When Co Down man Michael Dunn and partner Seamus Trainor bought the Spanish townhouse last year it needed a complete refurbishment — now they are ready to take bookings. Stephanie Bell reports
A Northern Ireand couple who appeared on TV last year searching for their dream home in the sun have just finished a painstaking restoration of a Spanish villa.
At the start of last year Co Down man Michael Dunn, who is well-known in the property world, and his partner Seamus Trainor, who is a healthcare manager, headed off to Spain to take part in the popular TV show A Place In The Sun.
With a healthy budget of between £125,000 and £175,000, viewers saw presenter Jonnie Irwin show the couple around five properties.
While they didn't buy any of the houses they viewed for the show, they did fall in love with the area where the TV team had focused its search.
Competa is a beautiful Andalucian whitewashed village in the mountains about an hour east of Malaga and half an hour from the coast.
And as they continued their search on their own, eventually the couple did find their ideal home, although it wasn't quite what they expected...
"Initially we were just looking for somewhere for ourselves but then we thought if we upped the budget a bit we could buy somewhere that not only we could use, but which we could have as an investment and rent out as a holiday home," Michael explains.
"The house we bought was nearly derelict and needed a complete refurbishment, which was not something we were expecting to take on.
"We bought it this time last year for just under £100,000 and allowed £100,000 for the refurbishment.
"We recognised the potential and the location was perfect as it was in the centre of the village. And importantly for us, it had lots of outside space."
The couple managed the project from their home in Killyleagh with the help of their trusted Spanish builder, who sent weekly updates and photographs.
They completely redesigned the house, adding an extra level, turning it from a two-storey property into a three-storey home with a stunning new roof terrace.
Outside, what had been an overgrown and unusable space was transformed into a garden with terraces and a pool.
What at first seemed a rather daunting project was made easy by their builder, who worked closely with Michael and Seamus throughout.
The couple's aim was to recreate the character of a typical Andalucian house and yet have a luxurious and comfortable home.
They did this by incorporating beautiful tiled floors, exposed wooden beams, painted hardwood windows with panelled shutters and Juliet balconies with wrought iron railings.
Throughout the project they used locally sourced materials.
After a lot of initial demolition the house soon started to take shape and what is now known as Casa Olivo was born.
"It is a complete transformation from the original house and it was very satisfying to see our vision come to fruition," Michael says.
"We spoke to a number of builders but the one we chose really shone out and felt like someone we could trust.
"To us it was very important that we finalised our budget and timescale at the outset. We managed most of the project from home in Co Down. The builder sent us weekly updates and photographs via WhatsApp.
"When it came to choosing things like the doors and paint he would send us a selection of pictures to choose from and that communication made it a lot easier for us.
"We did fly out three times during the process to help make decisions and choose the tiles and see how the builders were getting on."
As well as a complete refurbishment of the house and adding a third floor where the old roof terrace was to give them a new living room, for Michael and Seamus, the outside area was a major consideration.
The property now boasts a garden with terraces, a pool and outdoor shower, an outdoor kitchen, a Moroccan-style courtyard with mosaic tiled wall fountain and a large roof terrace from where there are breathtaking views over the village and its church and down to the Mediterranean Sea.
"It is an upside down house, so the master bedroom is on the ground floor and on the new third floor we have created a new living room with Juliette balconies and stairs up to the new roof terrace," Michael says.
"It was one of the few houses in the centre of the village with an outdoor space as there are no gardens but just small roof terraces.
"We have created a beautiful outdoor space where we can easily spend the whole day."
The village is on the edge of a natural park so it is particularly popular with walkers, cyclists and nature lovers, making it busy throughout the year.
Their plan was to create a really luxury holiday home which they could enjoy, but also somewhere that they could rent out to other holidaymakers.
With this in mind Michael and Seamus set about furnishing and presenting the house to the high standard that they felt was required.
The interiors are now an eclectic mix with comfy sofas and beds, Moroccan tiled tables and an interesting mix of art, including some pieces to remind them of their native Co Down.
The house also has modern features such as air conditioning, high pressure showers and quality kitchen appliances.
Michael and Seamus are delighted with the end result and a year after they started their search, Casa Olivo is now complete. In a happy twist, when first visiting their new home the couple met one of their neighbours who turned out to be a girl who sat beside Michael in Strandtown Primary School.
They have since rekindled their friendship, which has also made the area even more appealing to the couple.
"She lives two doors down from our villa," Michael explains.
"We got talking and then I realised I knew her and it was a girl called Tanya Smyth who was my old classmate and I haven't seen her since 1978.
"She and her fiance Bryan Stone, who is also from Belfast, are our new neighbours and we were even invited to their wedding in June.
"It was great to have someone there to keep an eye on things for us during the renovation and they regularly sent us pictures.
"It has been lovely to make friends again.
"We have also met folk from Hillsborough, Belfast, Templepatrick and Dungannon out there."
Michael is delighted that his new holiday home received the Superior Category Andalucian Tourist Licence and the couple has launched a website (casaolivospain.co.uk) in the hope that more people will enjoy Casa Olivo.
They have already flown out twice this year since renovations finished just before Christmas.
"It is just a two-hour and 40-minute flight and if you book ahead you can get it really cheap," Michael says.
"We flew out in March from a Friday to Monday and it really felt like we had been there a lot longer.
"The village is everything we had hoped. There is a great mix of locals with a big Spanish community and lots of Europeans who live there full time.
"It has a massive selection of tapas bars and restaurants, and because it is not a touristy area, it is very cheap. You can have a two-course lunch in the village for €7."
Having studied Spanish at school to A-level, Michael has been able to pass himself with locals, but has enrolled in classes to further improve his grasp of the language.
Both he and Seamus are thrilled by what they have achieved and for anyone considering a similar project they had some candid advice.
"Doing your homework and your sums before buying is vital," Michael adds. "As is getting a realistic quote and timetable, and from a reputable builder, so that there are no unpleasant surprises.
"We have both enjoyed the process and love the end result, it was a lot less stressful than we imagined.
"We loved having an input at design level but it has been a team effort with the builder and his talented team with whom we have developed a good relationship.
"We got exactly what we wanted and we have finished it to a high standard so we know not to expect to have any real issues or maintenance for at least the next 10 years."
To book a stay at Casa Olivio, visit casaolivospain.co.uk