To say that Dr. Greg Stephenson’s passion for buildings is a bit of an understatement. His mother tells him his first word was a mispronunciation of “ruins” and he underwent a psychological evaluation “because I didn’t want to do anything but draw houses”.
The architectural historian has written many books on subjects including 1930s houses, prefabricated buildings and in collaboration with Dr. Joseph Gallagher The Traditional Cottages of County Donegal, which focuses on the continuing loss of vernacular architecture in the northern county.
A heritage advocate and expert on traditional Welsh buildings, Stephenson runs the online group Irish Vernacular Architecture – which has 9,000 members – and has been a series consultant for the BBC on restoration programmes, whilst also writing and presenting on architecture for Welsh television.
He came to Ireland in 2008 and set up his business Under the Thatch, which now rents out distinctive properties in Ireland and the UK, but began restoring some of the few remaining properties in Donegal. (It is estimated that there were 150,000 traditional cottages in Donegal in 1950, a number that had dwindled to 150 by 2005.) “I was absolutely amazed at the amount of native architecture, but it’s better in Donegal than anywhere else in Europe. says Stephenson.
But hills far away are always greener, and he says he was naïve at the time and “underestimated how difficult it was to find highly skilled labor in Donegal, let alone the cost of doing it.” In 2009, he says, he paid €25 an hour for manual workers, while in Wales the cost was around €10. When the crash finally hit, he decided to move to Poland to restore authentic buildings there, as “the danger in Central Europe is that they tend to restore too much while I want to work on preserving original materials.” .
Stephenson says he has restored about 100 buildings, including a 56-room cave in Andalusia that was once a meeting place for artists like Joan Miró and Georges Braque.
One of his projects in Donegal – which is not native architecture, by the way – is now on the market. Three quirky cottages, all with one bedroom, are available through Campbell’s Auctioneers and Estate Agents in Dungloe.
The three units, being sold as one, are situated close to Traighenna Bay on the Wild Atlantic Way and will appeal as holiday rental homes. Together they are on a site of more than two hectares, so each unit has good privacy.
They’ve been rented out on a short-term basis, and Stephenson estimates that together they could fetch the guts of €100,000 a year, although that may be ambitious.
First up is a former shipping container that has been converted from its original use of transporting JCB parts from China to Omagh into a waterfront retreat. Stephenson names this building Frank, in homage to Frank Lloyd Wright and his love of cantilever structures.
Frank, which overhangs the water, extends to 30 m² (323 sq ft). It has a porch, bedroom, living area, bathroom, and kitchen, but it will be the view over the water — and proximity to the sea — that will draw buyers. Stephenson believes it will be the first shipping container “house” to hit the Irish housing market.
Luna is a shepherd’s hut, also overlooking the water. With a similar layout to Frank the shipping container, it has a separate alfresco ‘cube’ living room with a wood burning stove and views of its own coastal lake.
Last is a glamping pod – which has no name and is known as the Pod on the Bay – manufactured in Northern Ireland and offering stunning views of the Donegal sea and countryside.
“One of the things that might be of interest is that the broadband on the terrace of one of the units has a download speed of 100Mbps – there are parts of Dublin that don’t reach that. I truly believe the world is opening up to remote work, so this place could be just what someone is looking for right now.”
Stephenson is working on two timber buildings in Donegal, a 1977 bungalow in North Wales and an Edwardian house in need of lots of love.
His three unique one bedroom waterfront vacation homes are on the market as one unit (for planning purposes) through Campbell’s for €349,950.
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