By the late 1990s, Sandra and Peter Nolan had tired of corporate life and living in a Knocklyon estate. They’d long harboured a dream of buying a large plot of land in the countryside and building their own home.
So much so, the couple spent two years putting their two young daughters in the back of the car every weekend and driving between Enniskerry and Ashford in Co Wicklow in search of their ideal site. The Nolans would stop at every farm they spotted and put a note on the gate, asking if the owner had land to sell.
“Because we both had busy jobs and young kids, we eventually got fed up of all this travelling, so we put an ad looking for a site in the Wicklow People newspaper instead,” says Sandra. “A chap who was coming back from the States answered; he was developing 12 sites near Ashford and sold us one of two sites he used to finance the project. Our greenfield site was surrounded by holly trees and the houses were designed looked like English lodges, so we called the house Holly Lodge.”
In 1999, Sandra gave up her job and the family moved into a mobile home on the 1.6-acre site for a year and a half while Peter, who has sadly since passed away, project-managed the building of Holly Lodge. The four-bed, 3,014-sq ft rural retreat, which Sandra has recently put up for sale, was straight out of a magazine.
“We used to get an English magazine that had house design books – we must have had 30 or 40 of them. We fell in love with the old oak beams in one of the designs and wanted to incorporate them into the design we used. A professional draughtsman drew up the design.”
Holly Lodge is situated on a wooded hillside in Ballymacahara, the lyrically named townland that sits high above Ashford village, which is home to Ashford Studios, where the TV show Vikings was filmed. The house is a 10-minute walk from the village and The Chester Beatty Inn. Indeed, Sandra regularly spotted extras from Vikings heading to Chester Beattys for a pint – “the beards gave them away” – and once saw a longboat prop being towed on a truck. Although the series finished last year, the buyer of Holly Lodge can expect to see more bearded extras around Ashford, as Netflix has commissioned a spin-off show called Vikings: Valhalla.
While the building of Holly Lodge was Peter’s pet project, Sandra set about turning the grounds into split-level gardens. The highest level to the rear of the home adjoins the 50-hectare Ballymacahara Forest. To one side of the house is a lawn with fruit trees and raised vegetable beds. To the front of the property, which is accessed through electric gates, is another lawn, a pond, and a roundabout feature filled with mature plants.
A gravelled driveway and path lead to the entrance of the Nolans’ double-fronted ersatz lodge. The front door opens directly onto a vaulted, 433-sq ft dining hall that spans the entire depth of Holly Lodge’s right wing. Indeed, the dining hall is the centrepiece of the property, thanks to the oak beams that frame the room.
“Peter drew up the designs for the beams, which we got from Oakmasters in the UK,” Sandra says. “When they arrived from England, we had a crane that lifted them into the house. They were put together like a jigsaw and joined together by hammering dowels into them.”
The oak beams go all the way from the ground floor up to the first floor overhead. An oak bridge crosses over the dining hall to link the first-floor landing with the master bedroom. A glass atrium at the very top of the house allows light to flow down to the oak bridge and to the dining hall below.
The rear of the dining hall, which overlooks the double French doors to the back garden, fits the two long dining tables that Sandra used to host 20 people for Christmas and was the scene of many a party hosted by the couple. In winter, a sandstone fireplace with a wood-burning stove, coupled with Italian travertine tiles, lends a sense of cosiness to the vast dining hall, which is high enough to accommodate a 14ft Christmas tree.
Off the dining/entrance hall are doors to the kitchen/living area. The TV lounge has open-plan access to the seven-sided vaulted sunroom, which has three sets of French doors opening onto the rear garden. A spiral staircase with cast-iron railings and travertine-tiled steps leads to the first floor with en suite master bedroom.
The would-be buyer can enjoy a quasi-rural life and still be within commuting distance of Dublin – the house is a few minutes’ drive from the N11/M11. Depending on traffic, it takes about an hour to reach the centre of Dublin.
Holly Lodge Ashford, Co Wicklow
Asking price: €895,000
Agent: Clarke Auctioneers (0404) 40 421
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