There’s no shortage of fun and educational moments as Laura and Kenny Brown rebuild their bungalow in Howth, Co Dublin, from the ground up.
Laura, a media teacher, and Kenny, who works for a pharmaceutical company, have three children and one on the way when Dermot Bannon first visits on RTÉ One’s Room to Improve on Sunday.
They tell him they want to open up their living space and maximise their sea view.
But the drama also continues on location as we watch Laura show Dermot around her beloved G Hotel in Galway to give him interiors inspiration.
Over afternoon tea, Laura tells the celebrity architect: “We lived in three houses in eight years and really none of them felt like the forever home — now that we’re in the forever home I want it to be something like this; I want my house to feel like a hotel.”
Dermot replies: “The king of minimalism meets the queen of maximalism.”
Not so fast, Dermot.
It transpires, Dermot himself has looked to a World Heritage Site no less for inspiration when rethinking the Browns’ entrance.
Months later, Kenny is talking about glazing the day the windows are being fitted.
Dermot rang me up one Friday evening and said, ‘Would you be on for changing the front door to a clear glass panel because of the sunset?’ He described it as like Newgrange, he said the sun would come in through the front hall and light up the whole hall. I said yes.”
Laura and Kenny and want to rework the residence to suit their family.
Dermot devises a plan to utilise the attic’s potential to make the most of the house’s stunning views — and also future-proof the property for the Browns.
Baby Zara arrives just as the building work starts.
“We are going to be a family of six living in a three-bed bungalow so renovation really is not going to be an option — it has to be an extension,” says Laura.
The couple bought the detached bungalow in 2017 on the road where Kenny grew up.
Kenny’s parents still live in the area and the Irish Sea is to the rear.
“It’s the landscape of Kenny’s childhood,” says Laura.
As Dermot gets the grand tour, he side-eyes a semi-functional bathroom, storage areas and kitchen. “This is our bathroom, but you can’t see the toilet — it’s buried in there,” says Laura.
In the kitchen, the couple cheerfully describe as retro, Dermot exclaims, “You’ve no worktop space at all!”
Laura admits: “Dinner time is just a warzone — it’s a horror show, really.
“The house is really not that functional and it’s affected our social life as well, a lot. We don’t even have people over any more.”
The couple use their bedroom to access the garden such as when their children’s friends are coming and going for play dates.
“I’ve had complete strangers in my bedroom picking up their kids,” says Laura.
Next they decamp to the garage — or Kenny’s man cave.
“I do like messing around with stuff, and DIY and fixing stuff,” muses Kenny.
Dermot is perplexed. “You didn’t fix up anything in the house, did you?”
Unfazed Kenny responds, “That’s your job!”
Dermot doesn’t hold back. “I love it — ‘I love a bit of DIY’ , and half the toilets don’t work!”
Contractor Denis McGlynn starts demolition work and the build in April 2021 after the restrictions on non-essential construction work lift.
With rising material and labour costs, it is challenging.
Laura and Kenny move to a rental home and when the delay of lockdown prolongs the overall process, precious money is spent on rent.
Quantity surveyor Claire Irwin arrives to manage the budget and align expectations.
“The spending has got to stop!” she says at one point.
But as Laura says: “We just want everything!”
Laura and Kenny arrive to survey the scene towards the beginning of the build.
As Dermot, Laura and Kenny gaze towards the attic, Kenny says: “I’m going to need back-up because she wants to put in a bar.”
Dermot is not impressed.
“Okay. What kind of a bar?”
Laura whips out her phone. “A bar. An art deco bar. Do you want to see it?”
All Dermot wants to know is how much it costs.
“It’s about a thousand euro,” is Laura’s answer.
Cut to Dermot outside the house.
“One thousand euro for a stupid velour bar. That they’ll never use? There’s no money there for it.
“If they find money for it I’ll be kind of annoyed.”
Costs are rising, timber and steel by 30% which makes pricing work more difficult.
Since the build was first costed in 2020 the fallout from Covid and Brexit have pushed material costs up and adding €25,000 to the original budget.
Quantity surveyor Claire notes that the original budget of €275,000 has risen to €300,000.
Eventually they do exceed the budget.
Laura and Kenny decide to make three changes.
They opt for Aluclad windows throughout, underfloor heating and an extra metre of floor space in the front room.
They deem it worth it and a lot cheaper than a retrofit in years to come.
Eight-and-a-half-months’ worth of construction later, there’s a happy ending. The couple are thrilled with the transformation of their once-dated bungalow.
Normally with a rectangular bungalow “you’d split it in two, one half for bedrooms, the other half for living accommodation,” says Dermot.
“But you couldn’t split this house in two because you needed to connect from the front to the back.”
So, Dermot split it down the middle.
That spine or storage wall “hung the design together”.
Instead of a kitchen island the worktop faces out over a bifold window.
As for the bedroom or what Laura calls the “boudoir”?
“It’s like stepping into a marshmallow,” says De