A farmhouse renovation project that combines work and family life.

A decade ago, Joe Fallon and wife Deirdre bought a 1700s cottage in the heart of the Blackstairs Mountains to start a family and further develop Joe’s career as an architectural technologist.

“I designed many different options and got carried away without realizing it,” reflects Joe. “Deirdre and I were on holidays in Barcelona when she flipped. I kept changing the house from a three bed to a four with very small hot press, then to a five bed. She said ‘just stop’ and I did. I might still be designing the house if it weren’t for her!”

There are two aspects to the renovation; a new build and a barn conversion. The existing farmhouse was of a cottier style and was demolished to make way for the main part of the house. “We kept the good stone and buried the rubble,” he says. “The demolition contractor had a difficult job as I painstakingly made him save all the flagstones and granite lintels while he knocked the old building with a 20 tonne digger! The salvaged stone we put over the new doors and we saved whatever we couldn’t use; the flagstones we put in the hallway and around the fireplace.”

“I had a bit of a bachelor pad in mind, I’ll admit. The landing for instance wraps around in such a way that I can now see the dangers of having children climbing over them, even though it is 1200mm high. For Deirdre a large utility/hot press was higher on the priority list.”


“We always wanted to make sure we didn’t take anything away from the old farm feeling,” he adds. “In the main house, we built the upstairs windows smaller and closer to the ground to make sure the new house would be sympathetic to the environment, and not overshadow the barn. Even though that means that with small children the windows are always locked.”

In fact when Joe and Deirdre were ready to do up the barn three years after their new build, they were able to sympathetically refurbish it because so much of it could be salvaged. “We kept the entire wall and roof structure; it was then more a question of linking up the old with the new, as the two buildings were about one metre apart.”

They got a stonemason from the area to reuse the salvaged stone from the cottage to build the bridging wall. “The new stonework is flawless, you really can’t tell where his work begins and the original ends,” says Joe.

Joe’s Choices

Building choices

Masonry single leaf construction (thermal blocks) insulated from the inside, rather than using standard concrete blocks with a cavity wall. “It was quicker to build and worked out cheaper; the higher material costs were more than offset by the savings we made on labour and time on site.”


Timber choice

Inside salvaged ten inch pitch pine boards which originally came from a church in Belfast were used it as flooring planks. The bog oak on the fireplace is also salvaged. The pine windows and cedar fascia and soffit need to be painted every five years.


In the summertime, the glazing allows the light to flood the space and heat it through passive solar gains, but in the winter, sheer volume makes it a little harder to keep warm. So what Joe came up with was a way to compartmentalise the rooms downstairs. “Between the kitchen and the living room we have a 3m wide oak and glass sliding door, which when closed back is retracted into a false partition wall. This is both aesthetic and practical, helping to reduce the space to heat in winter time.”

Joe’s Tips

Don’t skimp

“Deirdre and I thought that since we were only going to be doing this once, we might as well do it right. By choosing double height ceilings we knew our heating bills would be higher, but the views are just spectacular, it’s a sacrifice we were happy to make. We really enjoy living here, which is what counts.”

Take the time to find the right tradesmen

“Our carpenter, Julian Rothwell, was just starting out on his own. He was recommended to us by our tiler for his meticulous attention to detail, which shone through. On some parts of the build, where the timber and detailing was not standard, he presented options that I had not considered. We became good friends and I found it great to work with a professional who taught me a lot about carpentry and joinery.”

Take your time with DIY

“Unfortunately Julian has since passed away but he has left his craftsmanship throughout our home and we were so lucky to have found him. For my own DIY projects Julian instilled in me the need to take your time, and to do it right the first time. It’s better to do it that way than having to go back three or four times to fix it. But at the end of the day you can’t beat each man at his own trade.”


House size: 3,500 sqft (including barn 1,000 sqft)
Site size: 1.5 acres

Full article seen on selfbuild.ie

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