“You must be millionaires”,  “Did you win the lotto?”.  We hear this a lot.  Unfortunately for us it’s not the case.  We worked really hard and reallly long hours to afford to buy the wreck called Firmount House and we now work late nights and weekends putting the house back together again.  What we lack in capital to fund the actual renovation, we make up for in determination, ingenuity, a passion for old buildings and the ability to make a little go a long way.  We knew it wouldn’t be easy to renovate a house of this size or condition, although we didn’t quite expect the dry rot, wet rot, leaks in the roof and overall deterioration the Department of Defence left us with.  But we are not alone.  There are lots of people struggling to renovate old and newer properties as well as build on small budgets. This blog post will be the first of a series which will hopefully show you some of the ways in which you can do up a house or garden or even a shed, on a budget.   So how do we do it?


There are so many sources of inspiration on the internet.  It doesn’t have to be all “Grand Designs” and million pound budgets.  For example take a look at the self-build of architect Dominic Stevens, an Irish man who built a small house on a budget of EUR25,000. He even includes step by step instructions on the build on his website www.irishvernacular.com. Seriously inspirational.

25000 home by Dominic Stevens

Or what about the “secret” treehouse hiding in the woods in Whistler, Canada at www.thehemloft.com? Hemloft was constructed by a young carpenter with no funds but with a load of ingenuity and imagination.   We don’t advise any illegal appropriation of land however!

Hemloft in Whistler

Planning and Gathering

I am a gatherer of ideas or so my sister says. For years I have been gathering pictures from magazines, articles on everything from new environmental innovations to food trends and reviews of new restaurants, new inventions and new businesses.  In addition I have been known to collect furniture and accessories from everywhere I have visited even though I didn’t yet have a place to put them all.  These are my personal sources of inspiration. With the advent of www.houzz.com, www.pinterest.com and instagram, we are inundated with free ways to collate ideas from across the world as well as fantastic ways to renovate on a budget.   So that’s where we started.  Long before we had even thought of buying Firmount House, I collected ideas.


For any build or renovation, the highest cost tends to be labour. Often this can represent up to two-thirds of the renovation budget.   So where do you find free-ish labour?  A few of the international sites we have used are  http://www.helpx.net and http://wwoof.net.   Wwoofers tend to be more focused on organic farming (which will be one of our foci at Firmount) while Helpxers tend to be open to working on anything.  As the work we have is very varied, we have predominantely used Helpx.  You post an ad, state how many hours you need them to work (usually between 18 and 24) and what the workers get in return (own accommodation, food and drink and transport to local towns for example).

Our helpers at the Farmers market


The Garden Before

The Garden After

We have had help from Helpxers in clearing the 3 acres of garden (our biggest job in the beginning), pruning trees, building walls, painting, upcycling and helping us restore windows.   Many are not skilled and so it helps if you have time to show them exactly how you want things to be done. If you can work alongside them even better, but that’s not always possible.   As this is also a cultural exchange, its important to make sure their stay is a good one and some do become friends for life.


In Europe and the US there are many resources that provide access to free materials. In Ireland there are less and so being patient is key.   When trying to find free materials, you have to have patience, time to pick up the materials and the knowledge to know what you are looking for so that you don’t end up with a basement full of rubbish. Craigslist (www.craigslist.org) is now international although it is certainly not as  extensively used in Europe as it is in the US.  The Hemloft was created substantially from materials sourced from Craigslist.  Freecycle is another international website at  https://www.freecycle.org where you enter your country, filter by area and see what is being offered for free.

Freetrade Ireland at http://www.freetradeireland.ie  is one we have used on occasion.   When we were creating the kitchen for the Helpxers, we found and restored a kitchen, a table and chairs aswell as acquiring a fridge and even a washing machine (pics will be posted in a future blog along with the steps we took)!   None of these materials would tend to be suitable for the areas of Firmount House which will be open to the public. But they have been a godsend in helping set up our Helpxers flat so that we could tackle the gardens together.  These sites aim not only to reduce costs but also to help avoid the world becoming an even bigger rubbish dump than it already is.  As they say – reduce, reuse, recycle.

Of course, if all else fails, you can always let your children at it but we don’t really advise that….

Demolition dudes

Recruit them young

There are lots of other budget conscious means of renovating from making relatively cheap materials like mdf and plywood look expensive to saving old flooring to reusing every day items as pieces of art but that is for another post.   Watch this space.

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