The Monday Interview: ‘Democratising’ dream homes for all

Kieran McCarthy at KMC Homes Ltd, Fota Retail Park, Carrigtwohill, Cork. Pictures: Dan Linehan

Designing and building your dream house should not be the preserve of only the rich and famous, says Kieran McCarthy.

Mr McCarthy’s firm, KMC Homes, in Carrigtwohill, Co Cork, offers homeowners the chance to build their dream home how they want, but affordably and without stress.

It was formed in 2003 to place customers at the centre of the process of building a bespoke, architect-designed home. 

A project management team guides customers through the process, from architectural design to planning permission to building the home, along with all the finishing touches. That’s the KMC business model.

“Our goal, as a company, is that a beautifully-designed home makes a big difference to your health and wellbeing,” Mr McCarthy said. 

"We want to make these homes more accessible, not just to the wealthy, but to the average professional person out there, who is happy to spend a little more to have someone to take care of all the ins and outs of it. It’s democratising good house design and delivery.

“A lot of people have travelled a bit now; they have higher expectations and value design and lifestyle more. 

People watch shows like Room To Improve and Grand Designs and then they look at their own home versus what they are seeing on television.

Room To Improve is often a transformation of a pedestrian home into a beautifully designed home, and people see that and think it can be art-like.

“They begin to realise how much you can do with a house. You spend most of your time in your house in Ireland. Houses have an awful lot of potential, if they are designed better. 

"You can have a box that is almost a prison or you can have an amazing house, a real refuge that is a lovely place to live. 

"It enhances your mental health, your lifestyle, you wellbeing; everything.”

One-off housing is a model viewed in some quarters as outmoded, as urban living becomes more common, but Mr McCarthy is adamant it can be done properly.

“I travelled to New Zealand to study how houses are delivered, rather than an architect designing a house, an engineer doing the structural work, then a quantity surveyor doing pricing work, the builder doing the building work, and everyone is pulling in different directions.

“You need them all, but you need them all on one team. It is more the delivery model I focused on in Auckland and Wellington and looked at the quality of houses, even in estates. 

"They don’t do estates, as such; rather, one-off house plots of land. A developer will sell 30 service sites and a person will buy that and bring in a design and build firm to do it. 

"The quality of those one-off homes are great. When you see it in Ireland, it is very inconsistent.

“My biggest issue with the one-off house market was if you were building a one-off house in the morning, you ask yourself, ‘where do I go’? 

"You might talk to a friend, Google, Yelp, or something like that. If you want to buy a car, you can do so immediately.

“With a one-off house, there’s no guarantee of getting a good result. In fact, there is a strong risk of getting a poor result. 

"I wanted to create a brand that will guarantee price, certainty in energy and time — to deliver all in one go and deliver results.

“I think there will always be an amount of one-off housing. There will be an intensification of people living in cities, in apartments — that has to happen. 

"But a lot of our clients would be those working in the city, but maybe helping out on farms at the weekends, and so forth. 

"Some people like to live in the city, some like to live in the countryside, but many cannot, because of the restrictions in place. There is a balancing act.”

Energy efficiency has been part of KMC Homes business model for years.

“We started fitting air-to-water units in our housing about four years ago. Up to then, you had geothermal, which was a very big seller for houses going green. 

"Air-to-water has been here for a while, but efficiency has improved to such an extent that it is a legitimate competitor to geothermal.

“The difficulty of geothermal is a big upfront cost. Air-to-water has similar efficiencies, but at a fraction of the upfront cost. 

"We began to promote air-to-water and have used it extensively over the last four years.

“We’re now hardwiring our houses for photovoltaic cells on the roof, which are electric-generating solar panels. 

"I’m not convinced the technology has stabilised yet, but we are hardwiring houses if the client wants to in the future. We haven’t fitted a gas or oil boiler in a one-off house in years,” he said.

The job brings immense personal satisfaction, he said.

“Design and creativity are great, but the satisfaction of the customer is paramount. You have to get to know a client to design a house around them.

“When they say they haven’t had a stressful time at the end of the job, that is the best part,” Mr McCarthy said.

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