Stairways from heaven –Irish craftsmen hitting new heights as luxury home owners splash the cash on spectacular staircases

The entrance hall and bespoke staircase at The Brambles, Malahide, Co Dublin

The exterior

The staircase at The Brambles was crafted by Dunnes Joinery in Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath

The kitchen

The dining room

The bathroom

One of the living areas

Declan Feery of Dunnes Joinery working on the staircase (photo: James Crombie)

Mark Keenan

The Brambles, Streamstown Lane, Malahide, Co Dublin Asking price: €1.495m Agent: Gallagher Quigley (01) 8183000

The arts and crafts movement is experiencing a revival in the realm of joinery as builders try to outdo one another on quality in Ireland’s luxury new homes market.

Amidst this atmosphere, and a previous flurry of trophy home renovations, a number of Irish craft firms have been building reputations for work that massively transcends basic construction.

Names like Munster Joinery have become familiar among those home renovators seeking bespoke windows and cabinet work.

But perhaps the greatest renaissance in Irish craftsmanship is in the realm of the staircase as buyers seek crafted pieces and hands-on joinery firms rise to the challenge.

The staircase at The Brambles was crafted by Dunnes Joinery in Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath

Many of us are familiar with the wonderfully elegant and ornate staircases of the Georgians. And indeed the somewhat mass produced (but still wonderfully detailed and crafted) style that followed from the Victorians and Edwardians.

There was a revival again in the early 20th century driven by new directions in architecture and furniture design.

But who would have thought Ireland’s modern new homes market, with a Tiger-era reputation for cutting corners, would emerge as a champion of stairs craft?

The exterior

Dunnes Joinery, run by Norah and Paul Dunne, is based in Kilbeggan in Co Westmeath. Norah reports that the firm is currently “out the door” with orders, such is the current demand for a good bespoke stairs.

To show what’s been going on, take the example of a luxury home at The Brambles at Streamstown Lane in Malahide, Co Dublin.

Completed in 2018 by Sugrue, this home was placed for sale as Covid was breaking and the owners decided to withdraw it.

This week it is back on the market and has been professionally staged to show it at its best, with an asking price of €1.495m.

And while all the fittings throughout are of a high standard, the real standout is its dramatic and romantic sweeping staircase which hits you in a double height hall as soon as you walk in.

Building it involved multiple visits to the site to measure up, says Dunnes Joinery timber machinist James Murphy.

“First we talk to the home owner about what they want and then we go the site and measure up to get the templates. We look at whether a design is suitable for their home.

“With new homes, we start thinking about that before the build. When everything is ready we get to work.

Declan Feery of Dunnes Joinery working on the staircase (photo: James Crombie)

“In the case of the staircase at The Brambles, the treads are in white oak and stained walnut and the risers are painted poplar. Poplar is actually a hard wood but with certain suitable qualities for this job. We can paint it for example and the knots won’t ever bleed through the paint, as might be the case with other woods.

“The craftsman and brains behind this particular staircase was Declan Feery.

“A stairs like this involves many different processes, including laminating and hand machining (say for the bead detail on the underside) and it takes us six to eight weeks to finish it. Then we bring it to the site in one piece. This particular staircase is self supporting. We have to turn it over to bring it in and fit it, but it’s not as difficult it sounds.”

The dining room

Dunnes say builders of high-end homes have been looking for their stair crafting services in recent years, but lately demand has also risen from private homeowners who are building or renovating.

Many discovered that a bespoke staircase commission for an impact piece is not quite as expensive as they believed.

One of the living areas

Something akin to the sweeping stairs at The Brambles will cost between €20,000 to €25,000 (curved landings cost more) rather than the €60,000 plus many would typically have expected expect.

“These are owners of homes who are otherwise paying €40,000 to upgrade their kitchen,” says Murphy.

The impact in the right home can be huge says agent Peter Quirke of Gallagher Quigley who is selling The Brambles.

“Without a doubt it is the signature of this house with a Gone with the Wind romantic quality that has had everyone I’ve shown it to talking as they walk in.”

The bathroom

At more than 3,000 sq ft it also includes a kitchen by Peter MacAuley, who did the wardrobes in the two main bedrooms. There are four bedrooms with ensuites and also a dressing room off the master; an open plan kitchen/diner and two more receptions.

And of course, the craft staircase that will give you a proper landing.

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