MY FAVOURITE ROOM
Even for Ciaran McCoy, the revival of his grandparents’ crumbling former home was a daunting prospect. But with some clever design, the house has now been transformed. Edited by Mary O’Sullivan. Photographyby Tony Gavin
Evenings in the hot tub
‘C iaran said, ‘Give me two things you’d like.’ As a joke, I said, ‘a hot tub and bar,’” Enid Bebbington laughs as she shows off the extraordinary hot tub she did eventually get. It’s below ground level and its drawbridge-style lid forms part of the floor of the deck area outside the kitchen of the home in Dublin 6 she shares with her husband, Ciaran McCoy, and their shih tzu, Bones.
The reason why the idea of a hot tub and bar was a bit of a joke was that the house was in such a state that staples such as a roof, windows and doors — not to mention heating and plumbing — were miles ahead in the queue for things that needed to be done. When this genial couple took on the house, the roof was open to the elements, and the original two-storey return was falling away.
However, there was a hint of a gauntlet being thrown down by Enid to Ciaran — after all, he’s a partner in Terenure-based ODKM, which is one of the more edgy architectural practices in Dublin, and is very much into making architecture more accessible to the general public.
With that in mind, the firm uses the shop front of their offices as a billboard, with ever-changing doodles to attract the attention of passersby. “Ninety-five per cent of our work is domestic additions. To marry old and new is the hardest part of construction. Add in the fact that it’s someone’s home, all the emotional attachment, and you feel like a counsellor at times,” explains Ciaran who, apart from architecture, also plays squash for Leinster and paints.
He and Enid, a librarian, grew up five minutes apart on the Navan Road. “Ciaran would have walked past my house, going to play squash, for a decade,” says Enid — but they didn’t meet until their early 20s. The scene was their local nightclub. Soon after, they went to Australia and loved it so much that they were going to move there permanently.
“We went for a year and came back after the 12 months was up, but we were very close to going back. We lived two minutes from the beach and loved the life. I had made a lot of friends through squash — I had a solicitor friend who was going to sponsor me — but it was 2000, and everything was booming here, so we stayed,” Ciaran explains with a rueful laugh.
They quickly got jobs and bought their first apartment. “That got us into the madness,” says Ciaran. They gutted it and sold it a year later, then bought a suburban, four-bedroom house, which Ciaran redesigned. When the couple, who had married in 2001, sold it eight years later — although the market had collapsed — they got the highest price for that area for a long time.
‘I’ve always been ambitious with that kind of stuff. This house was everything I’d ever done . . . on steroids’
“We did have a lovely marble floor — it was like a gallery. I miss that floor,” says Enid, while Ciaran adds: “I’ve always been fairly ambitious with that kind of stuff. This house was everything I’d ever done . . . on steroids.”
Like many of the houses that Ciaran and his partners in ODKM are involved with, there was also an emotional involvement in the purchase and redesign of their current home. Dating from 1859, the red-brick, terraced house had been Ciaran’s grandparents’ home, and his father grew up there.
“There were three brothers and one was left to look after it and, for various reasons, it was neglected. When he passed away, Dad and his other brother asked me to look at it. I saw an opportunity and asked if I could purchase it,” Ciaran explains.
“It was nice for Ciaran’s dad and uncle to see it brought back to life,” Enid adds.
The derelict house was, however, a daunting prospect. “A lot would have said, ‘I can’t do anything with it.’ I’d lie if I didn’t say I thought of knocking it down and building a concrete box. It would have been cheaper and easier. The hardest types of building are renovations — or upcycling, to use the new term,” Ciaran says.
The house was too far gone to faithfully restore it but, fortunately, it isn’t a listed house, so Ciaran — in consultation with his partners in ODKM, Declan O’Donnell and Barry Kane — opted for what he calls “conservation renovation with a twist of modernism”.
He got planning permission within a record six weeks — the neighbours were so thrilled that their street’s eyesore was being taken in hand that they lodged no objections — and the renovation was underway.
The build took nine months in total and, while the house looks the same as its neighbours from the front, inside it’s a totally different story.
The two-storey return was demolished completely and in its place is a three-storey structure, the ground level of which is the unusual kitchen. The eating area with its built-in seating is backed by slanted glass, through which can be seen an outside wall made of the brick from the old return building.
“It acts as a light well. It’s a homage to architect John Lautner and his Chemosphere house in LA. It took me a while to get it right,” says Ciaran, adding that, as this eating area took up the space that was the garden, it was important to have a lot of glass.
As well as designing all the spaces, Ciaran also designed the furniture, including the kitchen units, in collaboration with Dean Cooper, and he designed the folding doors to hide them away when entertaining.
“I try to design all the furniture into a building so the clients can’t move it around,” he says with a laugh.
But in the building process, Ciaran moved quite a lot. He dropped the floor in the two interconnecting reception rooms and, because the hall is now at a higher level, he was able to put a storage area underneath. “No space should be wasted,” Ciaran says.
One of the key features of the rooms is what Ciaran calls the conversation pit, which also includes built-in seating.
This can be seen from the hall, as the wall between the hall and the living rooms was removed, as were the doors.
In fact, apart from the front door and the glass bifolding doors, the only doors in the house are on the bedrooms and bathroom. There are no en suites, as Ciaran hates rooms without windows. There are a lot of hard-edged materials used in the build, including granite, glass — remarkably, a glass staircase runs from the bedroom level to the third floor where Ciaran has his painting studio, which also has a glass roof — and concrete —the floors in the living rooms are poured concrete. However, there are plenty of softening touches as well, including the period-style mouldings and ceiling roses.
The colour scheme is plain — dark grey, soft grey and white — but lots of colour and atmosphere is added through soft furnishings, rugs by RugArt, Ciaran’s paintings and clever lighting.
Everything about the house is clever, including Enid’s hot tub. She also got her other folly, as Ciaran calls the bar; rewards, you could say, for having been such a good client.
“I did question him about certain things, but I do have to trust him,” she says fondly.
“Enid is my perfect client. She let me at it,” Ciaran says with a smile.
There is no TV in this house and they use the hot tub every night, so maybe it wasn’t such a far-fetched notion after all.
Left The attic has a glass roof, so the light is ideal for Ciaran when he's painting. The door opens on to a fantastic view of the environs of the house Above Ciaran McCoy with Bones and Enid Bebbington in the newly renovated interconnecting reception...