Artists convert factory shed into this stunning home – with views out to Skellig Michael

Sometimes it takes an artistic mind to see beauty where others see functionality. In the case of Studio Skellig in Kerry, it was not only one artist, but two who saw the potential in an old industrial unit on a hill which some say was once a fish processing facility.

In 2000, Cork artists Billy Foley and Collette Nolan got a small inheritance and decided they wanted to do something constructive with it and turn it into something positive.

“It wasn’t a large amount,” stresses Billy, “but we wanted to be creative in how we spent it. We thought we’d buy a small site somewhere with a plan to develop it a few years down the line.”

The couple was involved in the setting up of the Cill Rialaig arts project in Ballinskelligs in the 1990s and always felt a connection to the area, so they put out a few feelers to see if there were any properties worth looking at.

“A friend of mine knew an American man who had a property for sale in St Finian’s Bay that might suit,” says Billy. “We didn’t want to buy a country cottage, we were looking for something more contemporary.”

When they drove down the hill to the property and saw the functional shed in the field, they knew straight away that it was exactly what they were looking for.

“It was an industrial unit with brutish architecture which we really loved because aesthetically, it’s the exact opposite to the Irish landscape,” recalls Billy. “We walked into the space that felt cathedral-like inside. The walls were only cavity bricks, but it had a lovely feel to it.”

It’s former function is still something of a mystery. While some locals say it was originally a fish cannery, when Billy and Collette went to see it first they were led to believe that it was built in the 1970s and had been used to manufacture concrete fence posts.

Even though they weren’t planning on buying a property so quickly, the couple couldn’t stop thinking about how perfect the place was and quickly put down a deposit, hoping it would all come good in the end.

“There was no planning on it, so we were taking a bit of a risk,” laughs Billy. “We figured even if we couldn’t get residential planning, we could create a studio for us to work in at some stage down the line.” A few years later, with a new baby in tow, the couple got in touch with an architect friend to start work on designing a unique home. He was invaluable to them when it came to the planning process as he had experience in dealing with Kerry county council with previous clients. Without him, Billy claims the couple would have been banging their heads against a wall.

It was a collaboration that worked well for both parties because they were on the same page when it came to the vision for the home. They agreed that a minimalist approach would suit the building and its surroundings best.

“The building may look simple, but all the detail and beauty is in that simplicity,” says Billy, proudly. “We wanted the space to be flexible and we wanted the path out to the view as uninterrupted as possible.”

The first thing they did was to get rid of the asbestos roof and dispose of it. The property now has a Kingspan insulated roof with sound proofing to avoid an echo coming from the steel.

Today the open-plan 2,346 sq ft house has two large rooms with a vaulted ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows, with extra large, sliding timber doors to separate the two spaces if desired. The design is industrial throughout with a polished concrete floor, wooden beams and corrugated steel ceilings.

The kitchen is fitted with white units and timber worktops. In coastal homes a wood-burning stove is usually a focal point in a room but in this case it’s all about the view. A window spans the entire width of the house and looks out over St Finian’s Bay and out to Skelligs which include the world famous Skellig Michael, an ancient monastic settlement atop a huge jagged rock, and more recently, the hideout of Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars series.

The second room is currently being used as an artist’s studio but could easily become an extra living room or even a yoga or pilates studio. There are two bedrooms. One is on the ground floor and this has four stout handcrafted oak beamed double bunk beds. The second bedroom is on the mezzanine level overlooking the studio. It has a double bed on a built-in oak platform.

It might be on the edge of some of Ireland’s wildest coastal conditions, but Billy insists that once you’re indoors, it’s quiet and cosy thanks to the stove and the underfloor heating.

“The house is very well insulated and always cosy,” he says, “so it’s as nice to sit here and look out on a winter’s evening as it is on a sunny summer’s day. You never tire of that view.”

The family got a lot of use out of the house over the years, with Collette taking advantage of the peace while studying for her doctorate and their son Danny enjoying days on the beach, as well as using the studio space as a creative outlet.

“We would have missed all of that joy if we hadn’t gone for it when we did,” says Billy, fondly. “We love it so much and are still thinking ‘will we, won’t we’, but we’re travelling a lot with work at the moment and Danny is nearing the age where he’ll want to do his own thing, so we think it’s time to let it go.”

The property is halfway between Portmagee and Cahirciveen, and six minutes from the beach in Ballinskelligs.

Studio Skellig Aghort , Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry

Asking price: €450k

Agent: Engel and Voelkers, (021) 4773200

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