David Van den Bergh’s Bray bungalow blitz
The co-founder of home fragrance brand Max Benjamin and his wife Niamh designed their home around big family gatherings
David Van De Berg in Alperton at Cliff Road, Windgates Bray, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Tom Honan
David Van den Bergh is tidying up after a weekend of back-to-back parties at his family home, which nestles into the southeastern side of Bray Head, boasts incredible views across Greystones harbour and Wicklow Head.
“We rarely entertain as we’re always so busy with the kids, but the Bray Air Display was on and we have front row seats living here, so the barbecue was working overtime this weekend,” says Van den Bergh.
The managing director of Max Benjamin, an Irish home fragrance brand which he runs with his siblings, Van den Bergh grew up in Glencree, Co Wicklow, before “moving down to Greystones village with my wife Niamh”.
“We’d been house hunting for our forever home for a while, and Niamh spotted this house on the headland. We were eyeing it up from a distance for a few years but our timing proved fortuitous as it was early 2013 by the time we were ready to buy, so we were able to negotiate a really good price with the owners,” says Van den Bergh.
Any savings made on the hammer price, however, were quickly engulfed by modernising the late-1970s bungalow.
“We were aware we’d need to invest in a new roof, new windows, insulation and services from the outset, but ended up knocking nearly all of the original house down bar three walls, and pretty much rebuilt the entire structure from scratch.”
Architect John Rochford oversaw all of the reconstruction, and designed a deceptively large three-floor extension to the rear that staggers down the steep bank out back. From the front the house looks like a long bungalow but it’s very deceptive, with almost 3,500sq ft of floor space.
The majestic sea views were the main draw of the property, and the couple didn’t want to regret any decisions about not capturing them to full effect, so they visited the house every week, for a year, before any building started so they could get a real sense of how the house worked in various seasons, within its environment and where the sun looked most glorious when it hit the bay outside.
They put their research to good use, and the kitchen and living areas were given prime position in the centre return of the house, and floor-to-ceiling windows and slider doors give the illusion the rooms are almost floating above the sea. Although open plan, the return is distinctly split into three areas: kitchen and island; mezzanine dining area, and the lounge and TV zones.
“Our kitchen and island were designed and built by John Meade Cabinetry. John was just starting out back then, and we were one of his first projects so he gave it his all. At first glance it looks like a simple kitchen but it’s almost harder to get a simple design just right. But John was so obsessive about the details and he finished it beautifully. I like a sense of calm when you walk into a house, too much fuss and clutter take away from that, and while it’s virtually impossible to keep a family kitchen clutter-free, minimal cabinetry defiantly makes it easier,” says Van den Bergh.
The spot where the family mostly gravitate too is the dining area on the mezzanine, which is raised a few feet above the kitchen and lounge.
“I’m from a large Irish and Belgian clan, and we grew up with a real focus on family meals. Our dining table from Neptune reminds me of the one my parents have, and its large enough to fit the extended family comfortably around at Christmas. I could spend my whole day there happily.”
Although connected to the living and kitchen areas, large vaulted ceilings immediately differentiate the living space, which is cleverly split up into two zones by way of a Stovax dual fire.
To one side is the more grown-up lounge, with a soft stone and blue pallet, comfortable couch configurations and layers of casual textiles. It’s the kind of space that instantly calms the senses, and that’s before you drink in the view.
The other side of the stove is earmarked for TV viewing, “it’s where we all gather together and snuggle in front of the fire and watch movies. It’s glorious in winter, with the sea going wild outside.”
The original bungalow arm of the house is where all the family bedrooms are located, “they overlook the north side of the headland so we get a completely different view waking up in the morning. We are still working on this section of the house, and hopefully will convert the attic into a den for the kids when the time comes that they don’t want to be hanging out with us anymore.”
There is also has a small study here for when work invariably invades home time.
“I’m supposed to test all the candles and scents in there, but I put lab samples all over the place, it drives Niamh mad. I’m always making notes to see which rooms the fragrance throws better, or which scents suit various rooms. I’ve learnt to fragrance different spaces based on the purpose of that room, like our new Rose & Champagne fragrance is really beautiful in areas where you are relaxing, while our Pink Pepper fragrance is great in the study.”
The Van den Bergh’s invested the majority of their funds into building strong bones during the construction process, knowing that they could always add more art, furniture and flourishes later.
“We’ve been in since Christmas Eve 2013, and although we are very happy with the living areas we still have lots of work to do, and are always keeping an eye out for different pieces to enhance the house.
“I would love eventually to invest in some statement art pieces for the larger walls, and I like the idea of blending paintings with tapestries. My father is from Belgium, and we grew surrounded by Flemish furniture and lots of tapestries on the walls that he inherited from his father. I think it possible to weave in old antiques or busy art to a house like this as long as you keep the background simple.
“Having a young family obviously dictates to a certain extent what we can have in our home at this stage. However, I think I will always want my home to have a comfortable feel throughout. And to always smell like a bed of roses.”