The home of Peter and Paula Vine, on the edge of Clifden, is a haven that seems utterly heaven sent. The limestone-clad house is visually appealing, tactile to touch and fragrant in an oh-so-functional way.
The couple, who met at what is now NUI Galway in 1972, built their property, the original part, in the mid-1970s, “very much in the bungalow blitz style”, Paula says, and they lived in it on and off between various projects abroad.
Paula, a Clifden native, studied international armed-conflict law. Peter is a marine biologist – he’s an adjunct lecturer at NUIG – and a keen diver and sailor.
The couple renovated their house in 2000, but it was when they semi-retired, in 2015, that the need for a separate office space arose.
When you turn off the lane to their property you came into a little oasis, a setting sheltered from the gales, a little hollow tucked in beside a local pier
Peter had always been fascinated by Martello towers, the stone defensive forts constructed along the coast by the British, who feared invasion by Napoleon, and had even gone as far as having an architect draw up plans for a Martello tower-style extension to the house. But it was too expensive and impractical.
It was their architect Stephen Tierney, of the Dublin firm Tierney Haines, who came up the idea of a lookout post. The location was windswept and wild, he says. “Yet when you turn off the lane to their property you came into a little oasis, a setting sheltered from the gales, a little hollow tucked in beside a local pier. On over an acre of ground the property stretches across a headland and down to a slipway.”
The couple married in Clifden in 1973. Peter was working in Port Sudan, and three days after the wedding the couple spent their honeymoon aboard a fishing boat, sharing their cabin with six or seven others, sailing the Red Sea to Eritrea.
They lived in Africa, the Middle East and Greece, and their home’s interior is an eclectic mix of souvenirs from their travels; old crusader swords from the Beja-Hadendoa tribe, old Bedouin silver from Sudan, a huge Indian coffee table, pottery made by friends, and a bright red Vietnamese wedding chest. “Everything has a memory,” Paula says.
Before they got married they had talked about buying a home in Connemara. They looked at all sorts of remote possibilities – a dilapidated cottage, an old church
Before they got married they had talked about buying a home in Connemara. While back from Sudan on holidays they looked at all sorts of remote possibilities – a dilapidated cottage at the tip of Slyne Head, an old church at Little Killary harbour – until, utterly exasperated, Paula’s mother gave them the scenic site, situated about 3km south of the town, as a wedding present.
They went on to base themselves in Dubai, where they set up a production company and worked co-ordinating and consulting on content for the United Arab Emitates pavilion at several world expos, in Spain, China, Korea and Italy, between 2008 and 2015.
Their work brought them into contact with internationally regarded architectural practices, including Norman Foster’s Foster + Partners.
The online design magazine Dezeen featured the firm’s work for the 2010 expo, in Shanghai. Their work helped them to understand plans and think about the implications of design. “It wasn’t architecture, per se, but a huge amount of architecture went into it,” says Peter.
With their return to Connemara they needed office space to work from. “We wanted semi-adjacent workspaces, so Stephen suggested a dividing bookshelf,” so that the pair could sit back to back. “We can’t see each other, but we can hear each other – but use headphones when working,” Peter says.
The matte oak-panelled study, crafted by Ronan Joyce and Conor Folan, is to the side of the house, beside the master bedroom, and linked by a glass and zinc corridor. A beautiful set of library steps allows the couple to access the top shelves.
Tierney suggested incorporating a terrace, accessed via an external set of steel stairs, above the study. It would, he says, allow the nature-loving couple to spend time in the landscape rather than looking over it.
It adds an environmental dimension to the house, Peter says. “You can sit up there and it is like a lookout tower.”
But when the wind blows you have to hang on to more than your hat, for it has shredded the foliage on the surrounding hills, says Tierney, who designed the terrace to provide as much shelter as possible. “The roof is sloped inwards, so that it funnels the wind over the top of your head, just as the windshield in an open-top car would.”
The lavender was Paula’s suggestion, says Tierney. “She’s a keen gardener, although planting in that part of the country is a bit of an experiment to see what will thrive.” It can be heartbreaking, Paula says with a sigh. “Windburn and saltburn are the major issues.”
The view is at shoulder height, fringed by the foliage and shielded from the wind. The plants are set in pots, so they can be taken down over the winter; they came from Dangan House Garden Centre.
The cedar was treated with an ageing accelerant, so the timber turned an even silvery grey in about three months instead of 18. Cedar has fallen out of favour in Ireland because, untreated, it could turn black with fungus. Colin Snow, a Letterfrack-trained contractor, lined up the boards beautifully.
The floor of the terrace is a treated timber deck that can be lifted up, as you would aboard a boat, to clean beneath it. Peter, as a keen sailor, liked the maritime references.
The library cum study is perfect for the husband-and-wife team, who have published several books, including The Silk Weaver by Gabrielle Warnock and The Elysium Testament by Mary O’Donnell, from their Immel publishing house.
They also, for 20 years, ran Trident Press, a firm that produced high-quality books, including Wildlife Specials, for the BBC; its sister company, Trident Media, produced Face to Face, a book of photographs of the many authors who frequented Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway.
The Vines’ lavender has survived the wind and the salt of its first winter, although its outer edges have been burnt. But Paula is delighted to report that it has rejuvenated and is growing beautifully – if not quite to English-country-garden standards. “It attracts bees and has a wonderful fragrance,” she says. As well as buzzing bees, you can hear terns and curlews crying, Peter adds. “We’re looking straight out to sea. There’s a vast sky overhead. With the smell of the lavender, it is utterly in tune with nature.”
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