Tuesday 25 July 2017

Blame it all on the Lego

A talent nurtured by building blocks led David Wright to a career in architecture, to his architect wife Hilary, and also to their bright and welcoming home by the sea, he tells Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin

David Wright in the living area of his home. Just outside the window is a little sun trap and David had a terrazzo seat built here for reading the papers outdoors in winter
David Wright in the living area of his home. Just outside the window is a little sun trap and David had a terrazzo seat built here for reading the papers outdoors in winter
Mary O'Sullivan

Mary O'Sullivan

As you'd expect, given that they are both architects, there are a lot of striking features in David and Hilary Wright's compact home: a split-level kitchen/dining/ living room, an island with two contemporary, yet very different, work surfaces and clever storage areas. There's interesting use of terrazzo and timber, and lots of well-designed furniture from companies such as Ligne Roset.

Hey, even their toddler son Lochlann's cot has an interesting circular design layout. Speaking of Lochlann, the amount of bright-red, blue and yellow toys scattered throughout the house is striking also, though it's entirely natural, given that Lochlann is a doted-upon only child.

Most parents nowadays believe in the value of play and toys, but David Wright would be forgiven for setting still more store by them than most -- they did, after all, have an important role in his own development, or so he laughingly claims. "I blame it all on Lego," he jokes, putting his decision to become an architect down to the fact that he was fanatical about the construction blocks.

David's interest developed into the whole area of design. He opted to study architectural technology in Bolton Street, then he went to Oxford Brookes University in England where he completed a degree in architecture and urban design. When he came back, he worked with architectural firm Duffy Mitchell O'Donoghue (DMOD). Then he and Hilary, whom he met there, took off for Central America. On their return, Hilary joined McClean Architects, where she is a partner, while David spent six years with Conroy Crooke Kelly before becoming project architect for Clongriffin, an impressive residential/ commercial development on the Malahide road in Dublin. It was David who came up with the name Clongriffin.

"It's near Balgriffin and clon is the Irish for meadow. It has nice public spaces and parks, so it has some meaning," he explains.

Though David enjoyed the project, particularly as he has a huge interest in urban design, after two years he decided to set up his own practice.

"It was very hard to leave, but it was always a dream of mine to have my own practice. At least the design work -- the work I enjoyed most -- was complete and I thought: 'If I don't leave now, I never will.'"

Since he went solo, David has specialised in one-off houses and extensions of all kinds. He's been busy, but he still makes time to take part in the fifth annual Simon Open Door campaign organised by the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (RIAI) and the Simon Community. Next Saturday, March 7, in exchange for a €75 donation to Simon, members of the public get the opportunity to have an hour-long consultation with a participating RIAI architect.

"What I like about it is we're giving advice to people who have homes and the money will help those who don't," says David. "Last year I helped people solve a problem they had with their septic tank. Mainly, it's advising people whether or not they need planning permission, the first steps in planning an extension, that type of thing."

David and Hillary have just completed an extension on their own house in Dublin 3, close to the sea, which they bought six years ago. Dating from the Twenties, its history has resonances with our own times: "It was the last house to be built by the builder before he went bankrupt," David says with a smile. "We wanted somewhere close to town, a house that had had nothing done -- a blank canvas. We looked at an awful lot. Very few have south-facing gardens; this one has."

The house, a semi-detached with three bedrooms plus a bathroom upstairs, and a kitchen and two small reception rooms downstairs, was such a blank canvas that it had no heating. It had to be re-wired and re-roofed. David is as into the practicalities as the aesthetics of his field and points out that they used every opportunity to upgrade insulation and prevent heat loss. He is full of good advice, such as how important it is to talk to neighbours before you start any building.

Their own extension, which added 400sq ft to the existing 1,000sq ft, was a collaborative affair. "We both had a hand in the design," David emphasises. "We both wanted something modern and to bring light in."

The entire side of the extension that faces the garden is made of glass. David points out subtle details such as the high windows shaped to catch the light, and the way the roof projects out to avoid overheating in summer.

They didn't go for an entirely open-plan ground floor, keeping the front room distinctly separate: a place to go where you can close the door. They also have a separate utility room. However, the rest of the space comprises the split-level kitchen/dining/living room. The kitchen is on a higher level, and is planned in such a way that whoever is working at the sink or work surface on the island is facing into the living area. "We both love to cook and we wanted it so that whoever is cooking can chat at the same time," David says.

The area where the kitchen units are situated is floored with timber, while the rest of the space is finished in a veined Carrera marble with underfloor heating.

The units were made by Hilary's father, Des Caulfield, a retired cabinetmaker who had his own furniture company. "We wanted it to look like a big piece of furniture," David explains, "and we went to the conventional kitchen companies who all tried to give us their standard units. Des making them worked really well, I love the way he used the grain of the wood, and the sliding doors." The island is in two parts and has two different work surfaces. The area around the sink is stainless steel and the area that serves as a breakfast bar is covered in basalt stone. The stainless steel and the stone wrap down over the sides of the unit. When it comes to buying cooking equipment, David has more sound advice. "We bought the gas cooker on the internet for €1,500 less than the supplier here. We were told that it wouldn't be compatible if we bought it abroad, but we researched and it was fine. It is important to research things like that properly if you are going to go the internet route," he advises.

For the living area, they chose a chocolate-brown leather couch and matching latticework armchair for the open-plan area -- and have decided leather is definitely the way to go with toddlers because it's easy to keep clean. To lift the combination of dark leather and timber, they've opted for plenty of colour in their accessories, with green clearly a particular favourite. Nearly all curtains, blinds and cushions are made up from bright Marimekko fabrics they bought in Finland.

Then there's all the colour provided by Lochlann's toys. It just remains to be seen whether he takes to the Lego.


David Wright is at 3 Morrison Chambers, Nassau St, D2, email dw@davidwright.ie

Register by March 4 to take part in Open Door Day, see www.simonopendoor.ie

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