Dramatic, different, this house shapes up

WELCOME to an exclusive peek around one of the most dramatically different houses built in Ireland.

But, for all of its uniqueness, in fact this house isn’t unique at all – there’s a mirror-image of it built right alongside, albeit curving off in a different direction, plus planning permission for a third similar one, on a bungalow site just to the east.

The first-finished of this soaring duo of one-offs hits the 2010 autumn market as a bit of scene-stealer, and the sheer truth is, you won’t get to build a house like this, in such a setting, for the money. Bristling with technology and intelligent design, it also bristles with a bit of visual menace – how about those five, scimitar-like spikes or finials thrusting out of the roof, continuing the curving arc of its slate hung side walls for example?

First, the history. Back in spring 2004, a tired, Tudor-esque 1930s dormer home on Cork city’s Douglas Road went up for sale, loosely guiding at €800,000 to €1 million via agents Woodwards. By year’s end, it made €1.3m, its value underpinned by the two-thirds of an acre site and the prospect of two replacement houses.

Rather than going for the safe, tried-and-tested example of building large reproduction period homes, its engineer/developer buyer opted for a more cutting edge, contemporary design, writ large, drafted by architect Brian O’Sullivan of DFO’D in Cork.

It has taken nearly three years of painstaking construction, all overseen to an exceptionally high standard, to get to this level, and now one house is close to completion and newly up for sale. The other needs finishing and will be sold later, either as-is, or with options to complete.

Estate agent Catherine McAuliffe of Savills had the difficult job of valuing something like this, kind of without local parallel at least, and now pins a €1.35m guide price to this over-basement, 5,000 sq ft home full of light, airiness – and technology.

It’s practically fully finished inside, bar a personal choice of a kitchen and to commission the internal elevator, which glides from basement through the main double-height living level and on to the upper deck bedrooms on top. Then, there’s access via electrically-controlled windows to the extraordinary roof terrace, all glistening stainless tall spikes, copper cladding and glazing sections sucking light down deep into the house core.

This costly, visually-arresting house is as much about the experience as the accommodation, it is so far from the normal domestic humdrum, and its most extraordinary space is within its boat-like, curving, internally wood-clad gable walls, with an overhead balcony punched through by steel balusters and vertical slats of toughened glass.

On a one-third of an acre landscaped site, the first surprise is how much outside space there’s left here after building: glimpsed from the main Douglas road, they appear to dominate their site, but there’s more than enough landscaped space to the back, with a good deal of it hard-surfaced and reached over a short walkway.

There’s a huge full-height basement here, and when you get past the tall and sturdy electric gates, you have the option of parking in front of the house, on a resin and coloured chip drive (very garage showroom) or dropping down an easy ramp to the basement double garage. This garage leads to the high-end basement proper, with a guest bedroom, a gym set up for a sauna, and a large home cinema. Also down here is a communications room, and laundry/utility, and decent circulation corridors.

Concrete floors are on each level, with quick-response underfloor heating (20 minutes to deliver) and heating sources include solar for hot water, and an air-to-water system from WindWaterSolar in Kenmare for heating. The expectation is that it will be as cheap to heat this 5,000 sq ft house as a more standard 1,300 sq ft semi-d.

It is fully wired for sound and IT/communication, with swathes of cabling like something in a jet plane, and the level of service provision also includes air recovery/heat exchangers for fresh air ventilation. There’s a central vacuum system as well.

All the four first floor bathrooms have expensively tiled quality en suite bathrooms, and two are set up for steam-room showers as well.

Floor finishes are a mix of things like large creme marfil slabs and Jatoba hardwoods, while doors are heavy oak, with matching bespoke skirtings and architraves also in oak, and door ironmongery has a satisfying heft to it too.

There’s probably as much solid engineering as creative design gone into this challenging build, and many of the build solutions were worked out on site as the intriguing project progressed. It must have looked downright intimidating on paper, when faced with translating it all into reality.

And, therein lies the rub – reality. These houses were conceived back in a different, clawing Tigerish era, back when an Edwardian semi-d up the Douglas Road fetched €2.2m, and something like this might have been expected to sell for €2.5m to €3m. And, it was specified to that sort of unstinting level too; things like the contrasting Brazilian slate roof, immaculate Liscannor stone facades, treated cedar, and pre-patinated copper are just the external evidence.

Optimistically, showing there are some buyers out there at the upper end for the very best houses, Cork has had house sales in the past few months at, and above, the €1.6m level, one a faux-period house off Maryborough Hill, the other was Cregane Manor on 36 acres near Rosscarbery which eventually found local professional buyers this summer, after at least one committed overseas buyer pulled out late in his purchase deal over the Christmas period.

This speculative, Grand Design-level house might well fit the needs of some well-heeled niche buyers, who’ll get a top-end home, brand new, with none of the hassle of building to this level of challenge. And, for those who want a challenge, try a bid on the internally unfinished one next right door.


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