Leinster Rugby head coach Leo Cullen has countless awards and honours to his name: as a player, from the schoolboys’ Leinster Senior Cup through the interprovincials and representing Ireland at all levels; and as a coach, highly regarded for his intelligence and pragmatism, with Leinster so far unbeaten in the 2022 United Rugby Championship (URC).
A lesser-known prize is the early-morning view from the front bedroom of his family home at 77 Strand Road in Sandymount, Dublin 4; what better way to start the day than to face the dawning sun sparkling on the Irish Sea?
Number 77 was a conversion job for Cullen and his wife, Dairine, for when they bought the four-bed house in 2017 – for €975,000, according to the Property Price Register – it was set out in offices and needed upgrading.
Now measuring 234sq m (2,519sq ft) and with a Ber of C2, it completes a terrace of three tall period houses on the seafront, close to the start of the promenade, and is on the corner of Gilford Road which leads back around, inland, to Sandymount village.
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Up the front steps and through the hall door that’s topped by a lovely fanlight with a yellow circle, the gracious, grey-painted hall opens into two fine rooms on the right.
At this level, the family enjoy big Sunday lunches with visiting friends, says Dairine, with adults chatting at the dining table in the front room, or sitting up at the bar counter in the kitchen, and children hanging out in the comfy, sunny livingroom at the back.
In the front room, dark navy/grey built-in units frame the beautiful marble fireplace, and a large custom-made dining table with marble top and brass understorey is surrounded by leather chairs that Dairine commissioned from a furniture-maker in India.
These and the matching tall chairs in the kitchen show her inventive approach to interior design, drawing inspiration from sources as disparate as the immersive Van Gogh exhibition; labels such as Calvin Klein; Irish sources and online influencers; and award-winning Australian kitchen designers. In an imaginative visual trick, one end of the marble island-top seems to float; then you realise the side is mirrored, to reflect the floor.
The sittingroom at the rear of the house forms the upper level of a two-storey extension designed in 2017 by Node Architecture. Tall windows, including an old one moved from its original position in the kitchen, look west along Gilford Road, past the houses built on the site of the old tramway depot. A clerestory window draws more light, and reclaimed floorboards run from the front to the back to unite the space.
Downstairs, the third bedroom at the front has a fine salvaged fireplace painted a soft blue and looks out to the gravelled front garden, where Leo grows courgettes and strawberries in a veg box.
A shower room occupies the space under the front steps and there is lots of storage here, as throughout the house. The middle room is a sombre study with built-in shelving and this leads through to the fourth bedroom, which could be a playroom; it has glass doors to the garden.
Also at this level, which is extremely warm, are a second kitchen and a utility with access to the garden, where there is space for a trampoline as well as a little astro pitch with a soccer goal painted on to the end wall.
A little guest bathroom on the main hall return is decorated to draw your eye to infinity.
“It’s a Google image,” says Dairine, who works at the tech company; she and her sister Keira Kennedy also use digital printing in their luxury scarf and accessories brand, KDK.
A tall arched window lights the stairwell, and off the landing are two double bedrooms; the one at the rear is pale and pretty, and the main, at the front, enjoys those magical sea views. The large family bathroom is also to the front.
The Cullens were granted permission on appeal, in 2019, to construct a second extension, this time at the top of the house in the valley space between the two ridges of the roof.
“Even though it involved taking the entire roof off the house, it was a much bigger job than I’d imagined,” says Dairine, and the whole house needed repainting afterwards.
Again they engaged Node, who came up with an innovative solution with a room, not officially classed as a bedroom, and a terrazzo-tiled bathroom in a kind of crow’s nest. Anyone with the height of a rugby forward will be able to spot landmarks in every direction, from natural highlights to spiritual heartlands, as well as the mountains and the sea.
“Sandymount Strand has been a great place to live, and there is a great community spirit in the area. Our young family have loved what Sandymount has to offer, literally on our doorstep,” says Leo.
It’s not hard to see why, with schools and the park in walking distance and the sea across the road, the family plan to stay in the area.
Number 77 Strand Road, Sandymount, Dublin 4, is for sale through Hunters Estate Agents with an asking price of €1.75 million.