THE Irish "super home" no longer represents flabby acres in the vanity McMansions of the boom. The new lead story is all about pleasingly achieving Nearly Zero Energy Builds (NZEB). We can be proud of new sustainable virtues, not simply signalled by parking up a hybrid car, but with 15-30 kWh/sq m of net primary energy, and 50-65 kWh/sq m of primary energy use covered by 35 kWh/sq m with on-site renewable sources every year.
Island View, LakeRoad, Cobh, Co Cork, owned by David Walsh and designed by architect Loic Dehaye, demonstrates that a typically sized home with the right ingredients can ring every bell for glowing aesthetics, NZEB efficiency and sheer everyday feelgood.
David is humming with joy after 18 months immersed in his elegant dress-circle position, suspended over the native town he loves. “I’ve been working my way towards this view. My parents were brought up on Spike, so I feel very connected to the harbour. I lived in an estate house up in Ballynoe, and gradually slipped down the hill closer to the sea. It took me ten years to find this place. Opening the door to the main reception rooms, and finding this view, it was so worth the wait.”
David took an enthusiastic, active role, requesting tortuous shadow-gaps to the walls of David Horgan’s crew (D&M Construction), and sourcing everything from the gilded floor-boards to sustainable London made side-tables by Grain. “I found it on the Internet” is his riff when questioned about his home’s understated, deftly composed roomscapes.
Loic Dehaye, a French architect now settled in Cork, was Dave’s most crucial internet catch. David followed up with the RIAIs recommended sit-down consultation onsite.
“I was drawn to the style of Loic’s past and planned projects and once we met I knew he was the professional for this place — experienced and particularly passionate about every aspect of sustainable building. Those things informed my choice.”
The original Island View was a worthy 1978 bungalow. It had the expected layout for a stepped, skinny site. One storey on the north led down to two storeys on the south, disconnected by design, with two bedrooms isolated without a stair on the basement level. Though a visionary buy, it was no bargain with its oddities, and pearl-clutching setting.
One of the most telling pictures taken during its reinstatement throughout 2018 shows a bare foundation with the lone surviving element of the old house — a cream, vintage Stanley range. Together with the OFCH and poor insulation levels it symbolised the original BER of a chill "E" demanding 355.64 kWh/sq m used to heat the house and water per year.
What, I wondered, was the tipping point from a standard deep retrofit to reimagine the house so completely?
Dave breaks into a conspiratorial smile. “I brought Loic in just to extend the house a bit, to raise a floor-level and to connect upstairs and down- that was it. As we talked and a choice of drawings emerged, I was all-in. The site was so amazing, we both realised it deserved fundamental change not compromises.”
Loic continues: “Planning constraints and budget finally convinced us it was more prudent to demolish the existing house to bring it up to passive standard, while keeping the foundation and a costly retaining wall. Blockwork construction made cost-effective re-use of that foundation. The result was a proposition with similar proportions to the existing house, extended by four metres to the east.”
Planning was requested and a full visual impact study with a photo montage was supplied to show the slight change in the roof levels and door and window openings. Island View still cannot be seen from Cathedral Place at all and the planners were satisfied it didn’t impinge on sensitive areas of the heritage town.
Island View now has green credentials that have completely decarbonised its future at point-of-use. Given the timing, Dave could have elected to slip under the extra cost and detailing demanded of NZEB, but with Dehaye onboard he was energised to future-proof even before Part L of the building regulations made this mandatory.
“The variables were the heating and ventilation system” Loic explains, “We settled on UFH and an air source heat pump system and a heat air recovery ventilation system (MVHR), and installed eight photovoltaic (electricity making) panels to help the efficiency of the system, which brought the BER rating up to an A1.
“The house was 126 sq m and is now 187 sq m,” Loic adds. “The blockwork wall cavity was filled with 100mm Xtratherm and given 40 mm dry lining. The roof was filled with 400mm mineral wool and the floor carries 200mm of EPS (polystyrene) insulation. We achieved an airtightness 1.5 ach (air changes in one hour).
“In terms of design, the view is extraordinary, so the obvious thing was a fully glazed south-east elevation. To avoid the oblivious potential for over-heating we included a large roof overhang. The vaulted ceiling design enhances the fill of space and includes roof windows which are remotely controlled for passive cooling (passive stack ventilation).
“Downstairs, there’s a new staircase (sitting proud) on the South elevation. The basement wall has deliberately small openings and a dark colour treatment to anchor the building visually and to enhance the essential transparency of the ground floor.”
With a slender front garden, the house is entered through a zinc frame entrance porch. An unusual tilt to the NW corner of the house is a sly sign that’s something is afoot.
Stepping through a neatly detailed hall of Wabi-Sabi restraint, delivers a spectacular panorama of cubist roof rhythms, backed by shimmering seascapes and soaring, cloud-scudded skies. A bank of the floor-to-ceiling doors glide open to reveal chest-high balcony glass, allowing the sacred peal of the carillon in the cathedral to ornament the space with its complex chase of bells.
With its eye-watering silvers and Deflt blues, celebrated coastal tracery, islands and industry — the outlook is riveted on the intimate and unexpected presence of the spire of the mighty St. Colman’s, spliced ground to Heaven to the SW. By night? A jewel box ignites over the waters.
In the main living-room, there’s a practical, unpretentious division of function left to right, with an elegant Italian-informed seating area east and a slab fronted grey kitchen to the west. The continuous run of golden, laminate oak contributes to the harmony of the furnished, anti-kitchen kitchen, so popular in high-end builds everywhere. Handle free cabinets in grey with a suede textured, deep, white quartz island with waterfall sides and breakfast bar. It’s, as the Norwegians would say, Lagom (sufficient, enough) and effortlessly beautiful.
The second-fix carpentry throughout the house is centred on elegant built-in shelving and storage from the hall forward by Midleton cabinetmaker Ronan Power. A second entrance to the south-west corner of the room provides a place to gaze out toward Spike, the moment enhanced with a vertically slanted high privacy screen in larch.
The master behind the kitchen is insulated from interior noise by a deep bulkhead wall and includes a crisp walk-in wardrobe and ensuite tucked into the one-storey public aspect of the house. The stacked silk pendant is by his cousin, owner of Shady & the Lamp in Dublin.
Asked about his favourite place in his new home, Dave struggles for a moment before vouching for his snug. The wall was kicked out to a slight angle to allow a dramatic vertical framing of sea — ideal for binoculars or a telescope to watch the life of the harbour by day, and a comfortable retreat to close quarters by night under a bespoke Rothschild & Bickers pendant. Loic, also vouches for this little architectural jog, and instructs Dave to add another automated blind when he has time to finesse the light and solar gain.
There’s a firmly contemporary glass and metal staircase marrying upstairs and down beside the kitchen. Lit upstairs on three sides, it acts as a brilliant light well to the lower floor. Here David can offer his extended family two bedrooms and a further bathroom. It also houses a plant room for the pressure vessels and elements of the ASHP and MVHR. Dave’s love of birch ply is illustrated in the Grain side-table/stools and built-in wardrobes — a material re-imagined from mid-century utility by young makers and designers including Pluck kitchens in the UK.
“This is it for me — the light and space; I’m never moving,” David reveals. He lightly teases the position of the built-in blinds with Bluetooth connectivity from his phone, his eyes fastened on a passing cargo vessel. The house is highly automated, but he admits as a beginner with the technology, he’s still strategising with the PVSolar, and ASHP. He can now spend every day discovering the hidden talents of the remarkable forever house he’s waited so long for.