Cottage with the wow factor that impressed Dermot Bannon

We talk to architect David Shannon about how he and Susie Dillon transformed an old property into their dream home 
Cottage with the wow factor that impressed Dermot Bannon

The living space at Fern Cottage in Dublin.

In terms of sheer magic, they do the trick every time: Traditional-looking facades that open out into the most unexpected of modern spaces.

Architect David Shannon and graphic designer Susie Dillon designed their dream home while crisscrossing the globe, transforming what David describes as an "unassuming" looking cottage into the ultimate in family residences.

The 'unassuming' exterior of Fern Cottage.
The 'unassuming' exterior of Fern Cottage.

“We were travelling, and in Japan for a month, when the sale of our house went through,” David tells Irish Examiner Property & Home

“We were literally working on the design of parts of it on planes and trains, doing sketches.”

It took a year for the sale to go through, during which time they had headed off on their travels. 

On their return, the couple spent 18 months renovating the property.

While the way we interact with our homes has changed post-Covid, so too has our relationship with the outdoors and the spaces around us, notes architect Dermot Bannon as he visits the resulting masterpiece, Fern Cottage.

The residence features in episode two of Dermot Bannon’s Super Small Spaces on RTÉ One this Sunday evening. 

“We’re now looking beyond our four walls to see the undeveloped potential that lies in our gardens, balconies or any outdoor space we come across,” says Dermot.

Architects often talk about “bringing the outside in” to our homes, but Susie and David have gone a little further in incorporating their immediate environment into their dwelling, which they share with their young daughter Olive and baby son Robin.

Cottages may be synonymous with rural living but this one has been given a new lease of life close to the city — and during lockdown.

The couple transformed this space from a 28sq m rundown property to a bright and airy three-bedroom 150sq m home for their growing family.

The build took two years and to save money Susie and David were based for most of that time in a cabin at the bottom of the garden.

The corridor space at Fern Cottage.
The corridor space at Fern Cottage.

“We lived down at the end of the garden, if you want to say, for 18 months,” says Susie. “We were there until Olive was four months old — throughout a really difficult pregnancy, a challenging time in anyone’s life.

“Anyone looking on would say, ‘Wow, how did you do that?’ but at the time we just did and it was really manageable.

A bedroom at Fern Cottage, overlooking one of the two courtyards.
A bedroom at Fern Cottage, overlooking one of the two courtyards.

“We were always looking back up at this slowly taking shape and evolving layer by layer, so you knew there was an end in sight and we actually have some wonderful memories from living there.”

The traditional-looking exterior of Fern Cottage is lime render. 

“It is unassuming when you see it: All you see is two windows and a front door,” says David.

And that’s where the wow factor comes in. Because beyond that front door is a spacious entrance hall and connected buildings surrounding two courtyards.

After entering, you descend three steps.

“When you walk down the steps you leave the old cottage behind and enter the first part of the extension,” notes Dermot.

Two large bedrooms, both of which overlook their own internal courtyards, have an ingenious design, bringing light and ventilation into the house. “It has allowed them to extend this house over and over again so it keeps going,” says Dermot.

A glass link takes you to the second part of the extension where the light-filled kitchen-living room. Meanwhile, the central corridor acts as a street “connecting all the buildings”, notes Dermot. “What an amazing journey from the front door down to here.”

The circular window in the living area is a real talking point.

The bathroom at Fern Cottage.
The bathroom at Fern Cottage.

David says he wanted “something with a big impact: Not like a little porthole — and it frames that view.”

Exposed rafters in the courtyard and at the back of the house are spaced to allow light to filter through to best advantage.

The two courtyards open up the house on what is a long narrow site. “They’ve made it into two buildings, which means you’ve got four elevations — it’s really clever. Normally with a house you extend it and extend,” adds Dermot.

“You’ve only got two sources of light at either end. They split it into two houses and immediately doubled the number of walls with windows — incredibly clever.”

As for indoor-outdoor enjoyment? The courtyards are seeing ample use by the older and younger family members and are filled with ferns — hence their home’s name.

“When we were designing it, we imagined going out into those courtyards for coffee — that was before we had kids, so that hasn’t really happened!” says David.

  • 'Dermot Bannon’s Super Small Spaces' airs on RTÉ One tonight, Sunday, at 9.30pm, and will be on RTÉ Player

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