Oliver have concocted the perfect recipe for a lovely lifestyle.

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