Thursday 19 October 2017

Check out the fantastic view in this Howth home designed by one of Ireland's top architects

Unique selling point: Designed by Andy Devane

Shielmartin Cottage has its main living space on the upper floor.
Shielmartin Cottage has its main living space on the upper floor.

Andy Devane was without a doubt one of Ireland's most important architects. His long career, which spanned the latter half of the 20th Century, was helped along by his natural intelligence and talent salted with a burning curiosity, ability and limitless enthusiasm.

This combination ultimately earned him a scholarship to the USA in the 1940s - after his graduation from UCD as an architect - to study under the great master Frank Lloyd Wright at his famous Taliesin West School in the desert of Arizona.

In those days leading young Irish architects worth their salt would head off abroad to find a great "master" to "apprentice" to. Robin Walker of Scott Tallon and Walker sought out both Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, while Shane de Blacam went off to find Louis Kahn.

Lloyd Wright is recognised as being one of the world's three greatest architects but, for his part, Limerick man Devane was not certain about his genius to begin with.

A reception room with views out to sea.
A reception room with views out to sea.
A balcony.
Dining room.
Shielmartin Cottage’s gardens were designed by David Robinson
The kitchen.
The spiral stairwell.

In a typical example of his honesty and fearlessness, it has been reported that the young Irish man wrote him a letter before travelling in 1946, stating baldly: "I cannot make up my mind whether you are in truth a great architect - or just another phony." To this Wright is reported to have replied, "Come along and see." When Devane returned to Ireland he told people he had never seen "anyone with a greater sense of mastery of form and space".

After his eye-opening years in the States learning new American-born design forms, Devane returned to Ireland to join the prestigious Dublin based practice of Robinson Keefe under Paddy Robinson and Cyril Keefe, turning it into Robinson Keefe and Devane (today thriving as RKD).

In the decades which followed he would design many of Ireland's best known commercial and public buildings, among them the Irish Life Centre in Dublin, The AIB Bank Centre in Ballsbridge and Stephen Court. There were religious buildings in droves at the time of an expanding and still pious population - among them St Fintan's Church in Sutton and St Lelia's in Limerick.

Devane's talents were also sought abroad and he designed buildings for clients as far afield as the USA, India and Zimbabwe.

But thanks to a foray into private housebuilding, largely in North Coastal Dublin, Devane was responsible for bringing discernible touches of Lloyd Wright's horizontal midwestern Prairie style to Sutton and Howth in the 1960s, with around half a score of contemporary homes designed for prestigious families and scattered about the suburbs.

Devane's most famous house was his own "Journey's End" lodge in Howth while "Thulla", the home he built for the McMullan family overlooking Howth Harbour, was estimated to have been the most expensive house built in its day.

Another highly rated Devane production is Shielmartin Cottage, high up on the hill at Baily in Howth and constructed in the 1960s for one Commander Bradshaw who was then "downsizing" from a larger property in the area to the 2,895 sq ft "Cottage" which stands at almost three times the size of an average city abode.

The inverted accommodation was ahead of its time with the main reception rooms on the upper floor featuring long stretches of unbroken glazing to give optimum eagle's nest sea views in the areas in which people spend their most active hours. The bedrooms are tucked underneath.

If there are "classic" examples of mid-twentieth century contemporary homes in Ireland, this is one, albeit now in need of some sympathetic restoration. These days owners of such homes are going back to the original architects to have them revitalised (Scott Tallon Walker is an example of a practice which has returned to its fifty year old classics).

Although furnished somewhat out of its original style, the bones and the essence of the original home remain intact and untarnished here and - unlike many half-hearted Irish efforts at this style through the 1960s and 1970s - its real architectural value is plain to see.

Shielmartin Cottage’s gardens were designed by David Robinson
Shielmartin Cottage’s gardens were designed by David Robinson
A balcony.
Dining room.
The kitchen.
A reception room with views out to sea.
The spiral stairwell.

But there are other stars of the show here. The gardens were designed by David Robinson, one of Ireland's great garden designers of the time. He set off to find plants from all around the world to stock these gardens, including a huge eucalyptus tree with an unusually spotted bark.

The 1.1 acre site also makes it a prime target for development in some form, or for those who see it both as a home and a future investment if local planning conditions are stringent right now. This of course would be a shame given that the house is intrinsically related to its wide open setting.

Last but not least come the incredible sea views from the hill on Baily which Devane originally designed this house to worship.

The cost of such an abode isn't cheap - the Lisney agency is seeking €1.95m for Shielmartin Cottage. The good news is that the firm which built it is still going strong if a new owner wants to take this home's interiors back to the minimalist style of its era.

Meantime, having designed some of Ireland's best known landmark buildings, Andy Devane did not rest on his laurels and loot when he retired from his Irish career. Instead, he headed off for still new things - to Calcutta to work for the poor, especially for Mother Teresa's charitable organisation.

He died in Calcutta in 2000, aged in his eighties, but not before leaving it with a building of his in the form of the City's Drug Rehabilitation Centre.

Shielmartin Cottage

Baily, Howth, Co Dublin

Asking price: €1.95m

Agent: Lisney, (01) 8840700

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