Turning the house upside down to make the most of the Dublin Bay views

Architect convinced owners to move living quarters upstairs

Architect Darragh Breathnach in the upside down house he designed in Booterstown for clients who wanted to enjoy the sea view

Architect Darragh Breathnach in the upside down house he designed in Booterstown for clients who wanted to enjoy the sea view

 

Not many people would relish the thought of their home being turned upside down, but when architect Darragh Breathnach came up with the idea of doing just that to a traditional three-bed house in Booterstown, Co Dublin, the new owners jumped at the chance.

Although it was located near a busy road, just across the road was Blackrock Park and beyond that, Dublin Bay – so the detached property had the potential for stunning views across the water. But because the living quarters were downstairs, the beautiful vista was wasted so Breathnach and his colleagues at Design Urbanism Architecture (DUA) decided to turn the house on its head by putting the sleeping area downstairs and moving the reception rooms to the first floor in order to make the most out of the location.

“I first visited the house in November 2015 and it clearly needed a rethink," says the architect. “It had old carpets, a central spiral staircase to the upstairs bedrooms and a BER rating of E2, while the kitchen and dining room were at the back of the house where they didn’t get much natural light.

“But on the upside, the bedrooms upstairs had beautiful views out over Dublin Bay and the idea for a new layout came from looking out the window and seeing the amazing view – and I realised that with a scene that on your doorstep, it would be criminal not to utilise it.”

According to Breathnach, who is based in Dublin 2, the combination of a small outside space and the internal layout of the house, further reduced the amount of light reaching the ground floor. So this was another factor which convinced him and his clients of the benefits of turning the property on its head – and so in May 2016, the nine-month project began.

Reluctant

“As the existing house was quite small and dark, we were reluctant to add partition walls to divide the different rooms upstairs,” he says. “We opted instead for a new centrally positioned staircase which divided up the living and kitchen spaces and overlooked the corridor and arrival space below. This opened up views across the house – both horizontally and vertically – which never existed before.

“And because it was a tight site with outside walls surrounding the ground-floor accommodation, we knew that inverting the house would allow for greater daylight penetration to the upstairs living spaces.”

Kitchen of the Booterstown upsidedown house
Kitchen of the Booterstown upsidedown house

By putting the living accommodation upstairs, builders were able to break through and uncover the ceiling space which also made for much higher and brighter living spaces. Then they exposed and reinforced the ceiling joists and insulated and plastered the ceiling beyond them.

“This created a much more atmospheric and brighter area,” says Breathnach. “Then in terms of plumbing, we stacked the upstairs kitchen and bathroom over the downstairs bathroom in order to allow for the services to be easily connected. We also punctured a new opening at the end of the entrance corridor to create a more inviting view upon arrival of the beautiful stone walls beyond. The architectural language was simple and timber was used on all the horizontal surfaces which contrasted with the white paint on vertical surfaces throughout.”

In theory it all sounds very straightforward, but what was the reality like and during the nine-month refurbishment, were there any issues along the way?

Breathnach says there were a few, but nothing which couldn’t be overcome.

“Yes, there were some issues – the most problematic was when the builder cut through the existing ceiling joists during construction by mistake,” he says. “So after this, in order to reinforce the roof structure we were forced to reinforce the existing joists and the solution we came up with was to sandwich and recess them between two new joists to stabilise the structure. So by recessing the existing structure, we allowed for a space to conceal artificial lighting.

“Another issue we had to overcome was the noise of the road outside and to deal with this we had to use a special composite of glass to reduce sound transfer into the house.”

Transformation

From a professional point of view, the transformation of this sea-facing house was very positive, but how did the owners feel while their house was being ripped apart?

“Dealing with builders is always stressful, even with the assistance of an architect,” says the homeowner who would rather stay anonymous. “I’ve come to the conclusion that even if a builder is certain that he’ll have to redo something, he will still cut the corner – it’s an addiction that seems to be an occupational hazard of the Irish builder so by the end of the refurb, it no longer came as a surprise to me.

Kitchen of the Booterstown upsidedown house
Kitchen of the Booterstown upsidedown house

“There was, however, a moment after the stud partitions upstairs had been removed when we realised that this was really going to be a bright, attractive home. So we felt positive about it for a number of reasons: obviously it took advantages of the views, it afforded privacy to the bedrooms downstairs which are behind a high wall and there was already a balcony upstairs which is now utilised as it’s off the living area – this is far more useful in my opinion as I’ve always been curious about the number of balconies off bedrooms in Ireland and have never yet seen a Rapunzel, a Juliet or anyone at all on any of those balconies.”

So the client was happy with the outcome, but crucially after all that work, what does it feel like to live in a topsy-turvy house?

“It’s actually great,” he says. “And it’s really bright, which is perhaps the greatest change from before and the greatest achievement of the design. Despite the open-plan layout, when we’re there on our own, it doesn’t feel in any way cavernous. The cooking, dining and sitting areas feel quite distinct, yet it’s one bright open space that can easily accommodate a large group of people – we are really happy with the outcome.”

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