The rounded inspiration for this unusual home came from the nearby presence of a medieval ringfort near Clonakility, writes Tommy Barker.
Clonakilty, Co Cork €650,000
Size: 291 sq m (3,150 sq ft)
Best Feature: Best around
A BIT of late night brainstorming with an architect, and a quest to reference local landscape features in a new home design, resulted in the striking and wholly-unusual curve of this West Cork home.
Set on three-quarters of an acre just a short walk from McCurtain Hill in Clonakilty town, this is a home apart from the usual run of builds, all curves and grace and light and deft design touches.
And, it achieved its rounded inspiration from the nearby presence of an early medieval ringfort, or more properly, an earth-covered circular structure — a rath.
The Irish landscape is blessed with tens of thousands of ringforts, and Clonakilty has a very well restored and presented example at Lisnagcon, Darrara, with excavations complete in 1998 when it opened as a tourist attraction.
But, a bit like the cliched line about land that “it’s valuable because they’re not making it anymore,” much the same can be said for ringforts... they’re just not being fashioned today.
Except perhaps for this domestic home, and its Celtic design references, with a ‘real-deal’ ringfort just a field or two away at this elevated townland called Cappeen.
A family home, this build was the passion and project of a relocating Irish family, he from Northern Ireland, she from Skibbereen, when they moved to Munster from a previous home in the Pale, in Leinster.
On arrival in west Cork, they rented a home nearby at Cappeen, and began to dream of building.
This, seen here, is the striking result, though it was admittedly a slow delivery of that dream, from conception to moving in.
In all, it took four years of work and input, some of that attributable to the decision to build by direct labour, and some down to the additional complexity of the design, necessitating a bit of extra skills from masons, carpenters (the roofs, must have been a nightmare to set out) and plasterers, as even internally the softer, rounded curved theme is carried through.
And, now, 15 years on, it’s aged beautifully, inside and out, and the grounds have come on in leaps and bounds and fronds, with small ivies tucking themselves into gaps in the feature, chopped Liscannor limestone that snakes and slinks and follows its way around the arcs and peaks of the exterior walls.
And, then, just to complicate things and add to the mason’s workload, the same attention to detail dry-stone finish crops up intermittently inside as well.
All quite an organic build and shape and character, and with an internal air of comfort, calm and tranquillity, it’s clearly fashioned from a well-chosen palette of natural materials, including stone, render, cedar cladding, slate, Redland clay roof tiles (small sized for the curves, and here by the thousand) and quality timbers, all sympathetic to one another.
With three children now grown up, the passage of time continuing its march and life passing by, the decision to down-size and to sell has been taken for a new chapter.
This true one-off’s up for sale, in pristine condition, all ready to nurture another family: even the polytunnel is primed for fresh harvests.
Design fiends might think they spot a similarity to some curved or circular, contemporary builds from programmes like Grand Designs, but going back to 2001, it pretty much evolved under its own design steam and merits, gratis of the adjacent rath or ringfort, glimpsed still from the garden boundaries and/or the master bedroom of this true one-off.
Despite its utter individuality and refusal to tick predictable, square or rectangular boxes.it’s a good home.
“This striking residence is superbly practical in its everyday use,” says estate agent Michael O’Donovan of Cork City’s Savills’ office who’s selling jointly with agent Maeve McCarthy of Charles P McCarthy in Skibbereen.
The joint agents enthuse about the property’s design and build and setting; they guide at €650,000, and feel a buyer could come from the city, from west Cork and the hinterland, or as readily as from overseas once the Brexit waves and hit on sterling and stock markets steadies back down again.
It’s as big as almost any buyer and family might wish for, at just over 3,100 sq ft, and two of its five bedrooms which are ranged about the outer circumference are en suite, with showers.
At its heart, or epicentre of the curve, is a kitchen/dining/family room, with open fireplace in a wall/chimney breast of Liscannor stone, and effectively once in this space, all attention is drawn to the outside.
Here, snuggling up to tall banks of windows and two sets of double doors is a colourful array of garden planting, in semi-circular beds and with a sheltered gravel patio.
In ringfort terms, the centre of these defensive structures is typically called a ‘lios,’ and this home’s lios relates as readily to this kitchen-anchored hearth-centre, and as readily to the two side/end wings.
At the house’s main entry point, there’s an oval-shaped living room, with open fireplace in a rounded and rendered chimney breast: this room is extensively glazed (a number of the windows now are pale, wood-effect pvc, very much a visual match for the original Danish pine windows frames) and the floor’s in natural sisal.
Bedrooms are carpeted, in the main, and corridors and the kitchen space are in a slate-like tile, with underfloor heating, while other heating is zoned and delivered via radiators.
The house’s curvacious layout under various roof shapes, from curved to conical and including a ‘butterfly roof’ section means each room has a different ‘take’ on the garden and countryside views, and on the Irish Examiner’s evening visit, a fox was boldly traversing the fields towards the ringfort, while this human habitat has secure, mature boundaries, a mix of hedging and hedgerows interspersed with old, spreading whitethorns.
The gardens have several water supply points, one’s handy for the polytunnel which this year, of busy house-sale preparations, has been scattered with wild-flower seeds, now coming into full bloom, alongside raised vegetable beds.
More settled and permanent is a special, meditative garden corner by the (electric) gates and Liscannor stone boundary walls, with low, spreading Japanese acers, and the property mix is rounded off by a gently curved garden store, sheltering the house’s back door.
VERDICT: Wonderful — take a bow.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved