To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sailing (and sinking!) of the Titanic, here’s inspiration from a house in Co Down built with salvaged components from its birthplace…
When builder Kieran Fitzgerald and his brother Adrian decided to get involved in a self-build, the economic climate was very different to what it is today. Back in 2008, a well designed house in a good location could be sold on for a quick profit. However, by the time the building was finished, the recession had hit and the Fitzgeralds decided to rent out the house instead. Now they’ve finally decided to put the house on the market…
“I’m a merchant seaman,” says Adrian, “which means I spend most of my time at sea. I don’t get to come to Ireland that often, so this was a good project to undertake together with my brother. It was an investment and we went into this as partners.”
The Fitzgeralds wanted to build something really special, in keeping with the family’s nautical connections. “My father was a lighthouse keeper,” explains Kieran. “My sisters and I were born and reared at Saint John’s Point Lighthouse Station in Co Down.”
“We moved around a lot, my dad worked for the Commissioners of Irish Lights, so we were stationed in Cork, Galway and Antrim. Some of the family also crews for the RNLI (Ireland).”
Kieran and Adrian’s younger brother, Richard, is a Lieutenant in the Naval Service at Haulbowline, Co Cork. “I wanted to keep my feet on dry land!,” adds Kieran. “I’m the builder of the family. I’ve always been interested in building and restoration work.”
The original plan was to use Belfast brick, as Kieran thought it would be much more interesting to work with than stone. But when he went to enquire about sourcing them, he stumbled across something even more appealing.
“There’s a local salvage man I went to for the bricks, and he had been working at the Queen’s Island site of Harland & Wolff,” says Kieran. “He had Belfast bricks from the surrounding buildings of that shipyard! It was right up our alley so I placed an order. We got three thousand of them to build the front porch, gate pillars, chimneys, and boiler house.”
They were also lucky to be able to source one of the keel blocks, made of pitch pine, on which the ships were built. They used it as a feature mantle piece beam above the wood burning stove in the kitchen. “We’re keeping it in the family tradition,” adds Adrian.
The Titanic build
“We were looking at a few sites at the time,” says Kieran. “And we were quite taken by one on the coast but the estate agent advised us to buy in an area that had better access to the Belfast Road for shorter commuting distances.”
The design they had in mind, keeping with the Titanic theme, was a 1900s style house. “I got an architect on board to advise us on what type of home would suit. We had to keep the ridge height to 5.5m which meant we were restricted to building a one and a half storey,” adds Kieran. “So we chose a bungalow design which avails of the upstairs area.”
Sliding sash, double glazed, uPVC windows were fitted to the front elevation, on the ground floor. “The upstairs layout was influenced by our childhood home at Saint John’s Point Lighthouse, especially with regard to the installation of the specialist skylight windows. They’re new but they have a black bar in the centre to make them look like old traditional rooflights.”
“The planners were happy with the design as it is not obtrusive and took into account the height restrictions,” says Kieran. “We chose Spanish slates which look like Bangor Blues, rather than tiles, to make sure it would match the style of the 1900s, to complement the bricks. In addition, yellow buff coloured chimney pots were used. It all blends in well with the surrounding landscape.”
They also got an authentic 1950s country letterbox which Kieran built into one of the gate pillars. “The gates themselves were built to order, but in the traditional style of a mid 1800s county Down farmer’s field gate,” he says.
And while this project was a joint effort, Kieran took all of the major building decisions himself. “My biggest involvement was being there when we worked out the sun’s path,” says Adrian. “When we decided how to orientate the house, to make sure the sunroom adjacent to the kitchen caught the morning light and the living rooms the evening sun. But more often than not I was at sea, so Kieran took most of the decisions.”
Adrian also acted as the client in the sense that he kept on top of the budget, keeping an eye on the financial side of things. “It took me two years to build it,” says Kieran. “It was a project I’d get to at the weekends and whenever I had some spare time, I was going to it back and forth.”
The double garage, with remote controlled doors, has an upstairs (first floor) area, which has a sliding sash window and rooflights. It can be accessed independently at the rear, and Kieran says it could easily be converted into a playroom or an office. The garage style matches that of the house thanks to the use of standard Belfast brick.
Last but not least, Kieran also designed the house to be accessible for all, including wide corridors for wheelchair access, and a wheelchair accessible wet room with non-slip tiles in the master bedroom. “I have experience in the renovation and extension of buildings for people with reduced mobility,” he says. “So I decided to incorporate that into the design as well.” Needless to say, on this project all hands were on deck!
Site size: 0.9 acres
House size: 3,500 sqft
Construction type: cavity wall 4” wide, made of 4” thick concrete blocks
Insulation: cavity walls filled with EPS beads;
4” foil backed phenolic board between rafters; ground floor 3’’ high density polystyrene
U-values and EPC: not available
Windows: sliding sash, uPVC, double glazed, argon filled