Designing a family residence is part of the day job, but for architect Niall Henry, building his own home was a chance to push the boundaries.
An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty, according to Winston Churchill. It’s a sentiment that Niall Henry of Dublin Design Studio must be very familiar with, as his award-winning home is truly an exercise in overcoming obstacles.
It started with a site, just 70 metres long by 10 metres wide, which belonged to Niall’s father-in law and was originally granted permission for three single storey houses. Over time, the site was passed on to Niall’s wife and her siblings who decided to use it to build their family homes.
“We were delighted with the location because it is so close to the centre of Clontarf, its amenities and schools. The site came with certain constraints, but it was a huge opportunity for design something for myself and my family.”
Overlooking adjacent properties was just one of the constraints facing the build, shape, size and access to the site also played a part. Building in a very residential space will always present challenges. “The design, planning and construction process all come with compromises, but they also add to the architectural interest of the house.”
By ‘stepping up’ the first floor and pushing it a metre and half back off the ground floor level, there is an overhang above the side garden. The result is feels completely sheltered – entirely unexpected in the middle of suburban Dublin.
This secluded setting allows the family to take advantage of the south-westerly aspect and so, large windows were fitted throughout the ground floor of their open plan living area. “We wanted to maximise the amount of glass because we could. It’s quite private. Sitting downstairs, even though you are surrounded by houses, all you can see are trees.”
In the kitchen and living area, a muted palette is used to bounce light back into the space. On a cloudy grey Natuzzi couch, velvet cushions and a wool throw add warmth. The high gloss kitchen from Porter & Jones is an utterly sleek affair, devoid of handles or knobs, while the seamless feeling continues with electrical sockets set into a covered spot on the counter.
Flooded with light, the oak staircase appears as though it is hovering, with the children often playing in the space beneath. “We were extremely tight with the width of the stairs, so we recessed the handrail into the wall and lit it. It’s creating a feature in what could have been a dark unusable space. That’s why I like it, it’s the area we had to work hardest on.”
Upstairs, calm tones continue in the master bedroom where a painting by Jenny McCarthy hangs above the bed.
“The art throughout the house was a mixture of pieces we have bought over the years and presents. My favourite piece is the Kingerlee over the fireplace. My wife’s favourite piece is the Tree by her friend Helen Cody, as it is a very personal painting for both of them.”
Functioning as a sideboard is a beautifully maintained Sobell Stereogram music centre, which once belonged to Niall’s aunt Dorothy. The master en suite, like the family bathroom, is a bright space with a large ceiling widow which, thanks to a heat recovery system, keeps the house warm throughout the year.
It will come as no surprise that this mews houses won the 2016 Best Housing award at the RIAI awards. “What the judges most liked, I think, was that it showed what you can do with difficult sites in urban locations,” Niall muses. “An award from your peers is very nice, and the fact that it’s the house that I live in makes it a bit more special.”
Imagery: Philip Lauterbach