Those of us lucky enough to have wintered on the western seaboard know all about the gale-force winds that batter the landscape into submission. It can be energising and destructive in equal parts. The hedges and the few trees there are blown into windswept shapes by the prevailing wind which can come in off the Atlantic at as much as 135mph, explains Peter Carroll of A2 Architects, who was selected by the owners of a thoroughly modern Irish home for his understanding of the rural landscape.
“It was this context that helped form the shape and location of the house,” he says.
The wind dictated everything, from the siting of the property to the type of doors and windows the house would have. Outward openings in aluminium were selected to dial down the draughts that can make the cailleach-like whistling sounds that would put the fear of god in you. Supplied by Mealey Architectural Facades, the triple-glazed, thermally-broken windows by Belgium brand Reynaers helped the house achieve its A1 BER rating.
Nestled in between undulating dry stone walls the site had views out to Clifden Bay and across to Inishturk, where the setting sun sinks below the horizon. The other vista was back across Connemara’s national park of blanket bog and uplands to the deep purples of the Twelve Bens.
One of the owners is local and while they have travelled the world working, from the west coast of the United States to Japan, they have always holidayed here and wanted a home that reflected their love of the place.
With one having a background in art history and design and the other an engineer and having spent their overseas holidays visiting gardens and houses all over the world they knew exactly what they wanted and were exacting in how it would be executed.
What they didn't want was that generic interior that you see in homes from Buenos Aires to Seoul. "We wanted to feel like you're in Connemara, to be in the outside," they explain. This abode is a very fresh take on tradition.
"We wanted something calm and peaceful, low-key and modern, for the house to disappear into its surroundings, a mix of concrete beams, glass and wood enriched by Irish materials in a minimal palette and used in a contemporary manner." They used Connemara marble from the quarry you can practically see from the house, Wicklow granite, Carlow limestone, even the stone facing outside was gathered from the field next door.
There was to be no fancy sliding doors. The weather doesn’t permit it, they say. “It was not practical. The direction of the wind changes all the time. One day it blows from the west, another from the north so there are pockets of shelter around the house that take you out of the wind no matter its direction.”
They had a broad idea of the atmosphere they wanted to create. “We took time to debate ideas. It took years to bring those ideas to the planning stage. It was about creating a minimal palette, spaces that are uncluttered and flow one to the other.”
The house is laid out in an I shape with its two mini wings accommodating bedrooms, bathrooms and utility as well as smaller rooms such as a library but the property’s main talking point is the large central space. These dual-aspect rooms are the heart of the home.
The focus of the large living space is a lustrous slab of Connemara marble that looks like a work of art. Selecting the right blocks of marble took almost two years. “We had to get the right slabs. Each is different.”
They photographed every suggestion and blew it up to its actual size, pinning the prints to the wall of their California home before making any cuts. Coleraine-based Lamont Stone supplied the four butt-jointed slabs that were polished. A rooflight the length of the wall highlights the grain of the stone.
Underscoring this wall is a honed granite base, inset with a double-aspect Stuv wood-burning stove supplied by Fenton Fires. This model has guillotine doors that can disappear out of sight, up into the chimney breast, when you want to enjoy an open fire. You can also have it open on one side and closed on the other.
David Loughnane of Invent Interiors supplied much of the furniture including the Flexform cognac leather Luce lounge chair, Bangkok footstool and adjacent Soft Dream sofa with side tables by Minotti. But before the owners confirmed any orders they have every potential piece mocked up in timber and trestles to gauge its scale and volume, hiring the builders for three days to do this.
“You can look at a drawing but you’ll never get a sense of the three-dimensional aspect,” they explain, having done this for work projects. It’s a smart move when investing in high-end furniture that is often on display in showrooms with far larger ceiling heights than the average home. This level of planning is what makes the end result appear so effortless. No piece jars.
The rug is a design by Connemara Carpets. Inspired by the landscape it weaves silk threads in the umber shade of shore lichen with the eau-de-nil green greys of tree lichens into a more neutral wool base to further knit the room into its environment. “The rug is as good as you would get anywhere in the world and demonstrates a need for architects to make more use of local materials,” Carroll says.
The majority of the tradespeople and craftsmen were local, says Carroll. And their pride in their work bowled him over.
Lohan Joinery did the internal floor-to-ceiling doors that pivot and are frameless. Wide oak plank flooring, warmed by underfloor heating, came from European sustainable sources. Supplied by Pur Natur, it has been lightly oiled to give the wood some lustre.
"The kitchen is almost like a big dresser with the island a big sculptural block," Carroll says. It was made by Billamore Woodcraft, which also made the dining table, beds and wardrobes. Around the table sit chairs by Cassina in elegant saddle leather.
Outside, the gardens are home to local heathers, natural orchids that bloom only once a decade and meadows, the traditional kind, with paths cut through them. “These are a symphony of wildlife, bees, hares and birds,” the owners say. There’s a meadow filled with more than 10,000 bulbs and hawthorn trees that the owners moved during the build that have a very sculptural, Japanese shape. They even have ponies instead of a lawnmower to eat the grass.
This gale-force gorgeous property was recently shortlisted for the RIAI Public Choice Awards.