A Coach House renovation

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Eoin Foyle loves a good party. As the owner of a live-music venue in Dublin, it’s his job. So when he and his wife, Oda, spotted some derelict buildings dating from 1750 in a forest near Ballymahon, just over an hour from the city, they knew it was the ideal place for a knees-up or three.

‘There’s more space than we need,’ Eoin says of the property, which they have converted and extended into a 510sqm holiday home on 10-acre site. ‘But my wife and I both come from large families, so there are plenty of relatives who visit.’ Plus, they have their own brood of four daughters aged four, seven, eight and 21, who enjoy their own form of entertaining. ‘The kids love running around in the fields, and we have a big dorm-room upstairs where they have sleepovers.’ Now that the project is complete, the family and their friends spend most weekendsand school holidays at the house.

The property used to be a stables and coach house, and is arranged around a central courtyard. An extension replaces an old stone wall and houses the master bedroom, an open plan kitchen-diner and a terrace. In the adjoining stables there are another eight bedrooms.

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Eoin and Oda found the house by chance after visiting Oda’s parents, who live nearby. ‘We were driving back when we saw a sign that said: “Stone buildings for sale”,’ says Eoin. ‘It really is in the middle of nowhere. But we just thought: “This is it”.

The couple immediately put in an offer, with the idea of adding a striking contemporary extension. ‘I’d been dying to build my own glass box, so this was the opportunity to do it,’ says Eoin. As luck would have it, he had recently swapped offices with Odos Architects, so he approached the firm to take on the project.

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The coach house has a cinema inside, and an eco-friendly wood-pellet boiler, which uses one three-tonne load of wood pellets over nine months to provide all the heat and hot water.

They worked together on the design, particularly for the steel-framed extension. ‘We were after something with a lot of space and light, a deck to sit outside, and an open fire,’ says Eoin. ‘And I always wanted to use wood cladding with concrete. There’s a lot of stone in the courtyard, and a lot of wood in the surrounding forest, so it felt like a good combination.'

First came the task of repairing the derelict stone buildings, which had been uninhabited and exposed to the elements for years. The walls were damp and the undergrowth was so thick that builders spent three weeks clearing the site. There were no services, so a trench for electricity had to be dug through the forest. Luckily, there was a water well, so they just had to install a filtration system and sewerage.

Next, the timber and slate roof had to be replaced – the wood was rotten, though most of the tiles were reused. Underfloor insulation and heating were added, and the internal layout was entirely re-worked, along with the new extension. ‘It was a complete rebuild, apart from the stone walls,’ says Eoin. ‘A new-build is much easier, in a way. You can put your walls where you want.’

Amazingly, considering the property is listed, planning permission came without a hitch. ‘They were delighted to see a family development there, and to see something derelict being brought back to life,’ explains Eoin.

The project took 11 months and was funded by the sale of two investment properties, as well as a mortgage. The final cost was more than the €550,000 (approx. £395,000) budget, though compromises were made where possible. ‘We removed things that I felt we could do without,’ says Eoin. ‘And by saving a few thousand here and there, we got the budget down.’

The biggest costs were the roofing and gutters, window frames, plumbing, heating and electrics. ‘I thought about dropping the cantilevered plinth that the extension sits on, because it was around €30,000(approx. £22,000), but I’m glad I didn’t,' says Eoin. 'It works really well. ’

‘It’s great to have our family and friends down,' Eoin says of the finished build – though he is equally appreciative of the location’s less rock’n’roll side. ‘It’s just nice being here. It’s quiet and peaceful. And the mobile phone coverage isn’t great, which helps.’


Architect Odos Architects (+353 1 672 5300; odosarchitects.com)
Contractor Frank McKiernan and Sons (+353 43 334 6132; frankmckiernan.com)
Kitchen Ikea (020 3645 0000; ikea.co.uk)
Sanitaryware Armitage Shanks (01543 490 253; armitage-shanks.co.uk)
Lighting Modular Lighting Instruments (+32 5126 5656; supermodular.com)
Glazing and roof lights Rich Glass (+353 1285 6123; richglass.ie)
Biomass boiler SHT (+43 662 450 4440; sht.at)

Alan, who’s a tutor at Queen’s University in Belfast, has been studding the local landscape with modern buildings since returning to Ireland from London with his family in the late Nineties. He bought this plot for £55,000 and spent the next two years, and £250,000, creating what can only be described as an architectural anomaly. As fellow architect and friend Patrick Lynch says, ‘It’s completely bonkers.’ The house hovers, dark and menacing, over the landscape. Its arrow-slit windows and jagged profile conjure up thoughts of armour, battles and even Darth Vader. Despite this apparent nonconformity, it also sits comfortably within its landscape; at night, it almost disappears. ‘In scale it matches the front elevation of the neighbouring Masonic hall,’ says Alan, ‘while the form, with its pitched roof and gable presented to the road, follows local traditions.’

The graphite-blue fibre-cement tiles that clad the exterior are indigenous to the area, appearing on a number of pub extensions and a police station in Belfast. ‘I was impressed with the way the material dappled with age,’ says Alan. ‘Our tiles have only a 10-year guarantee. We could repaint, but I like the idea of them fading, as if the building will shed its darkness as it becomes more accepted within the community.’ The house has the air of an impenetrable fortress yet, in common with many of Alan’s projects, there is a complete contrast between the exterior and interior. Stepping from the porch through the large glass front door, you are struck by the light, airy and playful interior. The ground floor consists of a large open space, roughly dissected into a formal living room, dining room, kitchen and TV area. The room partitions vary in height and angle, allowing views through the entire length of the interior and also providing blind spots for privacy. If the communal aspect gets too much, the TV area can be completely shut off from the kitchen, thanks to discreet built-in doors. ‘Spatially, my work has become a lot less formal since my days in London,’ says Alan. ‘The spaces were very precise, whereas here it’s as if you’ve taken the architectural tray and given it a good shake.’

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