First Look – Dún Laoghaire’s new co-living development: is there room to swing a cat?

How small are the one-person rooms? We had a look around the seven-storey residence for 204 people which will open at the end of the month

The question: is there enough room to swing a cat?

Of course the issue of cats is neither here nor there in Niche, the new co-living building in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, which opens later this month (because there are no pets allowed). But the controversy in 2019 was about the size of the rental units planned by Bartra property development group for its scheme, along with some concern expressed that its communal facilities were insufficient. Objections to what was described as “battery cage living” in high-priced “shoeboxes” that would become “modern tenements” led to co-living being abandoned as a housing model. No new permissions followed those already in the pipeline.

The co-living model is well established elsewhere, and most European cities offer a range, involving shared common areas/facilities and all-inclusive rooms with individual leases. They’re generally more affordable than the going rates internationally, and offer an alternative to medium-term hotel living.

Aimed at people moving to a new city, or for a short time for training or medical rotations, or just starting out in a job, the co-living concept offers an equipped pad, utilities and services included with no messy bill splits, a ready-made community but with some personal space. Just arrive with a suitcase.


As it nears completion, there’s much interest in Niche on Dún Laoghaire’s Eblana Avenue, the site of the former Christian Brothers’ school, excellently located near the Dart, buses, seafront and the town’s many amenities. Outside, a new public walkway (a planning condition) links the street to the Dart and sea. It’s a blocky and relatively uninspiring building, but what’s it like inside?

On a guided tour around the seven-storey Niche Living facility, managing director David McGuinness is proud of the quality finish and the thought behind its services. He describes co-living as a hybrid of residential and hospitality, weighted in favour of hospitality, with a member relations team looking after guests and an app to book a kitchen or cinema to host friends, a room for a party, or a washing machine. With design by HKR Architects and interiors by 21 Spaces, the interior layout maximises available space for public areas and 204 single-occupancy rooms.

The public, communal spaces are undeniably pretty swanky, but what about the personal spaces?

Niche refers to the members’ individual rooms as “suites” but they are single rooms. The one-person rooms (overnight guests allowed) are multifunctional and cleverly fitted to a high standard, but there are no two ways about it. At 16sq m, these are very small rooms.

To save space, en suite elements have been split, so on the left at the entrance is a toilet cubicle (with separate door) and on the right a snug, narrow-looking shower enclosure. The sink/vanity unit is incorporated into the built-in storage facilities lining both sides of the narrow room to the window. The remaining floor space of approximately 2m x 4m feels cramped.

Niche says the rooms are “160 per cent the size of a double bedroom in a house/apartment share, and 200 per cent the size of a typical room in student accommodation”.

The ceiling-high built-ins incorporate lots of cupboards, shelving, TV, vanity unit and mini-kitchenette (under-counter fridge-freezer, two-ring induction hob and retractable hood, sink with overhead drainer, recycling bins, kettle, toaster, crockery/utensils). In front of the window, connecting the two storage walls, is a bench desk with a basic chair.

The bed is not free-standing but is a pull-down Murphy bed in a wall cabinet; reach above the compact and reasonably comfortable couch to pull down the hidden 4′6″ bed, and the couch folds away below it. To put it back in the morning, the bedding is strapped down and the bed pushed back up, reinstating the couch. There is no bedside table but a very small light/phone shelf is attached to the wall. The mattress looks good and the mechanism appears sturdy.

There’s a large, secure bike shelter with charging points; there is no car parking

On the plus side, the pull-down bed means the room does not look like a bedroom; on the other hand, it is surely a bit of a hassle putting a bed up and down daily. With the bed down, a person can walk around it to the desk, just about (with scant space to use the kitchen area). How many days would I live there, I wonder, before I’d leave the bed down altogether. Trouble is, the room is then even smaller. A person would need to be very tidy here, and put everything back in the cupboards.

So the answer is yes, there’s room to swing that hypothetical cat here, but in a pretty tight circumference.

It does strike, given the generosity and standard of the common spaces and amenities, that it was a pity not to have made the individual rooms a bit bigger. That would of course mean fewer rooms to rent.

