This bright family home is on the market for €285,000
This bright family home is on the market for €285,000

Sarah Finnan

Work smarter, not harder: four secrets to being more productive at work
Work smarter, not harder: four secrets to being more productive at work

Jenny Darmody

Ditch Amazon and buy your books from these independent Irish stores instead
Ditch Amazon and buy your books from these independent Irish stores instead

Sarah Finnan

This Connemara cottage complete with a round room studio is on the market for €450,000
This Connemara cottage complete with a round room studio is on the market for €450,000

Sarah Gill

Kerry Hanaphy on her rise to the top of the Irish beauty industry
Kerry Hanaphy on her rise to the top of the Irish beauty industry

Shayna Sappington

10 of the best events happening around Ireland this weekend
10 of the best events happening around Ireland this weekend

Sarah Gill

Social Pictures: A celebration of Bulldog Skincare
Social Pictures: A celebration of Bulldog Skincare

IMAGE

Gorgeous living room inspiration if you’re thinking of redecorating
Gorgeous living room inspiration if you’re thinking of redecorating

Marlene Wessels

Wine 101 with Hannah Crosbie
Wine 101 with Hannah Crosbie

Sarah Gill

Read an extract from Oisín McKenna’s debut novel, Evenings and Weekends
Read an extract from Oisín McKenna’s debut novel, Evenings and Weekends

Sarah Gill

Take a tour of this Westmeath gate lodge that uses nature as a focal point

Take a tour of this Westmeath gate lodge that uses nature as a focal point


by IMAGE Interiors & Living
07th Apr 2024

A 19th-century gate lodge in Co Westmeath undergoes a clever renovation that maximises living space and brings the outdoors in.

Twenty-one years ago, Catriona Hatton and Robbie Nixon bought a gate lodge to Middleton Park, a mid 19th-century country house in Co Westmeath, as a base near family for visits to Ireland from their home in Brussels. The lodge came with an acre and the stone kennels originally home to the demesne’s hunting pack. “I had always admired it,” says Catriona. “It was chocolate-box pretty.”

Catriona, Robbie and their two children spent holidays at the lodge, loving everything about it but its size. “It served its purpose when the kids were small,” says Catriona, “but there was never enough room for visitors. Looking back, I wonder how we managed. We’d have eight people for Christmas dinner, all crammed into a tiny kitchen. One year the turkey had to stay in the car because there was nowhere to put it!”

Beyond knowing they needed to extend, and wanting one big living room with space for everyone to be able to eat and spend time together, Catriona and Robbie approached architects Alice Casey and Cian Deegan of Taka Architects without any clear idea of how they wanted the house to look.

“They were very patient,” says Catriona. “They listened and took the time to get the feel of the site and how it sat in the landscape before sharing their vision with us.”

“The original gate lodge appeared much bigger than it was,” explains Alice, “but it had only two small rooms to the front, with a single-story return to the rear, and a yard that had been roofed in. The kennels were derelict. And while the rural setting was beautiful, the gate lodge had no connection to the landscape. There was no sense of it from the house – the view out was of parked cars.”

For Taka, the challenge was to add a generous layer of living space to the lodge and kennels, without overwhelming the original protected structures. “We were mindful of the danger that the existing building would feel like a porch onto a much bigger building,” explains Alice.

By deciding to sink the additions, the architects were able to diminish their overall bulk and simultaneously establish a direct relationship between the original buildings and the landscape. In the lodge, Taka sank the floor level so that the external ground level was at bench height, with the ridge of the extension sitting under the eaves of the original structure. The main living space has an 8m-wide landscape window facing onto a newly planted wildflower meadow fed by rainwater from the overhanging eaves.

Alice Clancy

“By bringing the wildflower meadow right up against the house, and installing three sliding panes which disappear completely when open, it felt as if you could open up the entire living space,” says Alice. “The meadow conceals the view of the driveway so the cars are not seen, and the overhanging sloping roof ensures no wind-driven rain comes into the house, so the windows can be open all the time. I think we should have more overhangs, verandahs and porches in Ireland – they are incredibly useful.”

The overhang also has the effect of creating a dim space which those inside the house look through into the bright meadow, while north-east facing roof glazing draws in light from above.

The extension is a simple structure, with three steel beams spanned by joists running the length of the room. “We like to paint steelwork,” says Alice. “Here it’s an aquamarine – sometimes it looks green and sometimes blue. It’s a really fresh colour, bright and contemporary.”

“I’d never really appreciated just how many shades of green there are before we settled on this,” says Catriona. “But I’m very happy with the one we chose.”

When it came to selecting finishes, Taka used modest materials in a refined way to reflect the way the original building, though small in size, has a sophistication about it because of its relationship with Middleton Park House.

“We are used to working in the city,” explains Alice, “and we didn’t want it to feel like a city project transplanted to the countryside. We wanted it to feel like a rural project in terms of materials, hence the timber panelling and the wiggly fibre-cement roof, an agricultural material.

“Most clients want a big kitchen, but Catriona and Robbie wanted to keep the kitchen in its original location, as it had such a lovely feel to it. We had to work hard to get all you need in a modern kitchen into such a small space! The island unit is table-height so people can sit around one end, and we eked out little pockets of space for storage and appliances. We infilled the kitchen in stained green plywood so the materiality shows through, and made a new opening from the kitchen into the hall and down a few steps to the main living space.”

Seamus and Tomás of T&S McKeon were the main contractors for the project and the budget, according to Alice, was “modest”. “They carried out most of the work themselves, working with great skill and care.” The wood panelling is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Middleton Pink – “once we saw the name, we had to have it,” says Alice – and the floor is poured with polished concrete with a creamy finish.

“Living in Brussels, Catriona and Robbie are exposed to a lot of beautiful buildings and finishes,” adds Alice, “they have a great eye.”

Taka extended the kennels by adding a bedroom and bathroom. This is now a guest house known as The Doghouse. A small new-build stable/shed for the family donkeys completes the project.

Work on the lodge finished in time for Catriona and Robbie to move in during the summer of 2020. “The big room is amazing,” says Catriona. “I love looking out at the wildflower meadow and the way we can all be together. When the kids were small, they always wanted to go to the lodge rather than somewhere sunny, and they like it even more now.”

Photography: Alice Clancy

Words: Tess O’Connor

This feature was originally published in the spring/summer 2022 issue of IMAGE Interiors.

Also Read