Bleach House, Villierstown, Cappoquin, Co Waterford.
Asking price: €850,000
Agent: Sherry FitzGerald Country Homes (01) 237 6433
So you’ve just bought an empty period home almost eight times the size of a standard semi-d. How are you even going to start furnishing and decorating? Importantly, how can you do it right? Because this is an important historic home.
When the owners of Bleach House at Villierstown, Co Waterford, first bought their enormous, elegant, but rundown Regency-era mansion on the outskirts of the town in 1999, their good fortune determined that the very first person they befriended in the area was designer Stephanie Hennessy.
The Los Angeles-born interior designer had moved to Ireland for the new millennium after 30 years travelling the globe and designing the interiors of the world’s most luxurious hotels.
And 15 years after she first engaged the project, she’s still working on Bleach House. “Right now, I’m designing the Christmas look with the tree and stuff,” says Hennessy, who is also a devoted equestrian enthusiast.
How do you do Christmas for a home this size? “Well you start by thinking big,” says Hennessy.
For the American designer, the job is not intimidating at all. Three decades with Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA), the world’s largest hospitality design group, means she’s seen all sorts of empty spaces with massive blanks just waiting for her to come up with the big ideas to match.
Hennessy has been based variously in Los Angeles, New York and, latterly, London. “They had me all over, designing interiors for four and five-star hotels of all types — traditional, modern, themed, you name it, I’ve done it.”
And because Hennessy has remained friends with Bleach House’s owners ever since (a solicitor and a builder), she reckons she has now spent 15 years designing and decorating for this property in what must be the world’s longest interior design commission. “Well, we’re good friends, you know. That’s how it goes.”
Bleach House and the River Chlorine (renamed Claureen) that runs through its grounds, have their origins in the forgotten Waterford linen industry which thrived for a century until it was obliterated by The Famine in the 1840s. For a time, the finest shirts and bedware came from Villierstown.
John Villiers the First Earl Grandison came to the site in the 1740s with the express purpose of kick-starting a linen industry on the Blackwater. He built the town from scratch in one go and then had families of linen workers and weavers transported from Lurgan to live there and make it their home. The business and Villierstown thrived. It is recorded that Villiers built a court house, a police barracks, a church, a rectory, a school, a quay and 24 houses. All the key buildings are still there today.
So too, remarkably, are the Villiers-Stuarts, who sold their seat at Dromana for a time in the 1960s, but later bought it back again. At its peak, the estate stretched to more than 40,000 acres. The enormous task of managing it all was down to the land agent.
This job was passed down through the Hall family. In the early 1800s, the estate eventually constructed a grand house for Mr Hall, which became known as Bleach House. And the Halls lived here until shortly before the current owners arrived.
At some point, the Halls bought their deeds out. Bleach House is thus called because the grounds also contained a flax mill which was responsible for processing and bleaching the flax. The ruins of the mill, the first built on the estate to process the flax, is still there in the garden today. Along the Chlorine/Claureen was where the flax was rinsed and dyed.
When the current owners bought it, Bleach House was in reasonably good structural order, but very rundown inside. The couple, who had renovated five homes previously, decided this was the one they finally wanted to settle in.
Bleach House had its original entrance blocked up at some point and another provided elsewhere on the frontage through knocking out a window base and glazing around it with a porch.
The builder on the team quickly spotted the faint outline of the original door arch and soon had the original reinstated back to its former glory.
The house was stripped back of old paint and wallpaper and rewired and replumbed, with new heating installed. The roof beams proved solid and the attic was insulated using a spray-on foam, which solidified — it not only prevents the heat escaping but it mummified those special beams and keeps them safe from ailments. The original window frames were retained, but the sashes were replaced to provide double glazing.
With a house like this, the next steps presented a tough financial choice. Do you do it properly by the book for the period of the house or do you use modern methods and save money?
The former route was pursued and a specialist was brought over from England to reinstate the limed inner walls as they were originally done, with the lime painted on to paper sheets mounted carefully on each surface. The specialist stayed for six weeks to get that job right. It allows the house to breathe.
The cornicing was restored and moulds taken of originals for specialists to recreate in spots where they had fallen away.
Overall, it took two years before the owners could finally move in. But the work continued. It was at this point that Hennessy got inside to do her thing. These days, she runs H&H Design Ireland and has been called in to apply her magic for “big houses, small houses, restaurants and for some reason, I’m always being called in to do AirBnBs”.
“As I said, with a house like this with high ceilings and tall walls and big spaces, you have to think big,” she says. “The furniture, the colours, all have to reflect that. And the owners wanted it to be of the period. So at one point, we took a trip to London to the King’s Road to find the right antique pieces. That was fun. It’s about layering, adding gradually to get the look you want.
“One of the biggest mistakes people make with a house like this is the lighting. I was called in recently to do a large new home and it had this huge open-plan kitchen, living room and dining room with just spots here and there and big dark zones everywhere. Lighting choices were vital. And we got there.”
Entered through a private entrance and sweeping driveway, Bleach House sits on 10 acres of private grounds. At 7,696 sq ft, it’s the equivalent of seven regular homes. An extension added at a later date has a separate office and could easily be divided for nanny/granny accommodation.
The original house has three main receptions and there’s a kitchen/breakfast room. It comes with a utility, office, scullery, boot room, guest wc, a family bathroom and five bedrooms with the master ensuite. The extension wing has a family room, living room/kitchen and there’s a comfortable and intimate home cinema with a roll-down screen and projector. There’s a storage room and two further bedrooms which are both ensuite.
Outside, there’s stables, a tack room, feed room, outdoor playroom, 35m x 40m flood-lit sand arena and easy access to each of the stud-railed paddocks. Each paddock has its own water supply and a stream running through the boundary.
It’s located in the picturesque village of Villierstown, where the River Blackwater runs through and the famous Hindu Gothic arch leaves into town. Cappoquin, Lismore and Tallow are within 8km and within range of the beaches of the south-east coast.
With their children flown from this especially large nest, the owners are selling and trading down in the area. Roseanne DeVere Hunt of Sherry FitzGerald Country is selling it for them, seeking €850,000. And interior designer Hennessy can soon close the book on her longest running job.