A Liberties trade-down home with bells on
This modest house in Dublin 8 has been completely remodelled inside to accommodate an Aga kitchen and seating for everyone in owner's book club
Mícheál de Síun of de Siún Architects in the Dublin 8 home he designed for Clare Stassen.
Trading down doesn’t have to mean living on one level but it does take clever planning and creative thinking to forge a home for the rest of your life, as de Siún Architects has done for a sixtysomething client settling in the Liberties.
Clare Stassen, a grandmother to Tomas (7) and new-born Iarlaith, wanted to put down roots in a home for life, one she could live in even if she may someday need a Zimmer frame to get around it. She didn’t want to leave it too late and as the daughter of an architect, she had been “brought up to take notice of buildings”.
Which is how she met her architect, Mícheál de Siún of de Siún Architects. He was a neighbour she got to know while renting the two-up, two-down, mid-terrace house situated a mere street trader’s call from Meath Street. She liked what he had done with his home. When Stassen convinced her landlord to sell the house to her, she had a good idea of what she wanted.
The brief was industrial but playful and the building works were extensive. All that was retained was the roof and the front wall, she explains. “But having an architect that listens to you and hears what you’re saying is the secret to success.”
She also wanted a creative bike storage solution. Although she owns a car, her preferred mode of transport is on two wheels. Living in a mid-terrace house, there was nowhere to safely park her trusty steed, until de Síun started flexing his creative thinking.
The property, which measured about 65sq m, was compact. It was built in 1918 as one of the homes for heroes, those returning from fighting for the British in the Great War.
When Stassen bought the house, there were two small rooms downstairs, with the bathroom set to the rear. It would have had outdoor plumbing originally. Upstairs, there were two smallish bedrooms.
Set on a slope, the front door was situated about 30cm above street level, not ideal for a home to grow old in. “Digging down to level out the ground floor was not an option because it would mean the floor was situated below the neighbour’s foundations so we made the decision to lower the floor to the front and use two small steps, set far apart, to make it easy to access,” de Siún says. He explains the thinking is part of the National Disability Authority’s code of practice that looks beyond disability to the impact of design on all members of society, regardless of anyone’s age, size, ability or disability.
The ground floor is now open-plan but zoned so there is an inner porch area inside the front door, where the floor level was dropped to make the front step a more manageable 15cm off the ground. De Siún was able to hive out a space here for Stassen’s bike, using the empty void on the opposite side of the kitchen’s breakfast bar as a ‘parking’ spot. It is a beautifully simple solution that meant Stassen no longer had to lug the bike through the house to keep it safe.
The kitchen is a u-shaped space in a restful sage green colour with concrete worktops, compact dishwasher drawers by Fisher & Paykel and an under-the-counter fridge – small-sized appliances that suit the needs of one.
Stassen had one request. She wanted an Aga and installed a two-door, gas-fuelled design in the front-room chimney breast, adding a pulley clothes rack above to dry laundry.
The Aga heats all of the ground floor. There are only two radiators in the whole house, one in each bedroom upstairs.
To the rear of the house, overlooking a small but west-facing yard of about 15sq m, is the living space. The original back had a low ceiling height so to make it feel more lofty and to bring light deep into the house, de Siún suggested a large roof light, about 1m-wide and 2m-long.
Living on her own, Stassen didn’t want a sofa but rather a comfortable reading chair, which she bought from newly opened Pieces on Dublin’s South Great George’s Street. “But I did want to be able to seat my book club when they came round.” The solution was a built-in oak and concrete bench with kick-open drawers underneath to store cushions and other stuff the readers could take out to pad their seat.
The builders, Turncon Construction Group, sourced the oak herringbone parquet floors from Heiton Buckley and had its sister company, Moore & O’Gorman, fabricate the upstairs timber windows to the back, installing aluclad sliding doors from Munster Joinery off the living room and getting the aluminium roof light fabricated and fitted with triple glazing from Myra Glass. “I sit here in the evenings and looks straight up at the sky,” she says.
The stairs is shielded from view by a set of oak fins, perpendicular slats that stream dappled light into the stairwell. The property’s dividing wall has become a gallery space for Stassen to show off her books, knickknacks and photos. “He knew I had stuff and took it into account, designing around me rather than the other way around.” And it works. There’s even some secret storage here, while under the stairs is a smart-looking visitor’s toilet.
Every bit of the house has been designed for Stassen to use, 365 days of the year, says de Síun, and this is most evident upstairs where you best see his fresh thinking. This style of house usually has two modest double bedrooms, neither massively roomy. To compensate for this, the master bedroom was extended to make it a good-size room and the second bedroom, the spare room, so often a dumping ground and used as a guest room only a couple of weeks a year, has been opened up to become a study. When Stassen does have guests to stay, they will sleep on a neat sofa bed, which she is still waiting to arrive from Made. com">Made.com. A pair of doors on tracks can slide to shut off the space.
When the guests are gone, Stassen gets to enjoy a room with floor-to-ceiling glazing, fabulous western light and texture in the form of two colours of weave brick, buff and almost black grey, to provide some shadow and privacy.
In the small back yard, about 15sq m in size, there is a raised planter situated at hip height and lit below so it appears to float. There is also a shed, built to house a second bike – this one a road bike Stassen uses at weekends. It is also home to gardening tools, a bin to hold rubbish between weekly bag collections, a Belfast-style sink and and a dog shower for her dog, Tycho, a miniature schnauzer named after the 16th-century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, whose work in developing astronomical instruments and in meticulously measuring and fixing the positions of stars paved the way for future celestial discoveries.
The bathroom, where an opaque glass pane divides it from the master bedroom, has ambient strip lighting and is also lit from above by Velux windows. A big astronomy fan, Stassen likes to look up at the stars while taking a soak in the bath.
Photographs by Paul Tierney