House extension is a class act

An unusual addition to a former schoolhouse in Roscommon blends old and new well


When two artists bought this former school nine years ago, the first extension they added was a shipping container that was winched in from the field beside it and swung over the wall, nearly taking out the neighbourhood’s electricity supply with it. The tale that owners Pauric and Linda tell of creating their striking home is a lesson in creativity, going with the flow, sharing design ideas and, yes, bravery. Pauric admits he was warned that it would be a trecherous business trying to avoid overhead wires as the heavy-metal container – now an artists’s studio painted black – was craned over the wall but he went ahead anyway and experienced a heart-in-mouth moment when he realised that sparks could fly. But the risk paid off.

The fact that the couple – and their enchanting daughter Ruby – even live here is a bit of an accident. Pauric was visiting family in the area. “I was havng a cuppa and flicking through the paper when I saw this for sale and drove down to have a look. We weren’t even thinking of living here. We had an apartment in Dublin although we did fancy a change from the city.”

Speedy sums revealed that the cost of a mortgage on this house would be less than the rent on an artist’s studio in Dublin. They knew there was a thriving arts scene in the area and it would enable the couple to set up a graphic design practice (they have a studio in Carrick-on-Shannon, and change their Dublin life of working in restaurants to supplement their time in the city studio. Both painters and makers of video installations, the move has even seen Linda expand her work into film directing: thrown in the deep end via a friend of a friend.

“We figured, if we didn’t like it we could move back,” says Linda, four years on. (Linda does go to Dublin often, still, completing a Masters at IADT in Visual Arts Practices ).

When the couple first arrived at this house outside Boyle in Co Roscommon, unruly grasses were wafting at hip-height and giant bullying leylandii trees, some growing like wild-things since the 1960s, encircled the garden. “It made a massive difference when we took them down,” says Linda, “and we gained about 15ft of garden all round.” The family is still burning the wood.

The ghost of those trees shimmers in the striking kitchen wallpaper: rows of dark, sinewy and silvery trunks growing up the walls. It’s the type of striking element that features periodically in this home of simple, chic rooms. Other blast spots are a red chair between the kitchen and dining room and primary-colour patterened bedlinen and curtains in Ruby’s room: nurturing creative bravery in the next generation.

The balanced, bold, flowing house was hewn from an unpromising palette. “There were no redeeming factors in it having been a school – just the tiles in the hall,” says Linda, who still meets people in the area who were at school here. It closed in the 1960s and was a house after that.

“Where the dining room is now [next to the front door] there was a kitchen with just a range – not a nice one – a sink and two cupboards.” Beside that, where the kitchen is now, was a downstairs bedroom.

While upstairs the layout was “weird”. “You had to walk through one bedroom to get to another,” says Pauric. They replaced the three upstairs bedrooms with two, taking out a hallway in the process, and have added a new bedroom in an extension designed by architect Ronan Rose-Roberts, which has a studio/living room on the lower floor.

It was Rose-Roberts who persuaded the couple to change their original plan and put the extension here but – showing they are happy to listen to other ideas as well as having bold ones of their own. “It makes so much more sense,” says Linda. “because the entrance [the front door of the existing house] is now in the middle of the house.”

There are distinct feelings to the old and new parts – not least in the warmth of the highly insulated newcomer – yet they work well together. When decorating, the couple went with the feel of the existing building and respected its scholarly past, by going on a salvage hunt. Parquet flooring that had been in a monastery came from Kilkenny. “It arrived in coal bags covered in muck and bitumen: a contracteor had to sand each one.”

They put the kitchen in themselves. “We made a few mistakes but once we got on a roll it fitted pretty snugly,” says Linda.

“Linda did it: I just turned the screws,” concedes Pauric.

“Pauric did so much more than that!” laughs Linda.

But this is a very hand’s-on area: in the town of Boyle before I met the couple, I went into one of those hardware stores that time is forgetting, full of everything you could ever need, and heard a customer asking for a starter for a fluorescent light.

The extension is of its time too, with its geometric outline, concrete floors (that works as a heat store), plywood en suite and bathroom (with Kilkenny limestone sinks and bath) and the dark exterior which becomes a black box when the black ceder window shutters are closed.

The brief was for a studio that could easily be converted to a living space and it currently straddles both happily, with its large expanse of floor, shelving that demarks an office space and sofa, chairs and wood-burning stove.

Linda came to the first design meeting with Rose-Roberts with a scrapbook of images from magazines, books and the internet. “We left the design pretty open. We wanted it in a Modern style and it worked. Right from when he showed us the first designs: we loved it.”

The high insulation, argon-filled double-glazing and better heating make it noticeably warmer than the older part of the house, despite looking cooler. “I sometimes have to put a jacket on to go and cook diner,” says Linda.

The element that spans both sections of the house is the furniture: a mix of old and new. “This is the house that Ikea built,” says Linda. In that mix of furniture, which they had delivered, there is a sideboard from Done Deal in Inchicore Dublin 8, a swish leather couch from Dunnes that was a wedding present from some of Pauric’s friends, a lamp from a shop that used to be in Dublin’s Wickow Street, industrial lights, Eames-style chairs, a chalkboard wall and a 1920s French Godin wood-burning stove bought in west Cork which “weighs a ton”.

Their own paintings line the upstairs hall, running from their bedroom to Ruby’s. When the huge window overlooking the field was put into their bedroom they got a real feel for the expansive vista cleared by the disappearance of those leyladii. “We had no idea we had that view.”