Suspended over a ravishing panorama of Kinsale sky, rock and pitching waves, this stunning contemporary coastal build by Richard Rainey movesto unexpected silence
An architectural lens trained on an unrepeatable view, Sundance is set in an acre and half of precipitous marine views over Sandycove Island (Cnoc an Rois) inhabited solely by jealous generations of feral goats. 19th-century terraced cottages form a painterly cubist footing from the townland nestled into the coast road below. Architect Richard Rainey is a familiar name for landmark projects in Kinsale, and his recent one-off residential builds enjoy a deserved celebrity.
“The owners of this property are friends and clients. They purchased the site with a 1980s bungalow with the intention of modifying it. When I came on board and the sketches developed, the windows grew as we tried to exploit the magnificent views. In the end, we gave up the struggle, agreeing to demolish the former house and replace it with a new build, with up-to-date energy efficient technologies.
“The commission had its challenges” Richard explains:
The entire concrete ground floor is suspended on cantilever beam from extensive dead-work needed to reach stable rock. The build took around a year, and the family gave me free rein in terms of design — that’s a rare experience for an architect
The comfortable country vernacular of the one storey, apex-roofed bungalow gave way to a modernist promontory fort of stacked stories and cantilever terraces, recalling the international style of the early 20th century. Freed from an overbearing pitched roof — layered, low, horizontal planes have been fostered for over a century, starting in the work of designers like Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe in the US, and Le Corbusier and our own Eileen Gray in Europe (think of her contemporary French fancy E1027 in reinforced concrete c.1929). Simplified into harmonising blocks and lines, nothing about these vanguard builds was extraneous or unnecessary.
Richard reflects: “This house with its corner windows and extended roof-line has a clearly 1960s look. You can still find some surviving period houses with similar elements in Kinsale today.”
Viewers on passing boats might see 1920s Art Deco here in the tiered promenade decks of a luxury cruise liner. Others might interpret planes of silvered geology. Richard Rainey feels the house has the sense of being ‘carved from rock’. Dramatic overhangs to roofs are not familiar in residential builds here in Ireland, but as Richard goes on to explain, changes in our building regulations have made their inclusion not simply iconic design, but entirely necessary. Aesthetically, it particularly suits dress-circle situations with a bit of height to show the house off.
“With the large amount of glazing we have to the front of the house, the extended roof protects the interior against unwanted solar gain in the summer. With the level of insulation and air-tightness in a highly energy efficient building — overheating in the warmer months has developed into a common problem in Irish houses.”
The silky fibre-cement Equitone panelling by Tegral used for wall panels and exterior ‘ceilings’ of the house is a material seen increasingly in commercial and residential settings. Impact and stain resistant with a choice of through-colour (no painting required), it has a restrained beauty and attractive practicality. With secret fixings, they require specialist installation on an aluminium frame attached directly to the block-work and external insulation (EWI).
“There’s really only two materials to the exterior walls” Richard continues, “stacked Liscannor limestone and the fibre cement panels. Equitone has a clean look, it’s maintenance free and acts as a rainscreen with around 10% of the moisture evaporating or dripping back to earth from the cavity. Using dedicated screws with the system, we were able to neatly fix it to the cantilevered over-hangs too. It’s not cheap and it’s important that it’s applied to millimetre perfection.”
With a deep edge, the roof is made up of preformed concrete with an asphalt and gravel ballast finish. No flat roof is entirely flat. Richard vouched for a 2° fall, which sheets water effectively to the rain water system, the gutters and down-pipes secreted within the roof structure.
Flat roofs remove an intrusive additional layer of finish, and well constructed in a situation raked by south-westerly winds, they are highly stable in stormy conditions.
The windows and lift n’ slide glazed doors are by respected Danish maker, Vrogrum-Svarre. They have an unusual design similar to Lumi products (NI) with the glazing shielding the internal timber frames. With glittering architectural planes, they cut down on future renovations to exposed framing under assault from salty air.
The layout at Sandycove was led by the available 180° views of the ocean, sky and swells of ground fraying into the sea. As we move out of the hall, the altitude and shifting beauty is described by Richard as ‘almost a shock’ after the protective reserve of the hall. Conversation drifts to long contemplative stares, the shoulders fall. Khachaturian’s Adagio for Spartacus strikes up in the mind.
The hall is a masterful overture, offering teasing, vertical flashes through open doorways of the natural spectacle to come. It contains the highest ceilings in the house, a handsome glass and chrome staircase and a square section of roof lifted and pierced with clerestory windows. These add soar to the stairwell and ingest a generous deluge of light from four aspects which pours down to the first floor.
The entire interior, except where tiled in the bathrooms, is painted in pure, matt white taken right through to deep, plain skirting. The rich American walnut flooring with matching walnut veneered interior doors are featured all over the house — a calming consistency.
The comfortable, even warmth and fresh flavour to the air, instantly flags the presence of a heat-pump married to under-floor-heating. Incorporating MVHR — warmth delivered by appliances, solar gain and body heat is recovered during mechanical air exchanges and returned to living spaces.
The balance of reception rooms for intimate retreat (not simply bedrooms) and broader communal areas displays Richard’s deft talent and experience. A quiet executive level study entered off the hallway offers a library hush.
The kitchen on the west side of this second (entry) storey is tailored to the sheltered north end of a vast open-plan kitchen-dining space. Balancing matt grey lacquer and golden distressed oak slab front cabinetry, it’s a subtly, understated working hub served by a huge utility room for unseemly back-stage domestics. There’s views of the sheltered garden during meal preps and the magnificence of the ocean to take in from an ash dining table served by Wishbone chairs by Hans J. Wegner for Carl Hansen & Søn. Entertaining can shift outside on the extensive decks served by sliding Svarre doors.
The main sitting room is metropolitan in mood, the picture windows separated at the centre by a simple squared-out hearth and log-burner that I’m assured is “rarely used” for anything but atmosphere. The fabrics, furnishings and choice in artwork and lighting are the last work of the eclectic and brilliant Peter Johnson, who sadly died shortly after the project came together. His visual panache is everywhere. Irish paintings and Scandinavian fabrics stretchered onto panels are deployed throughout the house, frequently at a bold scale.
All the bedroom windows are dressed in white semi-opaque, light-diffusing weighted linen. Recessed curtain rails are set directly into the ceiling — a discreet couture touch.
The master bedroom is off the main hall, entered through a pause of anteroom. There’s a free-standing thick panel of wall behind the bed, which moves the bed closer to its private terrace. This screening hides the door to the en-suite and a full walk-through dressing-room with mirrored fret-work doors in gorgeous Beau Monde style. Hidden from the visitor’s view, it’s the most ostentatious, decorative moment in the house.
Downstairs on the home’s lower floor is a further sitting room set out with tasteful modern feature furnishings. The room with its own log burner, leads to two guest rooms left and right. There’s a pleasing democracy in the house in terms of proportions and quality — every one of the three bedrooms could be master and commander in its five-star quality of luxuriant finish.
The architecture at every turn edits the perspective from these and every window into exclusive slices of sea, cliff and sky.
Contemporary coastal home, Kinsale, c.2015.
260 sq m (2,800sq ft)
Architect: Richard Rainey Architects
Main Contractor: Joe Neville construction
Structural engineer: Walsh Design Group
Interior Design: Peter Johnson Interiors
Landscape Design: Mike Waldvogel of Foresrbird Design
Kitchen and fittings: David Kiely Kitchens.
Windows: Vrogum Svarre/Tony O'Shea
Cladding: Tegral Equitone fibre cement panels
Roof & Floors: Precast concrete.