Holiday home owner converts rat-infested dilapidated 'shed' into a seaside dream

When someone buys a dilapidated house these days, it’s almost a given that the devastation will be even worse than originally thought at the time of purchase.

Invariably, unforeseen dry rot makes itself known, or it turns out that a new roof is needed, or the electrics are dangerous. Hence, the cost of renovation is usually double the original estimate.

Imagine Lorraine Murray’s delight when, after handing over the price of the holiday house she bought, she discovered that there was no bad news of that order at all.

In fact, Lorraine’s house tale is that rare thing – a good-news story. And this, despite the fact that the building was covered in black mould when she first saw it; the toilets had all been ripped out of the walls, and the site was so overgrown that she had no idea what views it had.

Lorraine’s holiday home is on the coast of Wexford; just minutes from the sea, it enjoys stunning views, and its features include a wraparound deck; an open -plan light-filled living/dining room; four bedrooms, including an en suite with the master bedroom; an outdoor shower – features beyond her wildest dreams when she first got the notion early in 2017 that she’d like a seaside house, having happily enjoyed a modest mobile home in Rosslare for the previous 20 years.

“I had the mobile looking fab, and we spent all summer there; even friends with a fabulous house in Dubai used to love to come and stay. But my son, Ben, is six-foot-one tall, and when I saw that he couldn’t fit into the bed in the mobile, I realised it was time to move,” Lorraine says with a laugh.

There was also an ulterior motive – the bubbly blonde, who hails from Rathfarnham, really wanted to do up a beach house to explore her hidden talent as an interior designer.

Lorraine, the eldest of five, has always enjoyed interiors, and would have loved to have been an interior designer when she left school, but it was not to be. “My father was a building contractor, he had a very successful business – 200 staff at one stage – and he used do the building of big stores like Penneys and Tesco. He used to fly in designers from the UK to do the fitouts. I worked for him in the workshops in the summer; I’d love to have done the interiors for him,” she notes. “But, years ago, there was a recession when I left school, so it was a case of ‘get a job’, and I got a job in the bank. In those days, job security was the main thing.”

As it happened, Lorraine loved the bank, so she gave up her dream of becoming a designer. She did, however, do an interior design course for her own pleasure, and channelled her creativity into the home she created with her husband, Michael, whom she met when she was 24.

“We had a whirlwind romance. I had seen him in the rugby club in Terenure. He was going out with a girl at the time; I thought he was married, actually,” she says. “Then I was at a bank do, and I spotted him coming in with this other girl. I said to my friend, Brian, ‘I thought yer man was married’. Turns out, Brian was one of his best friends – I didn’t know that – so Brian told Michael, and the following week, there was another bank do, and Michael was there, and we were introduced that night. We got married 11 months later.”

That was 30 years ago. Michael has his own decorating and renovating business, and Lorraine continued in the bank, staying on after the birth of Ben, an only child, 22 years ago. “Ben was a miracle child,” Lorraine explains, “We went through years of no babies. I thought I’d never have a child, then, after many IVFs, we finally got our boy.” The boy who got too big for the mobile home.

A third reason Lorraine wanted a beach house was her father; her father and mother had bought a house on the beach in Portugal to retire to, but sadly, her mother died after three years of illness, and Lorraine’s father had devoted that time to looking after her. Then, when she died, he became ill and could no longer travel to Portugal. Lorraine thought it would be nice to have a place to bring him to.

Early in 2017, she put the mobile home up for sale without even telling her husband, and it sold within a week. Then the hunt was on for a beach house.

Her heart was originally set on Roney Point, where her good friend Nuala had a house, but that fell through. Then she saw an intriguing house on the internet. “I showed it to Michael. He was still livid that I had sold the mobile, and he just said, ‘It looks like a shed’, but I thought I’d go and see it anyway,” Lorraine says. “My friend Nuala – who had lost her lovely husband, Ray, some time before – and her mother, both came with me. We drove down the laneway, and you couldn’t really see the house. There was a nine-feet-high barbed-wire fence. The garden was full of rubbish, and the rockery was full of trees taller than the house, so we didn’t know there was a sea view.”

It transpired one set of previous tenants had bred dogs in the house, and once Lorraine and her companions got in, they were nearly overpowered by the stench. “Whoever had rented it lived in a caravan outside, and the dogs lived in the house. It was walking with rats, and it was flooded with water; we subsequently discovered the rats had eaten through the pipework downstairs.”

Despite the state of it, Lorraine was seduced. “I walked in and I got a good feeling, I really did,” she says.

Showing it to Michael was the next hurdle, and, happily, he said, “OK, go for it”. This meant he was on board.

Lorraine feels she got a further seal of approval the day they took ownership. “I’m very superstitious, and I believe in signs. The day we got the keys, I was standing at the gate, chatting to a neighbour,” Lorraine recounts. “As we were talking, a robin landed beside me, and then a butterfly. They were signs. I always got signs when Mammy died, something like a feather or a robin, and Nuala said she had the same experience with her husband, Ray. Literally, that day, a robin and a butterfly. I really felt both Mammy and Ray approved.”

After that, Michael and Lorraine had to get down to the renovation work, and there was a lot to be done.

“When Michael’s father, who had his own decorating business, saw the house, he said, ‘Light a match to it’. He meant demolish it and build on the site, but once we looked at it, there was no need for that,” Lorraine says. “While a lot of the wood cladding was in bits, the house is concrete, and it was sound.”

There was, however, a phenomenal amount of clearing, cleaning and repairs to be done. They demolished a two-storey shed, and cut down many of the trees – both were blocking the views of the sea. They had to repair all the pipe work, fix the central heating, fix the toilets and showers, and clean and paint all the walls.

Fortunately, Michael could do all of this work. They were in the house every spare moment; Lorraine doing as much of the physical work as Michael. “The wooden decking had all collapsed, we had to fix that; and we added the glass panes on some of the deck to maximize the sea views,” Lorraine explains, adding, “The window were in bits, but we were able to repair them. We took up the floorboards – some had buckled, but we were able to repair most of them, and we put them back down again.”

The only floor that’s new is the tiled kitchen floor; the tiles on the kitchen walls are new, too. But features like the wine rack were actually in the house.

Michael, of course, did most of the paintwork – Lorraine opted for a beach-house vibe, so blues dominate, though she opted for some sand tones. The overall effect could be described as Scandi or Hamptonsesque. Whatever you call it, it’s certainly cool and comfortable.

Meanwhile, Lorraine was also stocking up on furnishings, and it’s her proud boast that she got everything on a budget.

“Fifty-two boxes were delivered by Ikea – beds; tables; chairs. Accessories, I bought in Lidl, Aldi, and The Range in Liffey Valley. It’s a beach house – you don’t want to be worrying about things getting wrecked,” she says.

The result is so magical that lots of people have asked Lorraine to decorate their beach houses – so many, in fact, that she took the plunge and took early retirement from the bank job.

“I can do colour consultancy with Michael’s clients if they need it, as well as taking on my own clients, doing their holiday homes,” she says.

She hopes to create little seaside paradises for them, just as she has done for herself. As one of Lorraine’s wall plaques advises, “A little sand between the toes always takes away the woes.”

Lorraine can be contacted at: [email protected]

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