GERMAN FOR BEGINNERS
Stan and Ursula Mason have a ‘Grand Designs’-style house — and happily, they achieved it without any of the tribulations such houses normally bring with them. Edited by Mary O’Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin
Of the many house-related programmes transmitted on TV over the last 10 years, on Channel 4 has been the most enduring. The reasons are obvious — the end result is usually a magnificent home, but the journey is always a human struggle on a grand scale. We enjoy the journey, and we lust after the houses. While we might take away the odd idea and try to implement it in our own homes, in the main, it’s pure escapism; house porn, if you will.
However, Stan and Ursula Mason took it a step further. When they wanted to do extensive work on their country cottage, they checked out the programme’s website and found the ideal designer to not only come up with a plan, but also to build their dream home in the country.
“I love We’d been to-ing and fro-ing with an architect; we’d had quotes for extensions, and they weren’t competitive. I said to Stan, ‘Let’s go into and see what they have’. When I went into the Channel 4 website, the name DaVinci Haus, German house designers, came up,” Ursula explains.
She adds, “I found out they had an office in Waterford — 24 hours later, we were in their offices. The rest is history.”
Grand Designs Grand Designs. Grand Designs Grand Designs
This was in the mid 2000s. By then, Stan — short for Standish — and Ursula already had a lot of personal history together, going back over 30 years. Stan, who’s from Dublin, is the managing director of a company called Mason Technology; the firm has been in his family for over 200 years and he is the seventh generation of Masons to be involved. “We started off as opticians in 1780, but we’re now in laboratory analytical instruments. Our products are mainly for the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, and for universities. It’s things like microscopes. The most expensive one we’ve sold so far is about half-a-million quid, and we’ve sold quite a number of those,” Stan notes with satisfaction.
Ursula is from Clare, and came to Dublin to do nursing in St Vincent’s Hospital, where she met Stan. “I got a kick in the head playing rugby and I was in Vincent’s for the weekend,” Stan says. “Anyway, when I was leaving, I thought I’d take out one of the nurses; we got married seven months later.” Ursula adds, subtly explaining that there was no real need for the haste, “As my eldest daughter Sandy would point out, she arrived three years later.”
Ursula went into private nursing after their marriage, but when she became pregnant with Sandy, she gave up work to devote her time to her family. Sandy was followed by two more daughters: Jean, who lives in London; and Sarah, who’s based in Dublin, and is now also working in Mason Technology, becoming the eighth generation to do so.
When the girls were small, the family lived in St Kevin’s Park in Dartry, while the girls went to nearby Alexandra College, and in 1995, Stan and Ursula decided it would be nice to also have a little bolthole in the country for the family, preferably by the sea. “Ursula is from Kilrush; her home there was on the site of a coastguard station overlooking the estuary, and she always wanted a house overlooking the sea,” Stan explains, adding, “Kilrush is 177 miles away and you’d never go there except for a long weekend; you just wouldn’t. So we were looking for somewhere closer to Dublin. An hour-and-a-half from Dublin, sea view, a couple of pubs, a couple of restaurants and a golf course. We looked and we looked and we looked.”
Their endless search was fruitless. “If you go down on the east coast looking for a house with a sea view, you just won’t get it. You will get a sea view from a caravan park, but there are sand dunes in front of the sea everywhere else. We went up and down as far as Rosslare — nothing,” Stan notes, while Ursula adds, “You should have seen the houses we looked at. Nothing was right.”
Stan goes on to make another very good point. “The east coast is dominated by summer homes, and everything closes down during the winter; the restaurants, bars, and food outlets.”
Finally, they decided to change tack — and Ursula was the one who found the right house in the end. “We changed the view from a sea view to a river view. I was a member of Mount Juliet in Thomastown at the time, and we got lucky,” Stan says. He adds that when he would go off playing golf in Mount Juliet, Ursula would go to Kilkenny with him, but would head off for walks with their dogs — they’ve always had dogs, and at the moment have Poppy and Blue, both golden retrievers — and she realised that there were lovely houses on the river. “I went to an agent and asked him
‘I got a kick in the head playing rugby and I was in Vincent’s for the weekend; we married seven months later’