RTÉ Home of the Year: Forest house gets a perfect 10 from Amanda Bone

See the Antrim home through to final and the other two cool spaces, including a kitchen that made two judges want to waltz 
RTÉ Home of the Year: Forest house gets a perfect 10 from Amanda Bone

Janice and Rob McConnell's residence in County Antrim is the seventh through to the 2023 Home of the Year final on RTE One. Pictures: Joe McCallion

It was the site, situated on the County Antrim coast, with lush woodland and shimmering sea views, that first appealed to Janice and Rob McConnell. 

So, their main aim was to ensure their architectural new build merged seamlessly with the landscape.

Their single-storey, low-impact home features as many natural materials as possible and is sympathetic to the woodlands around it. “We wanted it to blend into the surroundings,” says Janice.

Rob adds: “We always wanted to build our own house and we wanted a house that was energy-efficient, so a big focus in this house was renewables. Between March and October, we don’t have the heating on.”

The couple were also keen to maximise the relationship between the interior and exterior of the property, which has panoramic sea, forest and mountain views, so they created a patio area with an overhang. 

“We spend a lot of our time outside now — I would say we’re outside as much as we are inside,” says Rob.

Janice steered the interiors look, which she says aims to “complement the outside of the house”.

From their favourite perch, on the swivel chair in the living area, adds Rob: “The views are spectacular — you also feel like you’re steeped in nature. When you’re sitting there you feel like you’re outside in the woods.

“We consider ourselves hugely lucky; we’re both from working-class backgrounds. We’ve both worked hard in our careers to be in a position where we could build something like this.” 

Janice adds: “We love it. It’s right for us and that’s all that matters.” 

All three Home of the Year judges agree that the McConnells have succeeded as they choose it as the seventh to go through to the final of the RTÉ One series.

As interior designer Sara Cosgrove observes: “I'd say this was a hard home to choose a favourite spot in.” 

Architect Amanda Bone, who awards it a perfect 10, says: “I feel really good in this home and I do not want to leave.” 

She admires how the property sits “elegantly with the original building on this woodland site”.

Everything from the home office with its views down the hallways and outside to the external canopy to the outdoor living space gets her seal of approval.

Sara notes the tactility of the materials used also, particularly in the kitchen island, which blends seamlessly into the poured concrete floor.

All three judges love the indoor-outdoor connection and the scale of the glazing.

“Water, for me, is my life, particularly the sea, so I am in heaven,” says Amanda.

“The living room is surrounded by glass but it feels really comfortable, really cosy.” 

The main bedroom, featuring driftwood sculpture, a separate dressing room and a bathroom complete with walk-in shower, gets the thumbs-up from architect Hugh Wallace for its "five-star hotel appeal". “It’s decadent and delicious,” he says.

Sara and Hugh both give the residence nine marks. 

Score 28 

County Dublin home 

All three judges enjoy the playful spirit of this light-filled, roomy family residence in south County Dublin.

Donna McGrath and Mark Rusk share their home with their three daughters and opted for a “slightly quirky” theme, according to Donna.

Of their “chilled bohemian style”, she says: “We wanted a kind of a holiday feel here, a lovely calm vibe. We love living here and we hope the judges get that sense."

When the couple bought the site in 2015 they wanted to build a house that was bright and that offered a strong connection between the inside and outside. 

To achieve this, they used floor-to-ceiling windows, a double-height light well and a variety of wood types.

The judges are pleased with the sense of space as soon as they enter the kitchen.

“I have a very small kitchen at home. It’s barely enough for two people in it, whereas here there’s loads of counter space. It’s both brilliant and it’s a little bit crazy,” says Amanda.

Hugh promptly decides it’s time to throw a few shapes.

“We could dance, oh darling. Dance, Amanda!” says Hugh.

After the pair have thrown their heads back, closed their eyes, and waltzed around the raised kitchen area for several moments, Hugh awards his top marks of the evening: “I give Amanda 10 out of 10 for dancing.” 

Visibly horrified, Sara is clearly not about to dignify either of her co-judges' fancy footwork with a score anywhere close, any time soon. “I just never want to see that again. That’s a memory I can’t take away,” says the interior designer.

But, like Amanda and Hugh, Sara is a firm fan of the home’s “fun vintage vibe”.

Score: 26 

Dublin townhouse 

Ella de Guzman and Stephen Ryan live in an 1800s townhouse in Dublin City Centre.

The couple bought the property in 2011 and with it, took on a massive renovation project.

Stephen describes their renovated Victorian home as “a labour of love”.

“We still don’t feel that we’ve totally finished it,” he adds.

It was originally split into seven apartments.

“We kept the numbers on the doors because it’s really important to keep the history of the house, which is 160 years old,” says Stephen.

Over the last 11 years, the couple have continuously fixed up the house and renovated everything from the kitchen, bathrooms, landscaping, roof, electrical, plumbing, living room and basement.

The owners of Siopaella, they are collectors of vintage finds and modern pieces, and use these items throughout the home to create texture and layers.

The couple feel like their home is laid back and somewhere you can put your feet on the furniture. 

In particular, they love the basement level they’ve created with the cosy cinema room.

Because it’s on a busy street, they can watch the world go by, says Ella.

As the judges approach, Amanda notes: “Actually my grandparents’ first home is directly across the street.” 

Hugh adds: “Most of these homes in this area [were] turned into flatlands in the 1960s and 1970s so it’s great to see them back as family homes.” 

He admires how Ella and Stephen carried out works that entailed “minimal intervention” when renovating their eclectic home.

Score: 24

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