Tommy Barker hails a home with genius slices of architectural clear-sightedness, set close to Cork City. Pictures: John Roche
What with the views down over Cork’s River Lee, still-working wharves and quays, the Marina, and towards the city’s docklands silos, rising 21st century towers and all, you might be expected to come back from a viewing at Roscúil talking all about the vista, the panorama, the prospect, and the aspect.
But, it turns out that there’s a strong and competitive rival now in Roscúil’s ‘viewing’ stakes. It is the house itself, understated and all as its quality and materials’ palette are, and the sheer sense of utter interior calm that it imparts. Home to two UCC academics, their grown family and many thousands of books, it’s quite the contemplative, Zen space, in which to live.
Would it surprise you to know the architects of this exceptional one-off house, the Cork-based practice Carr Cotter & Naessens, also designed an RIAI award-winning library and culture space, to wit, the DLR Lexicon, in the heart of Dún Laoghaire on the East Coast.... for a different set of water views, and which got itself a staggering 525,000 visitors in 2018?
Welcome first, though, to Cork’s eminently more private and ‘removed’ Roscúil, an extended and upgraded 1940s detached home, on exceptionally private grounds of 0.75 of an acre, up on a sandstone and greened-in escarpment, high above Cork’s River Lee and the Lower Glanmire Road, serene amongst all that it surveys.
Little known even to native Corkonians, Beale’s Hill is a sort of slalom run between high boundary walls, beneath the chi-chi slope of Lovers’ Walk, sort of where the Italianate-sounding Tivoli meets Montenotte, both of these city settings beloved for their south-facing water views.
Not for nothing was one of Beale’s Hill’s earlier residents the Cork-born writer, sculptor and wood engraver Robert Gibbings, who penned and illustrated classic books like Sweet Thames Run Softly, Coming down the Wye, and, with a return tug to his heart-strings, Lovely is the Lee, published in 1948.
Entirely coincidentally, that’s the same year given for the ‘48/post-war construction of Roscúil, which has only ever since changed hands once or twice, and, now, is about to do so again.
Previous owners included a Cork Port harbourmaster, a Captain Barnes, who could see daily comings and goings of shipping and cargoes from here, and roll and stroll downhill to the Lower Glanmire Road via the lower, pedestrian access-only end of Beale’s Hill, to the water’s edge.
It was sold on in 1993 by a UCC professor of music and a painter (who had a first floor studio in a wing, on the house’s city end) to the current owners, both of whom are historians, and as their children headed towards adulthood, they undertook a major reorganisation of their beloved Roscúil, around 2011, into 2012.
The couple knew and admired the work of Louise Cotter and team at Carr Cotter & Naessens architects in Cork city, and asked them to “design a two-story extension to our much loved, but badly-organised house, and in the process to integrate properly for the first time the original 1940s building with the ad hoc extensions built in the 1970s and 1980s.” The architects worked to the domestic brief unfettered, integrating lots of oak and polished, fossil-rich limestone in the interior core, and they matched the stone in some of the facade, while transforming the flow and utility of space within at the same time, yet only adding on a quite modest amount of extra floor area.
CC&N did the brief around the same time they were working on the DLR Lexicon library and culture centre for Dun Laoghaire, and while that €36m project was controversial up until the time of its opening in 2015, it has since pretty much silenced its critics ...as parts of a library might well, indeed, aspire to serene, contemplative silence.
There’s very definitely something of the austere, monastic retreat or even soul-full space feel to Roscúil’s reworked new central spine, a hall and passageway floored in dark stone and that has just the simplest of expensive materials, used with restaint, and repetition. The flush banks and panels of oak (and oak veneer) hide and reveal any amount of storage, cloaks, services and more, as well as creating slatted screens for out-of sight radiators, without impeding their efficiency.
Scene setter is the staircase, in oak, with a book display/library offer on the return, and with a very large window above.
That window faces due north: it might have been expected to be kept small? given the northerly aspect, and the fact it faces into what might uncharitably have been described as ‘ a ditch.’ But, oh! What a ditch? In fact, it’s a verdant bank of shrubs and trees, at a not-too-far remove from the backside of the building, and could easily have been ignored, overlooked. Instead, it’s an oversized window (pic, left), gazing on a mere ‘detail’ of the site, and it’s a spot the owners stand up to face, laptop, book or academic papers in hand, and use as a casual desk with an otherworldly view.
A small, genius slice of architectural clear-sightedness, it is nature’s beauty, poetically personifed, or more prosaically brought into an inner view, framed by the sizeable clerestory slice of glass.
It casts a green glow, and a spell over the stairwell, and is as good an example of how Roscúil’s reimaging has trumped the much-trumpeted Lee and leafy Marina views on the house’s other, sunnier side.
