‘After living in five countries, we found a home in Malahide’

The Vazquez-Nagle family took inspiration from their travels when designing their Dublin home

 

There comes a point in most people’s lives when they take the brave step of purchasing a sofa. For James Nagle and Belen Vazquez, that time arrived relatively late in life. The simple, but eye-catching and comfortable teal felt three-seater, was purchased last year by the 49-year-olds as one of the finishing touches for the place the couple and their three children now call home.

“We’d lived abroad for years,” explains Vazquez, a Spanish-born lawyer-turned-nutritionist, who finds the whole sofa thing rather amusing. “We met in Brussels over 20 years ago.

“We had married, lived in five countries, had three children, but no house; we were always renting. We came here because we wanted the children to go through the rest of their education in one place. So the joy of buying your own sofa. We felt it was time to settle.”

Her husband, Belfast-born Nagle, who had been involved in international pharmaceutical sales for years, was in agreement. One visit to Malahide and their minds were made up. This was the place. The move meant a change of career for Nagle, who is now self-employed in executive training.

“We bought the original house, moved back to Ireland 2½ years ago, rented while the building work was going on, moved in here just under a year ago, and bought the couch.”

The famous couch takes pride of place beside an elegant, low, glass-topped table on giant papier mache “boulders” in the open-plan kitchen/dining room. Creating a comfortable lounge area overlooking the newly landscaped garden (complete with veg patch), the table is one of several unusual pieces that punctuate the space and illustrate a journey that has brought the couple around the world in careers that have seen them living in five countries, including Brazil and Russia, before making the big decision to call a halt to their movements and get home-making.

Their resultant Malahide home is one of those head-turners of a building that would make passers-by do a double take. It’s an imposing building in its own right, but what makes the impact all the more striking is its position on a quiet, leafy street on the outskirts of the north county Dublin suburban village.

The street, a typical product of the building boom that saw rapid development of the area over the 1960s, features a small cluster of detached houses, conveniently located close to amenities in a location that provides its residents with a fine quality of life. They’re attractive family homes, many of which have obviously undergone facelifts and renovations which have put stamps of individuality on what might otherwise be a run-of-the-mill suburban street.

James Nagle and Belen Vazquez in the kitchen of their Malahide home. Photograph: Tom Honan
James Nagle and Belen Vazquez in the kitchen of their Malahide home. Photograph: Tom Honan
Several unusual pieces in the home illustrate a journey that has seen the couple living in five countries, including Brazil and Russia. Photograph: Tom Honan
Several unusual pieces in the home illustrate a journey that has seen the couple living in five countries, including Brazil and Russia. Photograph: Tom Honan
The colourful dining room. Photograph: Tom Honan
The colourful dining room. Photograph: Tom Honan

The Vazquez-Nagles decided to take their own renovations a step further. They demolished the original house and, over the course of the past couple of years, have overseen the building and decoration of an exciting modern home.

Their previous, more nomadic lifestyle paid off in the building project. Having completely flattened the original house, they had a blank canvas. That didn’t faze them.

“Because we had lived abroad, in so many places, we really knew what we wanted,” says Nagle. “We built a house where every bit is used every day.”

Vazquez agrees. “Living in such different types of homes helped us when it came to making decisions here. Sometimes I would come to the builders and say I want this done this way. They would say – are you sure? I would say, yes, 100 per cent. There’s been a long wait so I’m very clear on what I want. It’s not only about having the money, but having the time. We’re self-employed now which meant we were always around and we could put the time into finding the quality we were looking for.”

The couple had to search for some of the more unusual features. When they wanted brass doors for a kitchen display cabinet, for example, they found the artisan craftsmanship they were looking for in the skilled workers at Church Art Metals, on the Long Mile Road, a business specialising in railings and fittings for religious buildings.

As a nutritionist, the kitchen was an area that Vazquez had particularly strong opinions on.

From the kitchen I see the TV room, dining area, the office, the garden. I have a 360-degree view of everything

“It’s the epicentre of house. The main living area is open plan, but with the kitchen as the focus. It’s about the nourishing part of the home being at the centre. For me, food is about more than just fuel. It’s about nourishment in every dimension: food for the body and for the soul.

“I spend a lot of time cooking, so I wanted the kitchen to be the centre of operations. From the kitchen I see the TV room, dining area, the office, the garden. I have a 360-degree view of everything. In the past the kitchen was often the worst room in the house, a little dark space where women were sent to cook. So often this makes me think of my grandmother. It’s a statement.”

While there were occasional challenges, overall, the journey from demolition to a turnkey move-in was glitch-free.

“We were super-lucky with the architect and builders,” says Nagle. “You hear horror stories, but these guys listened and tried to accommodate everything we wanted, so ours was a nice and no-stress experience. Some things we had to compromise on. For example, we wanted to have the entire house floored in polished concrete, but we couldn’t find anyone with the experience of having done such a large area, so we decided to confine it just to the stairs.”

The testing final question on a project that’s finished to a high spec with strong ideas driving it along with such efficiency – is there anything they would do differently?

The couple concur and answer in unison: “No!”

Vazquez expands: “We’re very happy, we wouldn’t change anything.”

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