A dream of picking up an old, unloved but lovely cottage for buttons and pouring time, thought and money into fixing it up and preserving its charms, has sustained many through successive lockdowns. When we were released for the glorious months of last summer, we wandered down Irish country lanes instead of whizzing by on the main road, we spotted stone outbuildings, caught glimpses of pretty gables and soft green corrugated roofs. Little cottage windows winked at us, charming fishing lodges conjured days on the lake and green rubber waders lined up in a red-tiled porch. We inhaled a faint whiff of mildew and happily imagined ourselves owning a tiny patch of rural Ireland. Wouldn’t a modest little fixer-upper be just the place to weather out this blasted episode?
Some of us fantasise about a high-spec, draught-proofed, energy-efficient house, where the front door seals with a suck and a pop, kitchen drawers never stick and water runs hot and cold (out of the correct tap). And some of us are hopeless house romantics for whom uneven stone steps are not a trip hazard (“you could just look where you’re going”) plumbing actually should sound like an orchestra tuning up and having a colony of bats in the roof space is an absolute bonus. As an estate agent shrugs apologetically and suggests how a semi-derelict lodge might look once we have installed the plate-glass picture window and a granite island, we think: Seriously? You had me at skew-whiff gate. We are enraptured by dilapidated loveliness, by a single strip of 50s floral wallpaper, billowing in the breeze from a putty-filled window frame, flaking, faded paint in pretty colours, sagging beams, banisters, beds.
Social media is driving interest in old Irish houses. Low-priced, rundown period houses, charming lodges, classic two-storey farmhouses and sweet cottages, all over Ireland, are shared on Instagram accounts like @RomanticIrishRescue, which gives interesting historical and architectural details on period homes for sale, from humble (a rundown one-bedroom cottage in Roscommon for €20,000) to grander (an Old Manse in Co Tyrone for €100,000) to grandest (the magnificent 18th-century Brown’s Hill in Carlow for almost €1m. For bigger piles, you need a bigger pile of money). Its community of followers (25k) has grown in number, in interest and engagement, in the last twelve months. “I am interested in the preservation of old buildings – I’m not an estate agent,” says the account’s author, who prefers to remain anonymous. “I’d like to see the romantic ruins turned into sensitively restored homes. Lockdown has also made many people re-evaluate the kind of home they’d like. I think that’s the reason for the growth in followers in recent months.”
These homes need loving owners, owners who don’t quail at the thought of sharing a house with a country mouse or two, and for whom wonky is genuinely wonderful. And there are plenty of them. Ogling the Instagram accounts of owners of period homes as they sensitively restore and preserve original features is another delightful digital rabbit hole to fall into of an evening: Check out @ cangort_park_house_restoration, (an ambitious project to restore a vast protected Georgian house), @carrigcannon (a derelict stone farmhouse restoration in West Cork) and @oulhouse (a thatched cottage in Donegal). And it’s a global trend: from New England to Melbourne, from Florida to Marrakesh – materials and details differ from country to country – but the spirit of the owners is the same: a commitment to gently repairing the harsh effects of time and neglect without over-restoring, and preserving original, if faded, charm.
You might think you’re not in the market for such a project, or that you wouldn’t have even an onlooker’s interest in old houses, but just see how long it takes for you to be hooked. Sometimes it can take just one stone fireplace or section of original wainscoting, and suddenly, you’re peering and scrolling and zooming in, like the rest of us hopeless romantics.
Sign up to our MAILING LIST now for a roundup of the latest fashion, beauty, interiors and entertaining news from THE GLOSS MAGAZINE’s daily dispatches.