Having lived a good number of years now with the result of Louise Cotter’s handiwork, and only moving away to downsize, the owners/vendors admit to being “delighted with the result, which respects and enhances the best features of the original house, while integrating and transforming the old extensions, and adding a wonderful new one, exactly meeting our needs. We love the new spaciousness, the greatly-enhanced light, the use of natural materials, and the meticulous finish.”
Lucky the next occupants, too.
It’s brand new to market with estate agent Ann O’Mahony, and Gillan McDonnell of Sherry FitzGerald Cork, and they guide the hide-away, retreat home on the city’s fringe at €790,000, a price level tipped up to in any case in a few instances along Lovers Walk, with a half dozen or so sales in excess of €650,000, and a couple at €700,000-€775,000.
There’s only a handful of houses, however, on the upper stretch of Beale’s Hill which runs from a mid-point on Lovers’ Walk down to wee homes by Lower Glanmire Road, just before Myrtlehill Terrace.
There’s a couple of homes right at the top on Lover’s Walk, and then two others bookending the mid-section by Roscúil.
One, a large period house, is the one-time home of the Gibbings family (Robert Gibbings grew up in Kinsale, where his father was Rector of St Multose Church), and which is now owned by an architect, who designed a 800 sq ft gate lodge or coachhouse by his own house’s entance and by Roscúil.
That lodge went for sale in 2016, guiding €295,000, but was subsequently taken off the market, while Roscúil’s current owners recently sold off a site below their own home and mature 0.75 acre of garden a few years ago, where another architect-designed home is currently being built, out of sight, in the ‘wooded promentory.’
Only barely glimped from the entrance pillars and gates of its own ground and up a longish private drive, surrounded by mature mixed evergree trees, and some handsome silver birches, this is a house you sort of have to walk around to get its measure, both inside and outside. It’s approached from its gable end, so gives little away, bar the extravagance of the high-quality polished limestone skirts and panels/cladding by its hardwood front door. To the right is where the ‘extra’ space was most recently grafted on, previously an attached garage, providing an en suite bedroom each at ground and first floor levels, adding to the adaptability of this five-bed, c 2,950 sq ft family home.
All of the main living areas, and most of the bedrooms too, face south, overlooking the mature and landscaped gardens, with several access points from the interior to a granite-paved sun terrace, with drifts of lavender and box hedging, and below are the glimpses of the river and port activity, better seen from a garden corner, or from the upstairs bedrooms.
Sherry FitzGerald describe it as having “a modern but homely interior,” and off the exceptionally-finished hall’s tranquillity are an oak-floored sitting room, with double/triple aspect thanks to a bay window, and the room has a white period-style marble fireplace of quality, with wood-burning stove fitted in front.
Alongside is a dual aspect family room/music room, with open fireplace and, again, an oak floor. Next along the hall then is the main kitchen/dining/living room, with south and west aspect, with external slatted timber screens, plus a smooth, rubber or marmoleum floor in dark hues, streaked with white, a good and practical, hardwearing match for the fossil-flecked limestone back in the hall.
Kitchen units are in oak, topped with white marble as is the free-standing small island/breakfast bar, and appliances are by Miele: an eye-level wide window by the worktops gives near-distance views to the greened-in, high-rising grounds to the north.
Woodwork in most of the house is by Cloghroe Joinery, and windows throughout now are upgraded to high-end timber, double glazed and a mix of sliders, casement windows and small opes on high, Rationel in style. A large slider gives easy access to the sun terrace, while behind, off the hall, is a utility room, with rear access. Also at ground is the en suite bedroom five, as well as a guest WC, with pumped shower.
Upstairs then has that great, lit landing, with light and masses of stuffed-to-the gills bookshelves, with a very substantial en suite master bedroom at the western end. It’s a high-ceilinged space with some exposed beams, two Veluxes and a gable end balcony-style window’door’ (next owners will surely add an actual balcony?), all upgraded from its previous usage as an art studio. The original, poorly-evolved/extended house had two staircases, now rationalised by architect Louise Cotter back to one connecting flight.
One of the other three first floor bedrooms has an en suite with bath; two have water views, as does a first floor home office/study, with built-in shelving; bathrooms, in the main, are done to a same, restrained palette of white walls, white sanitary wared (the main bathroom also has a bidet) pale grey tiles and oak panels.
Now floated on the market, Roscúil’s quite a stand-out home, in its own quiet way, creatively given a new aura by the work of Carr Cotter & Naessens’ Louise Cotter, who inter alia is also a lecturer in the Cork Centre of Architectural Education: it’s quite the masterclass, exceptionally delivered.
VERDICT: The exact opposite of bling.....