Dermot Bannon: ‘People arrive in with Instagram photos ... just trying to recreate someone else’s life’

Have a room to improve? For just €120, consult with Dermot Bannon - one of many architects countrywide giving hour-long consultations in return for charity donations

Dermot Bannon

If you have a home project in mind, and are looking for some expert advice to get it started, one way to get the wheels in motion is to sign up for a consultation with an architect.

This year, Room to Improve star Dermot Bannon will be just one of many architects around the country, who will give their time to the RIAI Simon Open Door initiative, a collaboration between the Simon Communities and the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI).

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the initiative, which will run from April 8th-15th, and which has helped homeowners around the country take the first step towards renovating their homes.

The scheme is simple: you make a €120 donation and then can sign up for an hour-long consultation with a registered architect, who gives their time for free. Every cent raised is donated to the charity, and previous funds raised have gone towards much-needed food and housing programmes.

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For Bannon, it can help those who might be a “bit intimidated about the world of architects”, or who might think their project is too small for an architect, to get expert advice.

And if you have a bigger project in mind, Bannon suggests making appointments with two or three architects.

“Spend an hour with them and see who you click with.”

And how to make the most of your time?

“Bring as much information as you can,” says Bannon, adding that homeowners will now typically have a brochure of the house they have bought which will include floor plans. Photographs are also helpful — but of the house, not of inspiration from social media.

“One of the things I find difficult right now is that people arrive in with bucket loads of photos from Instagram, or have Pinterest boards. But it’s all surface and it’s not solving your problems.”

Instead, rather than “taking pieces from other people’s homes and putting it into your own”, he suggests you go old school.

“Get a blank piece of paper and write down what frustrates you in words, not pictures — with those you’re just trying to recreate someone else’s life”

Going to the meeting with an open mind is also useful — rather than being fixated on what your neighbours have done, or what you’ve seen on Instagram.

‘Levelling off’

In addition to his day job, and his charity work with the RIAI, Bannon is also scouting properties for the next season in 2025; so can we expect to start to see renovators get more bang for their buck?

Maybe.

“The budget hasn’t really changed,” he says, adding that “people are not getting as much for their money as they used to”.

The solution to this, he says, is adopting a clever approach to home design and renovation and perhaps revising expectations.

However, Bannon says that recent price hikes in materials and building costs are starting to level off, if not quite falling yet.

“I’m hoping prices will start to drop a bit because it is expensive,” he says. Builders have become more available, which may lead to increased competition and thus downward pressure on prices.

“What I’m noticing now is that every time I send a quote to be priced, I get two or three back, and the builders are ready to start next week,” he says.

What also would be helpful for homeowners would be an increase in the number of one-stop shops offering retrofits (there are just 20 registered with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland) which also might exert downward pressure on prices. As Bannon notes, whereas before people simply got a builder to put on an extension, now retrofitting the existing home, before doing any other work, is a priority.

“And it’s 100 per cent the right thing to do,” he says.

It does cost, however — at about €60,000 for an average three-bed semi. While grants help in this regard, ultimately they push up the costs of renovating substantially.

Can there be a temptation to spend more than a house is ultimately worth renovating?

“For some people, it is about quality of life,” he says, adding, that if they end up spending €50,000 more than the end value of the house they’ll say, “that’s for us, it’s an investment in our quality of life”.

Fans of the TV programme will recall Bannon’s renovation of his home in Drumcondra back in 2020. So, four years on, would he change anything?

“I wouldn’t have done anything differently, but my family might!” he laughs, noting that the living area of his home is quite open plan, so “sometimes people will give out about the noise”.

“But families will always give out to you because that’s what they do.”

You can sign up for this year’s initiative at riaisimonopendoor.ie.

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