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The story of how a cou­ple moved back home bring­ing the Swedish ap­proach to life and liv­ing along with them

“NO shoes please — we’re Swedish”— it’s the kind of sign to bring an Ir­ish per­son up short — the evo­lu­tion from pigs in the par­lour to socks in the foyer isn’t fully com­plete, per­paps? We still baulk at rules, don’t we, but in this case, the slight re­volt that passes through the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem is quickly over­run by a “we’re all Euro­peans now any­way” and off go the win­ter-worn boots.

Ah the joy of un­der­floor heat­ing — why wouldn’t you take off your shoes with such com­fort afoot? And why would you spend your days hoover­ing and mop­ping when the Swedish ap­proach, (born out of 6 foot high snow drifts and melt­ing boots), means a less labour-in­ten­sive rou­tine at home.

And along with the sign, there’s the other bril­liant solution to the no-shoe prob­lem — a range of proper wooden clogs to slip on and off, (they’re ubiq­ui­tous in Swe­den and can be picked up in the local su­per­mar­ket for the same price as rip-off Crocs here), when run­ning out­doors to take in the wash­ing, for in­stance. And for the vis­i­tor who comes a view­ing too.

So how does the Swedish ap­proach to ev­ery­thing hap­pen in a mid-cen­tury house in Douglas, Cork?

Well, the call of the wild re­ally. One half of this ex-pat fam­ily is from a neigh­bour­ing parish and hav­ing spent years abroad, it was time to take a fam­ily of strap­ping, hand­some boys home while giv­ing a gar­den back to their mother. And did they find a gar­den — the tucked away semi in the heart of denser Douglas is a lit­tle oa­sis — a huge, en­vi­able site of nearly a third of an acre tagged onto a solid, but sag­ging fam­ily home. That’s the way it was when they came to view and the site and the ori­en­ta­tion sold them im­me­di­ately. South-west fac­ing, with only a bun­ga­low at the far, far end, this is a gem of find — and it’s a walk to schools, shops and Douglas vil­lage, while town, in true north­ern Euro­pean style, is a bike-ride away.

Techie, ed­u­cated and home-work­ing, this cou­ple is a pro­to­type for the mod­ern Ir­ish fam­ily — and their house had to work with them, which is why they went for a full makeover.

Rose Martin looks at a house in Douglas, Cork, with cool colours and Nordic min­i­mal­ism at its heart

ABOVE: The open tread stair­case, built in oak by Cloghroe Join­ery, Ballincol­lig, al­lows light to flow from top to bot­tom and back to front in this house. The air to wa­ter sys­tem is hidden un­der the stairs.

BE­LOW: A view through the ex­ten­sion from the kitchen. The soft blue/ grey sofa is from Habi­tat.

This they did by Skype and Viber while still liv­ing abroad, and by plac­ing a huge amount of trust in their con­trac­tor, Kieran McCarthy, who also rep­re­sents the mod­ern Ire­land, of­fer­ing an in­te­grated de­vel­op­ment ser­vice from de­sign, to hand-me-the-keys.

They met him at an exhibition, liked the cut of his jib, did their re­search and a num­ber of sit-downs later, came up with a work­ing plan. The house had been pur­chased and while the plan­ning process was in train, the cou­ple and the con­trac­tor or­gan­ised a gut­ting and re­fit­ting of the solid but snug semi. The short story is that they cre­ated a wrap­around ex­ten­sion to the south-western side, but that doesn’t do jus­tice to the sig­nif­i­cant re-ar­range­ment of the old property.

From out­side, there are the tell­tale signs of a tasty makeover, but it’s not scream­ingly ob­vi­ous — there’s more than a touch of Swedish mod­esty here too. No flash, just top qual­ity, highly en­gi­neered fit­tings and fix­tures that are hinted at from the out­side. There’s the front door, which, along with the solid oak stairs in­side was hand­made by Cloghroe join­ery and the win­dows are triple-glazed by Mun­ster join­ery. In­side, (after the sock-bar­ing) the evo­lu­tion of light into what would have been a dark­ish hall­way is pro­found — cre­ated by bright colours and open­ness. The stairs to the right are flood­lit from the roof and in­di­cate the qual­ity of what’s to come, while to the im­me­di­ate right, there’s a huge util­ity room area, ac­cessed via a funky foyer which leads through to a spa­cious ground floor bath­room and on to what can only be de­scribed as a li­brary of fam­ily life.

Ev­ery­thing is slot­ted in here — from the afore­men­tioned clogs, stacked in Ikea shelv­ing, to sports kit, hard­ware, soft­ware, freez­ers — the lot. It’s a com­pendium of stor­age and is in your face or­di­nary, but it al­lows the rest of the house to work. The junk stops here by keep­ing the out­doors out and the in­doors in. Who wouldn’t love a util­ity like this? (It also has ac­cess to the side path, which is turn leads through to the back gar­den with­out dis­rupt­ing the kitchen.) Back out and where for­merly, there was a small galley area full-stop­ping the short en­trance hall, now it’s a lead-in to a breadth of space right and left.

