How Bri­tain lives An award-win­ning five-bed­room new-build

Cre­at­ing this stun­ning house was an ad­ven­tur­ous project, but it’s paid off with a warm and wel­com­ing fam­ily home for the own­ers – and a top award for the builder


When Nuala and Danny McCon­nell needed a builder to turn their dream home into a real­ity, there was no ob­vi­ous rea­son to pick some­one who, like them, had never built a house be­fore. But Nuala says: ‘When we showed Gavin Dynes our plot of land, he had a look in his eye that we hadn’t seen from more ex­pe­ri­enced builders. We de­cided to take a chance – and it turned out to be the best de­ci­sion we’ve ever made.’

Eleven months later, the re­sult is a breath­tak­ing five-bed­room, 6,300 sq ft fam­ily home that mixes tra­di­tional Done­gal slate with walnut wood in­te­ri­ors and mod­ern glass. Nes­tled in the rolling hills of Car­ry­duff on the out­skirts of Belfast, it has not only won New Build of the Year 2017 in the pres­ti­gious Fed­er­a­tion of Mas­ter Builder Awards, but Gavin, 30, has also been crowned Builder of the Year.

‘Down to the last tile and smallest de­tail, Gavin re­peat­edly went the ex­tra mile,’ says a de­lighted Nuala, 50, who lives there with her ac­coun­tant hus­band Danny, also 50, and chil­dren Joseph, 21, Patrick, 18, and Katie, 15. ‘The house was made with real love – and it shows.’

It was dur­ing the sum­mer of 2014 that Nuala and Danny de­cided that they wanted a change from their four-storey ter­raced house in Belfast. ‘When an ar­chi­tect friend men­tioned a plot of land just out­side the cap­i­tal and sug­gested a cus­tom build, I replied “That isn’t my dream at all”,’ says Nuala. ‘But Danny and I went to see it and found our­selves stand­ing in a field with beau­ti­ful views. Sud­denly I could see my­self liv­ing here.’

The land had plan­ning per­mis­sion for two dwellings, so the cou­ple sub­mit­ted new draw­ings for a sin­gle prop­erty com­plete with garage. ‘One ar­chi­tect’s plans left us feel­ing unin­spired,’ says Nuala. ‘Then, an ar­chi­tect friend, Ro­nan Downey, asked if he could try, so I showed him im­ages of homes I liked. When Ro­nan un­veiled his 3D plans, my dream home un­folded in front of my eyes and I couldn’t con­tain my ex­cite­ment.’

Ro­nan’s de­sign mixes tra­di­tional Done­gal slate with wood and ren­der, plus mod­ern glass and steel pan­elling. Cen­tre­pieces in­clude a float­ing walnut stair­case to pro­vide a stun­ning en­trance and steps down into a huge open-plan kitchen and liv­ing space.

A breath­tak­ing slate fire­place is a fo­cal point in the open-plan kitchen/liv­ing area, while floor-to-ceil­ing glass show­cases the stun­ning views. The up­stairs land­ing leads onto a glazed ex­te­rior bal­cony, and the house also has a util­ity room with sep­a­rate laun­dry room, games room, cinema room, re­cep­tion room, five en­suite bed­rooms and a com­mu­ni­ca­tions room/study.

There’s a fur­ther bed­room above the dou­ble garage with a sep­a­rate en­trance and stair­case. It con­nects to the main build­ing by a lev­i­tated glass and cladding cor­ri­dor.

With plan­ning per­mis­sion as­sured, the cou­ple’s search for a builder led them to

‘Down to the last tile

and smallest de­tail, Gavin re­peat­edly went the ex­tra mile,’


Gavin and his lo­cal com­pany. A ma­jor change to the plan came when Nuala saw a pic­ture in a mag­a­zine of an open fire­place with a stone col­umn, can­tilevered to give the im­pres­sion of be­ing ‘sus­pended’. ‘I wanted a real “wow fac­tor” and Gavin worked with the en­gi­neer to in­stall hid­den sup­port­ing beams,’ she says.

There’s also a tra­di­tional wood­burn­ing stove in the liv­ing room. ‘Danny grew up on a farm and it re­minds him of fetch­ing logs when he was a child,’ says Nuala. ‘In truth, with triple glaz­ing and in­su­la­tion in the house, we’ve hardly had to use it.’

Gavin also made some fur­ther sug­ges­tions. For in­stance, he wasn’t happy with the ex­ist­ing quote for the win­dows and doors and drove Nuala and Danny to see al­ter­na­tive sup­pli­ers, man­ag­ing to shave £20,000 off their bill. ‘I loved the way that Gavin cared about the finest of de­tails,’ says Nuala. ‘He drove miles to hand pick the slate him­self for the very best qual­ity.

‘Also, I wanted a chute so dirty clothes could be ‘dropped’ from up­stairs and land in the laun­dry room. Gavin came up with a de­sign and the kids love “post­ing” their laun­dry!’

A seat­ing area in the hall­way evolved by ac­ci­dent. ‘We put our old sofa there to be col­lected and re­alised we loved sit­ting there! We asked the car­pen­ters who made the stairs to cre­ate two match­ing walnut benches,’ says Nuala, who’s tied the dif­fer­ent ar­eas to­gether with the same grey colour scheme.

‘I wanted ev­ery­thing to flow, so I chose French Grey paint from Lit­tle Greene. It’s a calm­ing colour, but also shows off the walnut and in­dus­trial steel beau­ti­fully. I’ve in­tro­duced colour through soft fur­nish­ings, such as the pink foot­stool in the cinema room and posters of our favourite films.’

The prop­erty has changed the way this close fam­ily live to­gether. ‘My key­word was warmth and the won­der­ful bonus is the way this house pulls us all to­gether,’ Nuala says. ‘We see more of the chil­dren now be­cause they don’t es­cape to their rooms. In­stead, we use all three re­cep­tion rooms, while the boys treat the games room as a man cave!

‘In the evenings, the boys are in the cinema room watch­ing sport on the large TV, my daugh­ter is in the liv­ing room with friends and my friends are en­joy­ing a glass of wine in the kitchen or danc­ing to mu­sic via the new sound sys­tem. It’s a house that wel­comes peo­ple in and en­cour­ages fun.’

A dou­ble-height hall­way with a float­ing stair­case cre­ates a stun­ning en­trance for Nuala’s breath­tak­ing home

Belfast firm Robin­son’s In­te­ri­ors de­signed the kitchen, which has sleek han­dle­less taupe units and porce­lain work­tops

A scheme of calm­ing greys has been used in the liv­ing room

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