Sarah’s grandmother’s cottage before renovation.

Bringing ‘new life’ to old buildings

Vacant and derelict properties are making a comeback with the recent uptake in the Vacant Property Refurbishment Grant.

According to Cavan County Council, Between July 18, 2022 and the 31 December 31, 2023, there were 210 applications for the Vacant Property Refurbishment Grant.

Applicants can get up to €50,000 to renovate a vacant property (empty for at least two years) and up to €70,000 if the property is derelict.

For such applicants, the 13-month completion deadline is ticking as all renovations to properties accepted for the grant must be completed within this timeline.

Currently, the grant is not paid until works on the refurbishment have been completed.

One such application was made by Sarah Lynch who moved home from England with her family in 2021 with a desire to renovate her grandmother’s home located in Castlerahan.

“We wanted to do some sort of renovation and extension on to it without getting rid of the four existing walls,” she explained.

Sarah contacted Kevin O’Neill of Cornahilt Design Studio Ltd to add his expertise to the renovation.

“We got on to Kevin and Kevin basically did us up the perfect plan.”

Sarah and her husband have been cleared for the Vacant Property Refurbishment Grant. They must wait until the house is near completion until they can receive any of the money, however.

She said the application was “the simplest” with just a form that had to be filled in about the property and then a visit from a costing engineer who predicted how much each stage of the build would be. An engineer also visited to ensure that the house was derelict.

“We got a letter back within a couple of weeks to say we had been accepted.”

The house had been empty for over 20 years.

“We just weren’t sure if we were going to buy or whether we were going to do the property up.

“We looked very, very briefly at the market for a general four-bedroom house and it was just way above our budget,” she said, explaining that renovating her grandmother’s property was more affordable than buying.

The mother of two hopes that the build will be completed by the end of summer. She’s happy with her decision to renovate rather than to buy.

“It’s a long road and you will have things that will test you,” she said.

“We get to put our own stamp on things as well, which we wouldn’t get to do if we bought a turnkey property.”

Having considered other architects, Sarah was most impressed with the plans Kevin gave her and said he “has helped with stuff that he didn’t necessarily have to help with” such as various landscaping ideas, answering any questions etc.

“I’m glad now in the end we settled with Kevin,” she said.

“He’s been really good and really helpful in everything.”

In business for five years this October, Kevin provides architectural services to people by preparing drawings for house designs, planning extensions and refurbishment works.

Sarah approached him with an existing cottage, which she wanted to renovate and extend.

“We had a look at it in terms of doing a modern take on the design,” he said.

Kevin had a chat with Sarah and her husband about what they wanted to house to look like and what they needed. These conversations included how light would enter, how spaces would interconnect and flow into each other and the overall look of the house.

“It’s designed specifically to suit their needs.”

Kevin said he finds it special working on such projects like Sarah’s grandmother’s home.

“I’m sure Sarah will get more out of it when it’s finished because of the connection through the family and the generations.

“Basically they’re bringing new life into a building that was owned by their previous generations.”

Based in Ballyjamesduff from his own modern barn-renovated home, which he proudly states won home of the year a few years back, Kevin aims to take a “modern design approach on a budget”.

“Budget is very important to people and that’s what we emphasise, that we can take their needs and try to develop it into a building that they will be comfortable living in and be able to afford the build.”

“This year and particularly the end of last year a lot of people are looking at commencing their projects for various reasons,” Kevin said, listing covid as a main factor that deterred people from starting such works.

“It’s a bit of a backlog for the last couple of years,” he said.

“We would be seeing an uplift in people applying for a lot of the grants,” Kevin said.

He reported that he is “very busy” at the minute and also outlined that, in terms of available contractors, there is a “labour supply issue in the country”.

“That’s kind of affecting everything at the moment,” he said.

Those looking for Cornahilt Design Studio’s architectural services can contact Kevin on 087-9818999 or by email at