IF YOU are worried about your heating bills — best to look away now.
Stop reading. You are not going to like the cost-comparison of running this fantastic new family home: try a €50 gas bill for last winter’s two coldest months? And, it’s an understated clever design too, with green roots and is a healthy job, for life.
“Even still, when we come through the front door, we ask “do we really live here?” say the young couple who replaced an old suburban cottage, and started a family, all at the same time, in a just-finished dream house.
“We didn’t want to build a ‘statement’ home, but we knew what we liked, things like Danish design, and a place to cook and talk at the same time. We met an architect who understood what we wanted, and now, the fact the place looks so cool is a bonus,” say the hospitable occupants of Greenway, showing the house only to thank and credit the team of architect, engineer, builders, carpenters and more.
Lots of luck, and fortuitous circumstances, brought this house to successful fruition. But, just as much, it was the couple’s own determination that realised the project.
Let’s skip back a bit. This circa 1,750 sq ft contemporary new-build, wedge-shaped with its five, flat-roof sections and intriguing stepped-back outline, mirrors the shape of the awkward and almost hidden suburban site it is built on.
“I bought the original old cottage here back in 2001. We had family links with the last owner, I knew the suburb very well and just how handy it is to get to the city centre,” says one of the owners, who said he was tempted to buy a property back then “in case I ended up a bachelor!”
Fortunately, not to be, and the small and basic cottage he’d bought solo ended up being home to the couple for several years.
“It was about 600 sq ft, and it was like living in a small boat,!” they recall. Freezing, too.
They asked an architect to come up with plans for a replacement house, and Plan A was shot down by planners — probably fortunately, as their second try, with a different architect, the calm, cool and collected Margaret Ralphs of Mulcahy Ralphs delivered exactly what they’d hoped for, and more. “It was sketched sitting in the old cottage kitchen, with a two-year old sitting on my knee,” Margaret recalls in the new house’s kitchen, with talk of kids and ages and play all bantering in the air. Clients and designers became firm friends during the project.
Margaret designed the house to passive energy principles and standards, mirroring the site’s shape. By going flat roofed, she was able to get two full interior levels as well, with the finished house snuggling lower down than a few neighbour dormer home replacements.
Because it was slotting into a site with well-established neighbours, and possible overlooking issues, placement of windows was also an important factor, so in key areas this house has high up and sometimes clerestory (ie, just under roof-level) windows.
It really is a home that responds to the site, neighbours, aspect — the lot. Some architects talk that sort of talk. This is a house that lives it.
It looks, and performs as it does, because of where it is, and architect Margaret Ralphs notes and “I really appreciate building on ‘brown-field’ sites, making the best possible use of existing serviced land close to all services.”
The owners are fairly laid-back (but, make no mistake, they know their minds) and the house gives off a positivity that seems to have been with them from the start.
Builder was Florence O’Driscoll of Atlantic Timber Frame, who ‘stick-builds’ on site, and the couple are high in their praise for his skills and dedication for millimetre-precise construction and foundations.
It’s an air-tight construction, with a heat recovery system, and the dark-green hued windows are high performance items from Aluclad, with some triple glazed. Heating is minimal, kept to underfloor heating in the bathrooms only, there’s a multi-fuel stove in the family room... and that’s about it. Energy bills are negligible, and hot water comes from solar panels on the flat roof. They produce so much hot water (“we’ve buckets of it!”) the family’s skin is nearly wrinkled from bathing, and the children’s paddling pool on the back decking gets the freely-sourced hot water too.
The professional team included an engineer, Ray Keane, and initially a quantity surveyor as well, and “we found our mostly Irish tradesmen,(many from west Cork), to be men of integrity, hard working and highly skilled, something we were not expecting with all that went on in the last decade.”
The build cost isn’t being revealed but it’s surprisingly modest, given the quality.
The shape is essentially a cluster of white cubes worked and juggled together to get the flow of rooms and space right, capturing light, and assigning functions to rooms and various quarters.
The main kitchen/living/dining space is south facing, opening to the decked back garden and raised, planted beds (no grass, the site was only a tenth of an acre). The more private family/evening room with stove and sliding patio doors is also south facing. The raft of decking, meanwhile, is in Ghanian, African Denya timber, contrasting with cedar cladding used to frame the dining room projection.
There’s also a ground floor guest bedroom to the front of the house, to the right of the cheery hall, and off to the left is a private, home study/office, by a secondary, cedar-screened utility entrance. Overhead, meanwhile, are three more bedrooms, main family bathroom etc.
As an example of how the house’s design was shaped to the family’s own lifestyle, the master bedroom is separated from the landing by a sort of walk-through closet - so it’s super-quiet, ideal for day-time sleeping after busy night-time shift work.
Other clever touches include a sliding glass door retracting into the wall by the hall, so there’s no hinged door taking up circulation space at this vital and busy junction, and the kitchen/family space feels massively airy, thanks to its back wall of glass, with the mono-pitch double-height ceiling over the dining table, rising up to a wide run of clerestory windows, facing north and triple glazed.
Greenway’s ‘building envelope’ is air-tight, with joints taped and sealed, and there’s a white coloured spray silicon render over the exterior cement-board cladding. Other finish materials include some zinc roofing and rainwater goods, Trocal-type roof membranes, select treated cedar sheeting, and stone paved slabs for the front drive.
Inside, floors and the kitchen with quality walnut units were done by Tom O’Dea of the Limerick company Woodline, and he took particular pride in doing the cut-string stairs in ash and with a walnut handrail, with a band of thin grooves cut into the front of each step for grip: it looks architectural and works a treat.
With babies arriving during the design/demolition and build stage, the couple rented a house nearby, so that they could project manage. It took about nine months in all from start to move-in.
“What I’d say is don’t be afraid of it. There aren’t enough examples of modern houses around the place to look over, so research what you want, I really enjoyed it and would do it again if we ever got the chance to build a place by the sea,” says one of the duo happily ensconced here.
“When Margaret came back with her first sketch, we said ‘that’s deadly, we’ll have that, please. When people come to visit, they generally love it, but some might be afraid of it. It might be a different shape, cubes on top of a box, but it is still a house.
“Now, I can tell you where every nail and screw is. I work with my hands anyway; after this, I’d put my hand to anything.
“Before, we didn’t think the style of a house could change the way you live, but it has done.
” We have to stop and say ‘do we really live here?’ sitting in the middle of winter all warm in a glass box — like something out of an IKEA catalogue!”
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