Old and new can sit happily together – it’s all about the right balance


Working within the confines of a period building can be challenging, but a good challenge often leads to the most creative design solutions.

When restoring or extending a period house, you should respect the original building and restore the old fabric so that the period features can be fully appreciated. Any additions should complement and enhance the older part of the house. This does not always mean strictly adhering to a period style when designing an extension – a contemporary addition can work well.

We recently completed a renovation and extension of a period house in Donnybrook. The clients wanted an extension that would complement the existing house built in 1865 and showcase their contemporary art collection, while still being a comfortable family home.

Respecting the period architecture was fundamental to the design of the extension. The addition was a modern glass and brick structure that created a light-filled space to the rear of the house, overlooking the spectacular south facing garden.

On another job in Portobello many of the original details had been ripped out, including the fireplaces. The house had suffered such neglect that on first viewing the client branded it the House of Horrors.

We built a two-storey extension to the rear, carefully optimising the plan to incorporate two double bedrooms in the old part of the house, and a family bathroom and master bedroom with en-suite in the new extension.

The ground floor was transformed from a dark and constricted series of rooms into a bright kitchen/dining area. In the original part of the house the period features were lovingly restored, while in the extension contemporary finishes were chosen to contrast old and new.

The same goes for choosing furniture. Just because you live in a period home doesn’t mean you can’t buy modern pieces; similarly, if you live in a newly built home you don’t need to banish your antiques to the auction room.

The key with this look is not to overdo it. Harmony is what you should aim for. Old and new should sit happily together and the transition from one to the other should be a seamless experience that unites one era with the next.

Denise O’Connor is an architect and design consultant

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