And while it wasn’t without its challenges — including joyously welcoming a new arrival to the family mid-build — now that they’ve moved into to their new home they say it was worth every single minute.
Rachel Hobbs and her husband Rob bought their run down farmhouse in Ballyburden, Ballincollig in July, 2017. And while Rachel, an interior architect and designer originally from Dublin, admits that it wasn’t their dream house to start with, it was a dream project.
“This was our third option, we had gone for planning twice on different plots of land, and then this house came up for sale and we were in love. The setting, the space and location was perfect for our family.
“It’s an old farm house, about 170 years old, but needed a lot of updating to suit our lives. It’s funny how things work out, as we would not have had anything like this with our first two attempts,” said Rachel.
Before this, Rachel and Rob and their two kids were living in Ballincollig, in a house they renovated on a much smaller scale about 10 years ago. They sold this and for practical reasons they opted to buy a mobile home for around €12,000 and live on site for the duration of the self-build.
“Rocco and Indie were eight months and two-and-a-half when we moved in, and at that stage we all needed to be close to each other anyway. They could play while I was prepping food or working at the kitchen table. If they were napping or woke up, they could potter away up to the living area,’ explains Rachel.
A few months into the project, Rachel and Rob happily found out they were expecting baby number three.
“The pregnancy was tough going, along with having two small people to look after and the space was tighter with a big old bump! The mobile had double glazing and central heating, so it was very comfortable for us all. We had a washing machine and tumble dryer out the side of it, so it was a proper home for us. Christmas and all,” she said, unphased.
“When you’re in the midst of something, you have to stay positive and keep going. There were definitely aspects that were challenging, but when the end goal is so worth it, then complaining or dwelling on things will only make it harder.
“Besides, living on site was invaluable to us as a family, when Rob (an engineering manager in a medical device company) was working weekends and evenings on the house, we could all still be in the same vicinity, we could see progress, and it was easier for our children to understand all the time being spent on the house. But they were sick of building talk altogether!
The couple opted to go down the self-build route for affordability reasons.
“Rob did everything he could on the house, with the help of his dad. He was fortunate to be able to get help from his uncle, cousin and friends throughout it too. We all upskilled throughout the project!” says Rachel.
They also worked closely with architect Gary O’Farrell (GOFA) to maintain the essence and character of the house, and work with the buildings and main structures that were already there.
“We had concise thoughts and ideas, having gone through the design process twice before, we knew exactly what we wanted the house to contain. We worked with Gary to make the most of these existing structures, and find the best configuration of rooms to maximise light and the way we would use the house.
“The final design is not very different to the first iteration he came back with, just lots of detailed adjustments. Rob was cursing our lengthy discussions on a stairs detail before we’d even begun demolition, but because so many of these final details were considered so early in the process, it meant the final product had been considered and not just made up as we went along.”
The couple put a large emphasis on creating a home that would work through all stages of their lives.
“We wanted areas that would be used in each phase, and not leave the two of us rattling around big empty rooms. I also thought hard about what would make living in the house easier and make a happier home for all of us, and a laundry chute was one of the things I couldn’t let go.”
Rocco is now almost five, Indie will be three in April, and Forrest will be one in May, so it was important for the couple that the kids could have fun within the house.
“They’re all full of energy and adventure, so we installed a climbing wall in one of the bedrooms, a little nook on the landing for their teepee at the moment,” said Rachel.
A net floor which covers the double height space from the landing down to the hallway is another stand-out feature and a dream space for kids.
Rachel says, however, this came about from a purely functional brain space: “The banister and open space made me nervous with children, so I was exploring other options and we decided upon this net floor which means that nobody can fall down, the light can still come through and the floor space in the landing area is doubled. It’s similar to a catamaran net, so not a trampoline, but it’s a huge hit here!”
Rachel and Rob got the keys to the house in December, 2017, building started in October, 2018, and they moved in 14 months later, at the end of December, 2019. They lived in the mobile home from January, 2018, to December, 2019. Would she do it again?
“It was a totally all-consuming process, with an incredible reward at the end. I loved it all, but designing is my passion so I’m more than happy helping other people realise their dreams at the moment! But it’s fully a dream come true. We feel incredibly lucky to be able to raise our family here. But also know that we took an opportunity and worked hard to create this for ourselves too.”
Stay positive! You have to, it’s an all-consuming process.
Think ahead and this will minimise delays if your decisions on bathroom ware, flooring, etc, are all decided early on.
Have your kitchen designed at your planning stage — you’d be surprised how early these decisions are needed.
Be prepared for changes as things don’t always go to plan, but something extra special may come out of it.
Look for opportunities: is there a dead space that could be used for recessed shelving? Would a wall light work well in a dark corner?
Communicate constantly as it’s the only way to stay on top of things; know what stage is coming next, if there’s planned changes being made, and what impact they might have on the final finish.
Be aware that once you’re in you’ll forget about all the stresses
So much money goes on the construction of the house, so when it comes to interiors and finishes, often it’s scraping the barrel. Everything is relative to people’s budgets, what’s important to me may not be to anyone else, and vice-versa.
The main finishes in the house are important to get right though, the things you’re not going to change for a number of years — but know at the same time that everything is changeable.
For me, the main body of our floor was a tile I really wanted, so to balance this we went with a laminate floor elsewhere. This worked well for us, as it‘s incredibly robust and easy to maintain with three small people!
Lighting was important to me, so I was sourcing fittings for months, finding a way to afford the style I wanted.
Dining room chairs are worth a splurge — for the use they get, you don’t want anything uncomfortable or rickety.
Obviously, the bones of the house — good insulation, good windows.
I’m so thrilled we have the Colourtrend ceramic matt finish for our paint in the main areas of the house — especially with our small people I can wipe most of the marks off the wall so easily.