Extension that lets light really shine


MY SPACE:The emphasis in Deirdre Conroy’s extension was on bringing as much light as possible into the house, writes EMMA CULLINAN.

Deirdre Conroy is a planning consultant who specialises in the conservation of historic buildings; she project manages interior refurbishments (both private and commercial) and also helps people to build art collections. She lives with her teenage sons Cameron and Finlay Barry in a 15-year-old house on an estate in Clonskeagh

When did you move to this house?

In 1994, when it was built. Before this we lived in a redbrick in Ranelagh but it was by a main road and I wanted somewhere where the children would be able to ride a bike safely. This area is great for kids.

You recently made changes to it?

I started the work a year-and-a-half ago. The amount I had to borrow would have bought a holiday cottage in France but here I get the benefits every day in terms of the quality of light and space.

The house came with a little conservatory but it was quite dark and cold. I took that down and extended the house further into the garden. I also extended a bedroom upstairs to the back and made an attic room.

I know a lot of architects and bartered with them to help me with the work: one measured up the area and I did a report for him on his house. Another did the CAD drawings and I did something for him.

One architect suggested that I have an internal garden with the livingroom wrapping around it which is a lovely idea but having lived here for more than 10 years I knew that I would never go out into that space and I needed that space more than anything.

I built the back glass wall very high, without a clerestory, because I wanted lots of natural light to reach the middle room, my office. If you can manipulate space you should push it as far as you can because it is so cold and dark here most of time and you need as much light as you can get in Ireland.

With the wall to the garden I went with the Palladian idea of three symmetrical openings (Deirdre did a masters on the Italian classical architect Andrea Palladio).

A lot of people ask why I didn’t have big timber sliding doors but I like those lovely Parisian apartments with doors onto balconies, and that was where I was coming from.

I got the idea for the garden furniture from the Bulgari hotel in Milan and found the seating on the internet. There was an impetus to have it ready in time for my son’s 18th birthday; there’s a bit of a club feeling out there.

Did you live in the house while the work was being done?

Yes, the builders would arrive at 7am and were gone around 4pm. I project managed it: the builders were helpful but you should never assume anything will be done the way you envisage and thank God I was able to be here and supervise.

I was trying to keep everything under control, from the budget to the plumbers and electricians who didn’t really know each other. I had a different builder to do the attic at the same time and they were amazing.

Dublin Attic Conversions did it all in five days, on budget. I’ve seen attic conversions go on for months round here but they came on a Monday and were gone on Thursday afternoon having done everything: steel brace, stairs, windows, absolutely amazing.

I carried on working in my office while the back of the house was taken off and basically covered in cling film to protect us from the weather. I don’t know how I did it. That year I was doing a lot of conservation reports and it is amazing what you can get on with if it has to be done.

One son was doing his Junior Cert while the whole kitchen was pulled out and we had a microwave and a bit of a kitchen in the hallway. I always thought he would blame me if the exams didn’t go well – but he did really well. The builders started in March and were gone by Christmas although it’s still not technically finished.

How did you choose your kitchen?

I got it from McNally. The first builder I had, when I moved here, put in a dark kitchen for me. This time I wanted the kitchen to be white and the surrounding area to be more like a gallery space, for paintings, although I’ve ended up with practically no walls.

What inspired me was the beautiful Ara Pacis mausoleum building in Rome by architect Richard Meier. I like the way the sun hits the floor: when I saw it, I thought ‘I want that’.

When the sun comes in here these amazing shafts of light fall on the travertine floors: there are no curtains, just nice sharp spaces.

I put in underfloor heating (by Unipipe, who are very good) which led to another battle with builders who said it is bad for circulation. I find that when some builders are dealing with a woman on her own, even if she is in the same profession and has kept up-to-date with innovations, they often say “no, no, no – that’ll never work”.

The Rolf Benz sofa was a big splurge. I spotted it for a client, for a showhouse, during a relocation sale in Houseworks and fell in love with it myself.

Eventually the client decided they didn’t want it so I rang Houseworks to tell them and they said the price had gone down even further.

I am always looking for a bargain and that was a great find. It was a display model but it just fits brilliantly.

A tip that every designer gives is to have one investment piece and not try to buy loads of bits and pieces.

We tend to think warm colours and clutter make things cosy but in fact they do the opposite. Last year I was filling up skips and parting with things. You’d want to be very focused to do that but I’ve gone completely anti-clutter now. All of the furniture was recycled – it all went to other homes and the builders took the microwave which now goes with them from site-to-site.

The Luxy Perspex dining chairs are actually office chairs – they come from Milner Office Furniture – and they look amazing at night when the light through them looks like pools of water on the floor.

The original customer who ordered them had to let most of their staff go and couldn’t take the order. Sometimes conference chairs can be more interesting in homes and I like the way these are cantilevered and bouncy so people can last a few hours on them.

The light came from National Lighting – it can swivel to the table or around to the sofa. I’m always trying to find the perfect reading place. I think that if you have got the right chair and light you will read more although it hasn’t happened yet.

How did you choose the paint colours?

I went out again and again to the local paint shop and didn’t care how much I spent on samples. I put four or five in each room and would just go in and out of rooms at different times to see the colour that made an impact – not necessarily the loudest but the one that the eyes were drawn to all the time.

I tend to avoid yellow although I like beautiful rich ochres and I don’t have a problem with mustardy yellow which makes a lovely background for black and white prints. I did the historic part of Carton House Hotel and created a classic print room in yellow but you know the yellow I avoid, the one that the Irish have an obsession with in hotels and bungalows. In my bedroom it was the most accidental colour. It was a Dulux shade even though I used a lot of Farrow Ball in the house, and just looks like plaster. It’s almost a nothing colour. It’s quite gentle but I do keep coming back to calm colours.

I do feel calm and organised in my office now. Before it was a bit cluttery and domestic. It is different from other office spaces I’ve had where I feel chaotic. Now, when I’m out on-site, I look forward to coming back to my desk.

If you end up working at home then a little bit of investment in your workspace doesn’t go astray. Now we are looking at investing in ourselves and our homes rather than having big cars and what have you. You home is your habitat and, if you don’t feel comfortable in it, then other things won’t fall into place.