Daring to design for the teens in your life

When youngsters grow into teenagers, their accommodation needs change, so what can you do to adapt your house and turn it into a teen-friendly environment?


A few short years after building their mews house near the canal in Dublin 4 in 2003, architects Eva Byrne and Gerard Carty were already planning an extension.

The open-plan kitchen and living area on the ground floor was perfect for a family with young children. As anyone with babies and toddlers knows, being able to keep them in sight and entertained while getting things done takes some bumps out of the parenting road.

But Byrne and Carty knew that when their two youngsters grew into teens they would require a hang-out of their own in the house.

“Teens like to feel that your house is a house where people can come,” says Byrne. “A space where everything can happen . . . we flung ideas about. That’s what architects do.”

One plan for accommodating teens involved splitting the long living/kitchen/ dining room, running from the courtyard at the front of the house to the garden at the back, but this could have shut off the dual-aspect and flowing family time together. “I’ve always really enjoyed the ground floor: having light from both sides,” says Byrne.

While the couple were happy to put the television and internet up in the teen space, some activities have stayed downstairs – evidence of family gatherings in the sitting room include a harp played by the couple’s daughter Vita, double-bass by son Oscar and a piano, played by Eva.

So the only way was up. The parents decided to depart their bedroom on the first floor, and the small office beside it, and create an extension on the roof comprising bedroom, en-suite shower-room and a tiny office.

Having got planning permission for the add-on in 2007, the job slipped away with the crash. “We wanted to borrow money to do it,” says Byrne. “But then everything fell apart. No-one was lending.”

She also says that, despite people thinking it’s easier to get a builder during the recession, that’s not the case as there is so much uncertainty as to whether contractors or suppliers will go out of business. “People say builders are cheap then, but I’d say be careful who you choose.”

The work was eventually done last year by Jens Kuechenmeister, who had built the original house. His work is very accurate, says Byrne. “Things line up and are perpendicular,” she says, which is not always the case with others. “The spirit level is not always out,” she smiles.

The family moved out and, during daily visits, Eva watched their home come apart and become exposed when the roof came off. “When you let builders in the door it’s amazing how quickly it reverts,” says Byrne.

“When the house had been pulled apart, and the extension not yet begun, we thought, what have we done? This became a builder’s yard,” she says, indicating the kitchen and livingroom.

The project also involved reconfiguring their son and daughter’s rooms at the back of the first floor and taking down the wall between the front bedroom – at this level – and the small room beside it to create the teen hangout (complete with fold-out bed).

The natural light here is intense and turning the two into one room that spills onto a south-facing terrace, makes sense.

“It is exciting to revisit a design and hone it,” says Byrne. “The wall [between the bedroom and office] didn’t feel right. The sail cloth over the terrace turns this into another room in the summer.”

The couple’s new bedroom above – reached via stairs that took the place of a former en suite – also takes in the same expansive southern-sky light and they’ve added solar panels to the roof here to reap rays.

Much of the built-in storage is in birch ply and painted MDF – “I love it; it is so reflective” – while the bedroom floor is in oak and the bathroom floor is pale-blue cushion-backed vinyl.

The bathroom – with sky-light above the shower – is in light-reflecting pale: “I love a white bathroom – it makes me go weak at the knees,” laughs Byrne.

“I would love to build a new house again. It is like having a baby – you forget. I love all the planning – of the storage, all the little bits, that’s the joy. I enjoyed doing Vita’s room the most: planning how all the bits go together.”

This involved incorporating a dressing table (meeting teen needs again), desk, wardrobe and other storage.

“It’s amazing what you can get out of a tiny space.”

Those details and configurations are the things you don’t always see on design programmes and in photographs, says Byrne, but they are a huge part of the design and can take a lot of work.

“It’s been great. It really has transformed our lives,” she says. “We had a goal and – after going through all that – we have something that suits our needs.”

Eva Byrne offers advice on how to make the most of homes, see houseology.ie