55A Patrick Street, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin Asking price: €695,000 Agent: Sherry FitzGerald (01) 284442
Stranger is the latest best selling thriller from Karen Perry.
It’s a disturbing tale of what happens when an unsuspecting ‘normal’ couple with children invite a toxic stranger to come and live with them in their family home. That titular stranger is creepy Corinne; the French summer holiday exchange student from hell.
“It’s a cuckoo-in-the-family-nest story,” says Karen Sweeney (better known under her nom de plume Karen Perry), a former law student from Rathfarnham who deploys the organic method of fiction writing made famous by authors like Stephen King.
Rather than plot everything out from start to finish, Sweeney/Perry thinks up a great big “what if?” premise (in this case, what if a family took in an evil exchange student?).
Then she imagines a bunch of central characters to throw at that premise, and stands back and lets them at it. “I never have an ending in mind until I’m at least half way through,” she says. “And then I’ll get into a panic until it comes to me.”
The 2009 EU Literary Prize (for Ireland) winning author’s 17-year career has given her something of split literary persona.
Her debut novel Seven Nights in Saragoza (2005) was written under the Karen Gillece pseudonym and three more thrillers followed as Gillece. Then, from 2014, she teamed up with writer Paul Perry in a collaborative effort for four novels (among them 2016’s Girl Unknown).
These were published under the Karen Perry sobriquet. The pair ended their writing partnership in 2018, and since then Sweeney has continued to write solo as Karen Perry. But at home she’s Karen Sweeney. Confused?
So perhaps it’s apt that her home at 55a Patrick Street in Dun Laoghaire, shared with hubby, UCD lecturer Conor Sweeney, and their two daughters Rowan (13) and Freya (10), also has a distinctly split persona.
“The original house at No55 was likely built in the mid 19th century,” she says. “At some point in the 1920s the family which owned it cut off a portion of it on our side to make a smaller self contained house for an unmarried lady relative.” And the Sweeneys have greatly spiced up No55A’s character development since acquiring it in 2015.
The couple had been renting with Karen in charge of browsing the portals in search of their home to be. “I was working at UCD and I wanted to cycle to work,” says Conor, a lecturer and computation modeller specialising in weather, at the college’s School of Mathematics and Statistics.
“So we drew a circle around UCD within cycling distance. Karen was doing most of the searching online and I was catching up at the weekend. Then I noticed this one house in Dun Laoghaire which she hadn’t flagged. I said ‘what about this one?”
But Karen was completely turned off by the frontage which at the time contained a white Upcv door and ugly Upvc windows. She didn’t even want to go and see it.
“But it was in Dun Laoghaire and my hobbies are rock climbing, cycling and sailing.” Eventually Conor persuaded Karen not to judge this particular book by its cover and to go have a look inside.
“I walked into this great living room space and I thought, ‘this is lovely’ and then I went into the kitchen and I was completely sold,” says Karen. And so the Sweeneys bought 55a and got to work.
“Ironically the one thing we found most off-putting, the frontage, was the last to be changed,” says Conor.
Karen adds: “A landscaping friend of mine said we’d need to do the garden first, because it will take time to get it going, So we broke up the concrete and gravel and got to work planting it up. It’s a real sun trap.
“We wanted the girls to be happy with their bedrooms so these were done next.” The stand-out continental rustic-style kitchen was a joint effort. They commissioned a carpenter to make the colourful yellow-framed butcher’s block as well as the oak topped units.
Karen chose Farrow and Ball’s off-wine ‘Brinjal’ for the cabinet doors. The period kitchen table was sourced on Donedeal.ie from an upcycler who had surfaced it with sanded palette wood. The chairs came from a Buckley’s Antiques auction.
“The kitchen ceiling had wallpaper on it, so we covered it with painted tongue and groove wood for a more ‘cottagey’ look,” says Conor.
Finally, they had sash windows made by Munster joinery for the offending frontage. Their replacement front door came to them via family.
“My brother in law was putting a new door on his period house in Sandymount and asked me if I wanted the original. It was perfect,” says Conor.
On the ground floor, the split-level entrance hall leads through to the living room with a carved timber period chimney piece and solid wood floors.
Steps from the hall lead down to the extended kitchen/living/dining area with a large picture window at the end taking in views of the garden. Karen’s writing desk is here, and there’s also a larder off the kitchen.
Upstairs on the return is a family bathroom with a standalone claw foot tub, and a bedroom with an original chimney piece.
To the front is the master bedroom spanning the full width of the house and a study is currently in use as a third bedroom.
Now the couple are plotting another renovation adventure. “We’ve got our eye on a bigger period house so we’re selling 55A,” says Karen Sweeney/Perry.
The cover price for their seaside pad is €695,000 from Sherry FitzGerald.