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Cabaret Gods & the Towers of Elysium

In 1972 the late hotel entrepreneur Pascal Vincent Doyle purchased a small Victorian demesne on Upper Leeson Street Road, felled the house and erected in its place the Burlington Hotel, the behemoth which still holds the distinction of being Ireland’s largest hotel.

Just south of the Burlington Hotel stands a terrace of four superb Regency townhouses – two and three-storey red-bricks – which P.V. also acquired. Recently restored as eight houses and apartments, most of these have been sold in the past six months, as part of a joint venture between the Monahan family and Frank Gormley of Howard Holdings Plc. One of these houses is currently occupied by P.V.’s charismatic grandson, the 30-year-old property developer, Neil Monahan.

Neil’s mother Eileen is one of P.V. Doyle’s three daughters and a board director for the Jurys Doyle Hotel Group. As Ireland’s largest hotel group, Jurys Doyle is never far from the business pages. It owns over 20 hotels and nine Jurys Inns worldwide, including the Westbury, the Montrose and – until very recently – the Berkley Court and the Tara Towers. These latter properties were sold last year for a whopping €260 million to Co. Carlow property tycoon Sean Dunne.

Neil concedes that holding an Empire together becomes increasingly difficult as more generations arrive on the scene but most of his grandfather’s territorial acquisitions, including the Burlington, remain intact. The Elysium development represents a new direction for the family. And judging by the high polish of these townhouses, it shall be a fruitful course for them. They have certainly done much to impress with their painstaking restoration – and modernisation – of the terrace, delicately fusing the original architecture with contemporary, innovative design. The result is both classically elegant and extremely covetable.

Built in an age when Dublin was awash with leafy meadows and top hats, the early occupants of these 160-year-old townhouses most likely consisted of well-to-do merchants, retired soldiers or younger sons of the gentry. However, like so many Leeson Street townhouses, the terrace’s latter day incarnation had been one of sub-divided flats. Now known by the Homeric appellate of “Elysium”, the set of four luxury terraced houses, complete with superb garden apartments, has swiftly evolved into a millionaire’s row in the heart of Georgian Dublin. The name Elysium comes from Greek mythology where the Elysian fields were a part of the Underworld reserved for the souls of the heroic and the virtuous. All the Greek heroes end up here. You can’t do much better for a place to fetch up.

The acclaimed restoration was carried out under the careful supervision of Eoin St. John Downes of O’Mahony Pike Architects. A number of period features, such as ceiling mouldings and gable walls, had been badly damaged or simply disappeared over the years. All original features such as cornicing, plasterwork, railings, doors, windows and fanlight were restored or replaced as necessary. The cornicing was faithfully recreated with the help of the Irish Fine Plasterwork of Fairview, Co. Dublin. Much of the timber restoration was carried out by Maclyn Carpentry of Oak Court Grove, Palmerston, Dublin 20. The Regency fanlights were repaired by the team at Rathmines Glass & Design.

When it comes to dressing up houses in contemporary classical attire, there’s not many who can hold a match to Helen Turkington. She and her colleague Emma Hutton effectively sourced all soft furnishings from their stores in Ranelagh and Northern Ireland. They opted for a look of serene luxury, a cool palette of mushroom, cappuccino and cream that runs seamlessly throughout Neil’s house. “We wanted everything to be plain and simple”, explains Helen, “to reflect a calm and tranquil atmosphere”.

A black gateway and a dozen granite steps brings one to the front door, complete with restored fanlight. The door opens into a hallway tiled in slate and Spanish sandstone. To the right are the inter-connected drawing and living rooms, both generously proportioned and splendidly illuminated by daylight pouring in through large sash windows. Sandstone chimney pieces from Chesneys were installed by Robinson Fireplaces of Lower Dorset Street, Dublin 2. The elaborate chandeliers overhead came via Hicken Lighting from the Czech Republic where Bohemain craftsmen have been specializing in the cutting of lead crystal for over a hundred years. Many of the Turkington trademarks are found here – rich cushion-covered sofas, equally enticing velvet armchairs, voluptuous silk curtains, polished black mirrors, cutting edge ball glass lamps and classic botanical prints.

A staircase takes one up to the piece de resistance, the enormous kitchen. “This is where it all happens”, says Neil. “Somehow you always migrate towards this end of the house. In summer or winter, it’s a fantastic room”. This surprising and comfortable space was made possible by the addition of an excellent extension to the rear of the building. Wide plank walnut floorboards from Scott Flooring of Dublin lend the room a very pleasant ambience while Kitchen Flair of Sandymount have done what they do best with designing the kitchen itself with Spanish sillstone worktops, state-of-the-art appliances from Miele and a handy digitally controlled wine cooler for forty bottles. Radiators are cleverly disguised behind elegant lattice panelling. Helen’s American style shutters give the room a distinctly secure feeling. She also designed the studded chairs which encircle the dining table while a pair of lime green breakfast bar stools stand out rather invitingly against the neutral hues. A solitary ripe tomato on a sideboard has a similar hypnotic effect. A small balcony enables one to step outside a while on sunny days.

A back stairwell of walnut, made in Co Mayo and brought over practically step-by-step, further enhances the sense of space, wending up to a sun-garden up top. Hessian armchairs inspire thoughts of moon-gazing, nightcaps or, perhaps, one can hear the distant strains of the Doyle Irish Cabaret Show which still apparently entertains over 60,000 visitors each year at the Burlington Hotel next door.

The master bedroom has a particularly unique and innovative feature, known as The Pod. This is not a ‘place of dance’, but rather ‘a room within a room’. In this case, the smaller room is a wonderful bathroom, complete with Villeroy & Boch fittings by Bathroom 2000 of Drogheda, camouflaged on the outside by full-length mirrors and frost-glass doors. The concept was devised as a way around the conservation concept of “reversibility” within Georgian houses. Downes suggests these Pods be regarded as pieces of free-standing furniture.

Cawley’s Furniture installed two ceiling to floor wardrobes which have enough space to store a small brontosaurus, while the window leads the eye towards the unexpected summits of the Dublin Mountains. Decagonal wooden tables and white shaded bobble lamps stand astride the bed which features golden velvet spreads, velvet cushions and a cappuccino hued bed-head. Imperial shutters are framed by lush curtains; latticework again covers the radiators. A striped armchair looks out on Leeson Street. A pair of Czech chandeliers are suspended above. Botanical prints of cacti and spring onions.

The house seems to go on forever, with a second bedroom upstairs and a third brilliantly secreted the back of the house serving as a separate self-contained entity with its own access to the back staircase.

Few restorations of this type come without 21st century perks. Hence, all main rooms are pre-wired for plasma screens, a music system can be played throughout the house and all bathrooms and hallways have under-floor heating. The latter was vital for keeping the house warm.

Also of note here is the garden to the rear of the house, designed by Cunnane Stratton Reynolds and finished by Sap Landscapes. Apassionata Flowers installed bamboo and box plants to brighten up the north-facing courtyard.

As for Neil, he is currently following up his true passion of sustainable development. Together with his sister Ruth, he has begun work on 15 extra large luxury apartments and 2 retail units in Cabinteely Village. Also in the pipeline is the redevelopment of a 3-acre site in Palmerstown Town Centre. These developments are designed to incorporate solar panels, wood chip boilers and if geo-thermal heating. For more, see their website at Monti
This article appeared in The White Book in Spring 2006.