Home is where the heart is..
Civil servant and pharmacist John and Claire Kerr bought their house thirty-three years ago, in 1986, and have lived there ever since, so they must like it. ‘Yes, we do!’, say the couple .’We brought our family up here and this is our neighbourhood, where we feel happy and at home.’ ‘Our aim with a renovation was ‘future-proofing’ says Claire. ‘We’re retired now and I personally aim to live to about 120 years old, because I enjoy life, so we wanted to make sure that our home would support our lifestyle as we grew older.’
The Baltic Bathroom.
‘We have a small upstairs bathroom, but if we are going to get old and doddery (and that’s still better than the alternative), we wouldn’t want to run (or stagger) upstairs to the loo,’ says John. ‘We had a downstairs loo in an extension that was built sometime in the 1970s, at any rate it was here when we arrived. It wasn’t insulated, had a flat chipboard roof with a single layer of roofing felt on it, and was freezing. To get there, you had to trail through the kitchen and past the utility, and if you had still had the energy, you could access the door to the garden just a bit further on.
Time to plan the (far-distant) future.
‘We have a neighbour who undertook a project with a similar focus in her eighties, when she was forced to,’ says Claire. ‘That spurred us on. It’s a traumatic undertaking to refurbish your home at any time, so we wanted to get it done when we could still handle the stress! An uber-accessible warm and spacious downstairs bathroom with walk-in (or wheel-in, you’ve got to be sensible) shower, a bright, easy-to-maintain kitchen extension, and access from it directly to the garden on the same level, that was what we were thinking when we headed off to the Ideal Homes exhibition for inspiration.’
How to catch an architect.
‘We met Brian Mulvey of Mad About Design at the exhibition, and we liked him’, says John. ‘He had this really simple idea which appealed to me, a half-day consult for a small fee, where he would just sketch ideas, and you could see what he was proposing. Mostly, you would expect an extension to be rectangular, Brian’s first plan was a triangle. I was slightly stunned, I had yet to realise Brian’s fondness for triangles, and the reason for them; light. Our ground floor was a really long rectangle with sitting, dining and separate kitchen, so there was no flow of light, the front was north-facing and cold, the middle was dark, and because of the layout, there was a large amount of unusable wasted space too Brian was thinking about how to get the maximum amount of daylight and sunlight into our home, but I didn’t realise that until later. Oddly enough, the finished build differed very little from that initial quick sketch.’
As the build commenced, the couple retreated to the attic conversion where they camped out, even braving their way through Storm Ophelia, but they were eventually forced to retire to an Airbnb apartment for 6 weeks. By Christmas the project was approaching completion and Claire had enough. Armed with a €100 mini-cooker from Power City and six €5 folding chairs from Woodies she moved back in on the 22nd of December, determined to cook Christmas dinner at home.
The Worst Part: In the Doldrums.
‘The worst part of the whole build were those long months when nothing seemed to be happening,’ says John. ‘Of course, things were happening but they were largely invisible or inexplicable, foundations and lintels, supports, wiring and plumbing. At the beginning, as in every renovation, it was exciting as walls were demolished and the space opened out. That happened very fast, but in the end it all seemed to drag on, crawling towards fittings and finishes and ‘The End’.’
When you’re actually glad you didn’t get your own way…
‘I didn’t want an open-plan layout,’ says John. ‘Absolutely not. There was no way I could get my head around everything happening in the one place.’ ‘John thinks everything should have a proper place,’ explains Claire. ‘A place to cook, a place to eat, a place to work, a place to watch TV. He insisted he wanted sliding doors between the kitchen and sitting area.’ But the couple moved back in before the project was fully complete, and the installation of the sliding doors was one of the last elements of the project. ‘When I had lived in the new space for a few weeks, I began to notice that it functioned very well, all the space was utilised, there was no wasted unusable space like there had been’, says John. ‘It was very bright with sunlight flowing in from the strategically -laced windows and roof lights. I liked the floor finishes which were light, easy to keep and reflected the light. When it came to installing those sliding doors, I baulked at cutting a channel in the lovely floor. That’s when I realised I was a convert, I was enjoying open-plan living.’
John and Claire’s Top Tips.
‘Get an architect on board, that my top tip,’ says John. ‘Brian suggested things we would never have thought of in a whole lifetime. Without an architect, I guess we would have just plonked a rectangle on the back. We would have never have thought of addressing issues of functionality and use of space, light and solar paths. And I definitely would have sat on any ideas of open-plan living!’ ‘Brian also gave us lists of thing to research and decisions to make,’ says Claire. ‘Having homework made the project a lot more manageable, because you do have to decide an awful lot of things! My tip is something I found out during that process. If you shop around, you can find a lot of better buys, and if you travel outside of Dublin it can make a big difference in price.’
The existing rear extension, completed circa 1975, was demolished and an opening created in the rear exterior wall to first floor level. The new extension as constructed faces south and consists of interlocking triangular elements placed to capture daylight and also to provide some shade to the patio outside. The level of the garden was raised so that access to the patio is on one level, terraced at the end of the patio with a single wide step down to the garden, a small patio is placed in the westward-facing corner to capture evening sunlight. The original plan included a shed built on the diagonal into the corner facing the extension, although this was not built. The extension comprises kitchen and a separate utility room, a fully-accessible shower room has also been constructed adjacent to the extension off the entrance hall.
‘We love it. It’s very bright and low maintenance, future proofed for the next thirty years! There’s a real feeling of space; it would be a great party house if we were a bit younger. John is a complete convert to open-plan living, and I’m really happy with the storage, I like a clutter-free home. You do need good storage in an open-plan space, and the new kitchen and utility are designed for it. The garden is completely accessible, like an outdoor room, we use it so much more now to eat outside or just sit and enjoy. It was a bit of a slog, but so worth it.’
Architect: Brian Mulvey, Mad About Design, madaboutdesign.ie
Kitchen: McCaul Kitchens, Crosskeys, Co Cavan, mccaulkitchens.ie
Light fittings: House of Lights, Bray, Co Wicklow, houseoflights.ie
Floor finishes: M Kelly Interiors, Sallynoggin, Dublin, mkellyinteriors.ie
Garden furniture: Arboretum, Kilquade, Co Wicklow, arboretum.ie