Former minister for housing Eoghan Murphy notoriously described co-living as like living in “a very trendy” boutique hotel. This comment caused consternation in July 2019, prompting Murphy to admit the comparison was “not a good one”. In fact, there is something of a boutique-hotel feel in many of Niche’s shared spaces. There’s a small lobby with a staffed reception desk, leading to a members’ lounge with muted lighting, varied seating, a large table and a coffee machine. The aesthetic is contemporary and comfortable. Across the lobby a small, flexible “press room” has a large table, half a dozen chairs and conferencing-ready TV. Niche members (the residents) can access a personal entertainment network with 1GB broadband throughout.

The back slopes towards the sea, so the lower ground floor isn’t basement-like. Many amenities are here: a gym designed by Raw Gym with a dozen-plus pieces of kit including cardio and weights and screens for online classes; and a cinema (100-inch TV rather than projector as it’s more flexible for streaming, says McGuinness) with 11 comfortable high-backed armchairs and footstools, for weekend movie nights and where members can host friends. Also on this floor is a games room with table tennis, pool table, arcade machine, games console (there are board games elsewhere), and a laundry with retro neon signage and five washing machines, five dryers and ironing boards. It’s one of the few services with an extra fee, €2.50 per wash or dry. There’s a large, secure bike shelter with charging points; there is no car parking.

On the top floor, a large multifunction room has great sea views, large table, TV, sitting-anteroom; members can book it for meetings or parties. A nearby door leads to an impressive roof-garden on the same level, with panoramic and unfamiliar views of the town and Dublin Bay. There are corten steel planters, wooden seating and loungers, a long dining table under a pergola. McGuinness envisages organised communal BBQs. This is the only outside space in Niche, which has no balconies.

Each of the seven floors has a “social kitchen” and comfortable, stylish livingrooms. The lower ground and fifth floors, with fewer than a dozen rooms, have smaller kitchen/living spaces combined. The first to fourth floors each have similar layouts, with 38 to 40 individual rooms, plus a livingroom and communal kitchen (“MasterChef-style”, according to Niche’s website). As well as communal dining tables, smaller cafe-style set-ups and seating nooks, these have large fridge-freezers and five well-equipped cooking hubs, with an induction hob, oven, sink and small dishwasher. There are 28 cooking hubs overall, serving 204 residents – will this be enough for their needs? McGuinness is confident that it is sufficient, as it is expected a proportion of residents will dine out or order in, or use the microwaves or hob in their rooms.

The 28 dishwashers (which cost €2,500 each) fit a small amount and clean in three minutes. There’s a handbook outlining communal living; housekeeping cleans regularly.

McGuinness explains residents can keep food on a fridge or freezer shelf (with daily confirmation via app to retain items, so housekeeping does not dispose of them), but generally food will be stored in individual rooms. If someone wants to make a lasagne in the oven of a Tuesday, for example, they would bring most everything they need to the kitchen.

The monthly “fee” per person is €1,880 (€1,950 for top floor) including utilities, broadband, facilities such as the gym and cinema, an events programme, essentials such as crockery, bedding, towels, plus fortnightly room cleaning. There is a full-time staff of 15 working in reception, housekeeping, member relations and maintenance.

For a year, this works out at €22,560 from after-tax income for one person, making it unaffordable for many. Or, it’s €62 per night per person. It was envisaged as €1,300 per month in 2019, and the general reaction then was that it was wildly expensive for small living quarters. The minimum stay is now six months rather than three, though shorter stays at a slightly higher rate may be possible.

Ireland is expensive, says McGuinness. They have looked at the going rate for apartments locally: about €2,400 for a one-bed, €3,200 for two-bed, before the addition of utilities and gym. Compared to that, “we think this is a value proposition. It’s fully serviced. It’s about the experience and everything that goes with it”, he says.

It is a hassle-free residential model that could be appealing for people in a variety of circumstances, but it is expensive when compared to similar facilities in other European models. A cursory look at co-living in Paris and Berlin, for example, shows up vacancies from €700 to slightly more than €1,000 per month, sometimes with a gym and often with more floor space in individual units.

Bartra reports many inquiries and says viewings will start this week. It expects residents will move in from March 31st.

It has more co-living facilities in train in Dublin (Rathmines from April 2024, then Merrion Road, then Castleknock), as have other developers.

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times