Want to get closer to nature? All you need is an 8m wide rear window

This beguiling Co Westmeath gate lodge has been shortlisted for an international prize

The gate lodge, Castletown Geoghegan, Co Westmeath,  by Taka architects. Photograph: Alice Clancy

The gate lodge, Castletown Geoghegan, Co Westmeath, by Taka architects. Photograph: Alice Clancy

 

Work on a beguiling gate lodge with a window into nature by Dublin-based architectural practice Taka has just been shortlisted for an international prize.

Taka architects is one of just 15 practices, and the sole Irish practice, shortlisted for this year’s prestigious Architectural Review’s AR House awards for work on a gate lodge in Co Westmeath.

“It’s a competition that attracts architects who do the best houses in the world and to make the shortlist is great,” says principal Cian Deegan, who is married to Alice Casey, the other principal in the practice. They’ve been in business together for about 14 years.

Gate lodge, Castletown Geoghegan, Co Westmeath, by Taka architects. Photograph: Alice Clancy
Gate lodge, Castletown Geoghegan, Co Westmeath, by Taka architects. Photograph: Alice Clancy
Open-plan dining/living room. Photograph: Alice Clancy
Open-plan dining/living room. Photograph: Alice Clancy
Asymmetrical ceiling/roof. Photograph: Alice Clancy
Asymmetrical ceiling/roof. Photograph: Alice Clancy

It’s a home that chimes with modern thinking. It is reasonably modest in size, thus ticking the trend towards smaller homes. It also welcomes nature in.

When the owners of the gate lodge bought their property in Castletown Geoghegan, Co Westmeath, it was beautifully proportioned but just 60sq m (645sq ft) in size. Robbie Nixon and Catriona Hatton, originally from Athlone, wanted a base in the area as a second home because Hatton’s family lives nearby, about a mile away from the property.

Set on about an acre of land it also came with a kennels, complete with railed-in yards, for the hunting dogs of the big house.

The big house, Middleton Park, is an enormous 1850s Regency-style mansion designed by architect George Papworth for George Augustus Boyd. It extends to 35,000sq ft, the size of 35 semi-Ds, according to RTÉ TV show The Great House Revival, which recently filmed there with presenter Hugh Wallace. 

Despite its small dimensions, the couple loved the gate lodge.

“We had resisted doing any refurbishment when the kids were younger and it took us a while to find the right architects,” Hatton explains.

It was in fact her daughter who suggested Taka architects. She had spotted work it had done on a mews on Waterloo Lane in Dublin 4 which included the installation of a special bird-watching and feeding window to the rear to better let its inhabitants commune with its visitors.

Wildflower meadow

The pair have plenty of form in the creative interpretation of a brief. A couple who engaged their services to design a space for Swampy, their 60lb snapping turtle, got an architect-designed aquarium that takes up a sizeable part of their end-terrace home in Monkstown Farm.

The plan was to more than double the size of the gate lodge, Deegan recalls. While the lodge was very small and dark, he felt there was potential to make more of the surrounding plot, which has a stream running through it, a meadow and kennels. Both buildings were protected structures.

“We kept the formal front of the lodge but dropped the levels to the back by about half a metre so that the additional 85sq m/914sq ft of space wouldn’t overtake the front elevation. Instead it was semi-sunk into the landscape.”

You can see the original ground level in the large open-plan living/dining room. Here a landscape-shaped window, designed to frame the vista and over eight metres wide, slides back out of sight to open the space to the garden which you look up and into.

Kitchen of gate lodge. Photograph: Alice Clancy
Kitchen of gate lodge. Photograph: Alice Clancy
Main bedroom with pivot door. Photograph: Alice Clancy
Main bedroom with pivot door. Photograph: Alice Clancy
Bathroom looking out to small courtyard. Photograph: Alice Clancy
Bathroom looking out to small courtyard. Photograph: Alice Clancy

Eight weeks after the meadow was planted with wild flower sod their neighbour sent a photo of the field in full bloom. “It was a transformative moment,” he explains.

“It was this flourish of colour that really informed the space. We wanted to create a feeling of rooms being in the landscape and bringing the wildflower meadow right up to the dining table.”

In summer birds feed, bees buzz and butterflies flutter from one bloom to another, says Hatton, and at this time of the year they’ve spotted red squirrels and pheasants.

Roof glazing

The design includes a generous roof overhang that protects the interior from the elements. It’s almost like a verandah, so that even when it rains you can have the window open. You can hear the rain running off in rivulets while remaining warm and dry. You can even do this in winter, save for the odd windy day.

“It’s so immersive that you almost forget to go outside. Sometimes you have to remind yourself to actually go out for a walk,” Hatton says.

Above is a vaulted, asymmetrical roof with a bank of roof glazing to bring morning light into the room. In fact, the light punctuates the room at different angles at different times of the day, like a light show, Hatton says.   

The beams are one of Taka’s signatures. Made of structural-grade white deal, they have been planed all over and coated in Danish oil, which turns them a little bit golden, the colour of honey. 

The roof overhang keeps the rain at bay. Photograph: Alice Clancy
The roof overhang keeps the rain at bay. Photograph: Alice Clancy
The meadow needs to be cut back once a year. Photograph: Alice Clancy
The meadow needs to be cut back once a year. Photograph: Alice Clancy
Entrance to the gate lodge. Photograph: Alice Clancy
Entrance to the gate lodge. Photograph: Alice Clancy

“It’s a way of exposing the roof and giving character to the space,” Deegan explains. “It’s why people like old buildings. It’s also about creating shadow and light. It’s also good for acoustics, especially when used in conjunction with a concrete floor.”

Now a three-bedroom home with the main bedroom having direct access to the garden via a pivot door, the property has a small snug room to the right of the hall and a kitchen, painted a dark green, to the left where an opening steps down into the extension.

The kennels, affectionately known as the doghouse, is now a very smart guest house and is about a minute’s walk away from the main house. The one-bedroom unit has a pumpkin-coloured kitchen and its own little protective porch.

Deegan uses a local contractor, T&S McKeon Homes Ltd, to execute Taka’s ideas.

Hatton and Nixon are delighted with the results and with its shortlisting in Architectural Review.

“It’s so nice that we’ve been able to extend it in a way for us to live in, including having a piano, an instrument I’ve played since a child. The acoustics are very good.”

There’s also a garage and some stables for their donkeys, Seamus – a mare – and Joey.

As for the meadow, it has to be trimmed back once a year.

Taka.iearchitectural-review.comtandsmckeon.ie

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