Not many of us look forward to the rain, but if you lived in a certain house in Raheny, you might change your mind.
A window which runs across the sloped kitchen roof and down the back of the house sends the rain cascading down, like a waterfall. It’s just one of the playful design features that delight the homeowners, Clare Hayes-Brady and Mazen Al-Alawi. “I love it when it rains – the way the water flows down it like a waterfall,” Hayes-Brady says. “It’s really beautiful.”
She believes hiring an architect was the best thing they did when they decided to renovate their home on Howth Road. “There were some things we wanted in the house, but we didn’t know how to go about it. We would never have come up with any of these ideas,” she says.
The couple bought the late-1930s modernist house in 2017 when their oldest child was a toddler. “It was a reach at the time for us, as there was a surge in prices in Raheny at the time,” she recalls. Once they had settled in, they turned their thoughts towards the renovation.
They wanted to move the position of the stairs and make four decent-sized bedrooms out of the upstairs space. Because they both come from homes that welcomed and entertained visitors, they wanted to recreate that feeling in the large kitchen and living area looking on to the south-facing garden.
They had seen work done by architect Rachel Carmody at a friend’s house, and liked her style. “We gave her free rein, pretty much. She had such a complete vision and was so interested in the details of the materials and things like the angles of light. It was such a great learning experience,” Hayes-Brady says.
The utility room and pantry are hidden behind kitchen cupboard doors and generous storage space is concealed under the stairs
She gave birth to the couple’s third child just as the building works started in April 2021, at a time when Al-Alawi, a consultant respiratory physician in Navan, was still at the coalface of Covid-19. “So that was a busy week,” she says ruefully. They finally moved back into the house in March 2022. The house now feels simultaneously bigger and smaller – as they have more usable space, while every inch of it is being used.
“The house has no attic so no storage there, but Rachel was great at providing that space elsewhere. It’s a house full of secret rooms,” she says. The utility room and pantry are hidden behind kitchen cupboard doors and generous storage space is concealed under the stairs.
Hayes-Brady, an associate professor at UCD’s School of English, has accumulated a healthy stack of books, so one of her requirements was lots of storage for them. She got that wish with several bookcases, including a double-height one on the stair return that would be the envy of any book lover.
Their love of entertaining is catered for with an impressive bar hidden behind a wall of cupboard doors. “It feels like the greatest extravagance, but we really use it and get a lot of joy out of it,” she says. “We don’t have a fireplace, so it has become a focal point. And we have a lot of useful storage space on either side of it and underneath.”
The original houses used terrazzo tiles in the porch step area, and this house gives terrazzo a starring role once more. The terrazzo kitchen island informs the colour palette throughout the house with shades of black, blue, red, mustard and green used to stain the maple fitted furniture in each room. The terrazzo theme continues around the house, with variants of terrazzo tile used in the four bathrooms.
“Rachel said that if we had an unlimited budget we could decorate every room individually, but if you don’t, you need consistency through the house in terms of materials and colour schemes,” Hayes-Brady recalls. “That was really helpful advice, so we have the same floor throughout the house, upstairs and down. The repeated use of terrazzo and the stained wood just brings the whole house together.”
The renovation includes a garden room, which also has a waterfall window, and it is the perfect place in which to work on days when she doesn’t need to travel to UCD. It doubles as a useful rehearsal space when she hosts her female barbershop quartet – Lady Barbalade. The singers will represent Ireland at the Barbershop Harmony Society international competition in Kentucky in July. “We are the first Irish group to qualify to compete so it’s very exciting. We’ve had great support from the Irish barbershop community, which is small but vibrant.”
The costs went much higher than we expected, and we were put to the pin of our collar, but we were really lucky— Clare Hayes-Brady
The couple expect the garden room will be very useful in the future when the children need more space, or if a parent comes to live with them. But for the moment, they are all drawn to the kitchen and living area. “We would very often have friends over for a drink or dinner with their kids and we don’t need to worry about babysitters, and we have the space for them to run around,” she says. “That’s exactly what we wanted our home to be. We both work long hours, and this house is such a pleasure to come home to. It’s a real sanctuary.”
The 20 solar panels, added insulation and heat pump all contribute to the house’s A1 energy rating, which makes receiving electricity bills a less stressful experience. “The house is very warm but also it’s not too noisy for a house on a main road, which is quite nice.”
She says they would not be able to consider such a project now, given current construction costs. “The costs went much higher than we expected, and we were put to the pin of our collar, but we were really lucky. We got support from my parents, both in terms of letting us use their house while the work was being done, and in giving us a small loan. And a friend lent us the solar installation fee which meant we didn’t have to go back to the bank looking for more money,” she says.
“And I was one of the few people in the world whose circumstances changed for the better during Covid. I moved from a half-time to a full-time post which gave us more wiggle room.”
She is acutely conscious of their good fortune in being able to live in their dream home, when many families struggle to keep a roof over their heads. “We know how lucky we are. Every time I walk in the door, I see that.”
“We wanted a house that was welcoming and that’s what we got,” Hayes-Brady says. “It’s so bright and has such a great atmosphere when you walk in.”
“Starting a project during a national lockdown with a newborn in tow – we suggest timing things a bit differently if at all possible.”