“We were in­ter­ested in get­ting more space and we knew the house would need work to the ex­te­rior and we needed an ex­tra bed­room. The gar­dens are big and south and west fac­ing and we were sat­is­fied that Kieran and the ar­chi­tect, Stephen Doyle, would work with that brief.” Ini­tially, the cou­ple looked at cre­at­ing two rooms in the ex­ten­sion, but the con­figuration de­manded a re­think— did they re­ally need two sit­ting rooms? In the heel of the hunt, they de­cided on one, large, open plan room with a vague, L-shaped pro­file when viewed from the kitchen/ din­ing/ liv­ing room, but which, on a flat plan, turns out to be a huge wrap­around de­vel­op­ment over two sto­ries, with an at­tic con­ver­sion to boot.

And yet, this doesn’t feel like a big, in your face job — it’s more hu­man in scale and there’s a great flow here — the er­gonomics are good. The woman of the house was also adamant she wouldn’t have a cen­tral is­land — she says she’d keep crash­ing into it, so in­stead, there’s a penin­su­lar pro­jec­tion in the all-white kitchen made by Kube. It fits into the out­line of the old back kitchen, but opens into a cir­cu­la­tion space with ac­cess through dou­ble doors to the gar­den and then around to a ded­i­cated din­ing area, with clerestory win­dows sucking in west­erly light, with­out com­pro­mis­ing neigh­bour’s pri­vacy.

The room then turns west straight out to the gar­den with full length win­dows to the south and west giv­ing ac­cess to a southerly pa­tio, (there was a rain-proof, wide canopy de­signed for here, but it was the one el­e­ment re­duced in scale by the plan­ners), a smaller ver­sion still pro­vides shel­ter for the bar­be­cue area, how­ever.

The reach out to the gar­den is won­der­ful and you can see why the cou­ple bought this house — in a lovely touch of serendip­ity, there’s a copse of shiny Jac­que­mon­tii birch planted there, a sight that con­jures up Swe­den for the fam­ily, who spend a lot of time fly­ing back and forth. In fact, lengths of raw birch are used as de­sign props in the liv­ing room.

Nar­row plank floor­ing, limed oak stairs, white walls and simple, qual­ity de­signs are the key to this com­fort­able, but cu­rated look. The house has been lifted into the A-grade in terms of Ber rat­ing and over three floors there are four bed­rooms and a pur­pose-built, fully con­nected of­fice. The collec­tion of years of con­ti­nen­tal liv­ing gives a cer­tain flair to the in­te­rior styling and fab­rics in cur­tains and cush­ions are Marimekko — the Fin­nish fab­ric de­signer.

From pur­chase to mov­ing in — this has been a tribute to tech­nol­ogy — from the up­grade to the meth­ods em­ployed in its ren­o­va­tion, the full re­make of this old house took from March to Septem­ber and per­haps the only recog­nis­able el­e­ment is the sit­ting room, which, while up­graded and in­su­lated, re­tains the fa­mil­iar, three-bed semi shape and is a haven from the open spa­ces else­where.

A study was in­ge­niously tucked into a niche on the south­ern side of the house and it’s com­pre­hen­sive fit­ting and high-tech con­nec­tiv­ity al­lows work­ing from home with ease. The stairs leads up to the re­de­vel­oped at­tic floor.

ABOVE: This white kitchen by Kube is the per­fect, ‘de­fen­si­ble space’ with its own di­rect ac­cess out­side. The penin­sula al­lows a break­fast bar and was the owner’s pre­ferred op­tion — she feels an is­land breaks the space.

The sil­ver birch cut lengths pro­vide an earthy dec­o­ra­tive el­e­ment to the simple fur­nish­ings of this care­fully ex­tended home. They also re­mind the Swedish own­ers of home. The penin­sula kitchen is to the left and the dou­ble doors lead through to a shel­tered, bar­be­cue area. The same wide plank, limed, en­gi­neered floor­ing is used through­out the house.

All pic­tures: Miki Bar­lok

LEFT: The wedge-shaped de­sign of the ex­ten­sion al­lows light for most of the day in this liv­ing room. Chairs are Ikea Poang, with grey sheep­skin cov­ers, (in de­mand on­line), and the folksy milk stool and ta­ble are from stu­diodel­lealpi.com.

The white stan­dard light is from frau­maier.com — worth a look for some re­ally tasty de­signs and avail­able here through Dublin-based, Bri­talux light­ing, bri­talux.ie

Pic: Jan O’Connell

ABOVE: This state­ment chair was pur­chased in Den­mark and punches style in lime.

BE­LOW: An evening view of the house; the com­plex and stacked ex­ten­sion is eas­ily read from the rear.

LEFT: A false wall was cre­ated in the master bed­room to hide banks of open stor­age built be­hind — the min­i­mal Scan­di­na­vian style of the house is fa­cil­i­tated by well-planned ar­eas like this. The pi­ano stool was pur­chased over ten years ago and the de­sign blends nicely with the mid-cen­tury pi­ano.

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