Press Coverage - Irish Independent

This article on Former Glory was written by Jacqueline Kavanagh for The Irish Independent.

Restoring Former Glories

Chris Deakin remains silent for a few seconds after I enquire what he thinks of the old proverb 'Fools build houses, and wise men buy them'. Eventually, he laughs. "What, are you calling me stupid now? I think it's the other way around, wise men build the houses," he retorts heartily. 

Chris is anything but stupid. What he is, is passionate about old buildings and seeing them restored. So passionate, in fact, that in the middle of restoring his own home, a church originally built in 1808, he set up a website (www.formerglory.ie) featuring restored and derelict properties for sale, as well as information on specialist craftsmen and suppliers experienced in renovation projects.

Chris, and partner Orla McCluskey, bought their former Church of Ireland Chapel in Kiltullagh, Athenry, Co. Galway, back in 2005 for €165,000. He estimates by the end of the project, which apparently he's been saying will be finished in the next three months for the last 18 months, they'll have spent another €325,000.

"We wanted something different. We didn't want to live in a semi-detached three-bedroomed house," explains Chris, who also works as a DJ. "When we brought people out to the church when we first bought it, you could see the different reactions on their faces. They were thinking "why did you sell your perfectly good house for a church?" They couldn't get their heads around it at all."

And there's no denying some serious divine intervention was needed to spot the potential.

"There was very little left in the church to start with, it was a mess inside," admits Chris. "It hadn't been a church since 1920 and it had been used as a village hall, there was even a basketball hoop in there."

Far from being daunted by the project, Chris became so enthused he has set upon a path of converting more to the idea of restoration – the divine intervention clearly worked. He took a web design course and set up Former Glory.

"I used to check the estate agents for something different when it came to properties but they were hard to find, so the idea of the site was to be bring them all together. It cost me €40 to register the business name and the rest was just time."

The site had 1,700 visitors last month and has between 50 to 60 properties from different estate agents on the site.

"Originally I was just going to have properties like castles, churches and spectacular Georgian mansions, but now there are also properties 'awaiting renovation' that have a little bit of character," explains Chris.

He admits that income for the site isn't going to cover the mortgage anytime soon, but he believes that while not everyone relishes the idea of undertaking a renovation project, interest in renovation and restoration is growing all the time.

"Renovation projects are becoming more popular. If you look at some of the programmes that Duncan Stewart has done for RTE and all the house and home type magazines, they're all talking about renovation."

Chris admits and knows from personal experience that taking on a renovation project is certainly not an easy option.

"It's very easy to see a three-bedroom house on an estate agent's site, pay the money and get the keys. In that regard, it is more difficult to buy something old and renovate it. But with something old you have something completely different and original."

He suggests there are some basic things novices should take into account when starting a project.

"Definitely get an architect," he says. "If you get a good architect it will make a big difference. And don't be put off the condition of the building, if you see some of the before and after pictures from renovation jobs you can see anything is possible."

Although to be honest the 'before' photos on the 'renovation projects' section of the site which features Chris's church certainly show why friends and family questioned how wise his decision was. But he warns that people should be realistic when it comes to budgets and deadlines. It helps to have deep pockets and a relaxed attitude.

"If you go with exact timelines and budgets you could be disappointed (Chris's windows delayed the project by six months). Even getting money from the bank can be difficult. Restoration projects don't fit into any of the boxes they want to tick. Assume it's going to take longer, going to cost a little more and just get on with it," he explains.

Chris clearly is living proof that once you start renovating, it gets into the blood and you start spotting potential in every run-down little cottage or ruin.

"We were looking at an old mill in Tipperary a couple of months back, but we couldn't get the money from the bank at the time," he explains.

But if renovating a property just sounds way too daunting, the site also features a selection of properties that some other poor soul has spent time and stress on. The 'fully restored' section of the site includes Victorian and Georgian houses, cottages and lighthouses, making the bog standard semi-d look positively dull.

In the meantime, Chris is continuing with his work on his church renovation, the bathroom has been tiled and the kitchen is arriving in the next few weeks. Although he warns that his friends shouldn't be clearing their diaries for the house-warming any time soon.

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