Thinking outside of that box: Dermot Bannon gets off the telly and into print

ALL of the dramas have been taken out of home improvement, in architect Dermot Bannon’s book, Love Your Home.

Bannon’s a familiar face from the TV show, Room to Improve, and its domestic rows about building budgets. And, as befits his profile and status, he even graces the book’s cover, like a celebrity chef, albeit with sketching pen and blueprints at his fingertips, in place of pots and pans.

Room to Improve has already run over seven series, and, ever before that, Bannon had a slot on House Hunters, so a book by him is perhaps overdue, but thankfully now he’s distilled much of his knowledge and advice into the easily digested, good-to-look-at Love Your Home, subtitled ‘Secrets to a Successful Space’. Its aim is to help us appreciate, and then improve, the way we use and enjoy our homes.

Now, ‘secrets’ might be overstating things a tad: this is an easy take on a domestic science, not rocket science. It’s full of tips and good advice, learned by Bannon from on-the-job experience and from professional training.

He studied architecture in Hull, and spent some childhood years in Egypt, and espouses design that suits the local environment (what he calls regionalism,) as well as house design from the inside out, to suit the occupant’s own particular needs. He hits all the modern must-haves and mantras of light and space and designing forcontemporary lifestyles.

Handily, Bannon is never short of opinions and firmly held convictions: don’t get him started on 1970s bungalows, built to face the road, irrespective of where the sun shines, or of site aspects or views that are ignored (though, if you do, he’ll suggest clever ways of getting around their built-in shortcomings and passage-tomb-like corridors.)

In a personable way, our Dermot’s not inclined to sit on the fence, nor to sit formally in the parlour; a dark, poorly-sited seating area will have him running screaming for a sketchpad and the chance to start all over again.

On television, Bannon might seem pushy, and unconcerned about budget implications and over-runs for people who will have to pay a mortgage on his suggestions, but (as the Room to Improve programme’s trope goes), he’s generally right, and just needs to be proven right.

After a few series of Room to Improve, Dermot was joined for a while by quantity surveyor, Patricia Power, who, as a foil, put budgets and alternatives into the mix.

Now, in Love Your Home, an entire chapter is sensibly assigned to ‘Budgeting’: perhaps ominously, it’s chapter 13.

Across the stylish book’s 200-plus pages (edited by the highly-regarded architecture writer, Emma Cullinan), Dermot gets it right on so many levels, from sensible suggestions on attic conversions (while still being planning compliant), to whether to extend or adapt, and how we make best use of day-to-day living spaces. For we Irish, that means kitchens, in the main.

Bannon didn’t invent the open-plan kitchen/living/dining space, but he is a great advocate of it, agreeing that it’s the heart of the home, and credits another architect, Ross Cahill-O’Brien, with the observation that homes need heart, head and gut spaces.

Open areas in a kitchen encourage communal and cross-generation family activities, and thus are the ‘heart’, while the quieter, more reflective rooms, such as dens and bedrooms, are ‘head’ spaces.

And, says Bannon, the ‘gut’ is the utility, laundry, storage, recycling and mud/boot room: he reckons about 10% of a house’s area should be given over to these practical, seemingly mundane areas, yet ones whose existence can vastly improve the quality of daily living. Given that most utility rooms are mean, pinched spaces, it’s no wonder they’re frequently dubbed ‘futility rooms’.

One of the strengths of Love Your Home is its mix of hard fact and figures with more general advice: Bannon offers a good-sense approach on things as varied as ceiling heights (go up a bit, be generous) to choosing a sofa, or even bed and bath sizes.

Every home should have at least one bath, he reckons, opting for a 1,800mm over a 1,700mm, for a decent stretch and soak, but, possibly, that’s before the current hyper-paranoia about water usage and cost per litre.

And every home should have a fireplace/hearth as a focus — not a TV, and no TVs in bedrooms. He’s not afraid to be personal, but (unlike on television) in reading the book you can take, or leave, or adapt, his cogent advice.

Bannon is part of the trend that’s killing off the parlour, that rarely-if-ever-used ‘good room,’ but says that open-plan living won’t suit everyone, or even the same families at all times, so he explores options for a separate den or family room, a quiet sanctuary in which to read, or to watch a movie.

His own Drumcondra home has an evening room and “we don’t bring visitors in there — the open-plan space is for them, which is opposite to how it was in the past. It is like the family snug.”

The book raises the bar and expectations on design, and shows a range of Irish homes several steps above what’s generally offered by builder/developers in standard, box formats.

However, the abundant images are all pretty aspirational — the homes featured all come from the glossy-magazine end of the scale. There aren ’t too many remedies for shoe-box apartments, shrunken semis and tiny, terraced townhouses featured in the hundreds of photos.

Architecture and design are for everyone, and we should expect, ask for, and demand more, he says.

A house can affect the way you feel, Bannon notes, and he concludes with the simple sentiment “everyone deserves a great space to live in. Not big, not grand, but light, bright and designed around you. A home to love”.

* Irish Examiner reader offer. Get Dermot’s new book Love Your Home: Secrets to a Successful Space for just €16 (usual price €22.99).

To order: Call 01-5009570 Please quote IE. Free delivery within Ireland.


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