Thursday 21 September 2017

Peek inside this Dublin home lovingly restored by two architects with their young family in mind

When Eleanor McGarry and her husband fell in love with a particular house, they were happy that it had issues, as this meant they had an advantage over other househunters.

Eleanor McGarry in the dining area of her large family kitchen. The different woods embue the space with texture, while views of the garden on two sides add charm. Photo: Tony gavin
Eleanor McGarry in the dining area of her large family kitchen. The different woods embue the space with texture, while views of the garden on two sides add charm. Photo: Tony gavin
The front reception room has a wonderful bay window with textured-glass panels. Furnishings here include design classics - such as Eileen Gray’s iconic table and Le Corbusier's chairs - and modern pieces like the grey DFS Cuddler chair. Photo:Tony Gavin
Oak units and open shelving combine to create a warm, friendly kitchen, while the Carrara marble worktops add a certain sleekness and are, according to Eleanor, a delight on which to prepare food
The back room is full of light, and is currently used as a space for the boys - they do their homework at the Eero Saarinen table
A detail of the back reception room

Over the last 20 years, it's been something of a trend among house owners to add big glass extensions - glass boxes, you could say - to all sorts of houses, be they Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian or just plain post-war architecture.

Clients wanted space, and that's how a lot of architects solved the problem. It's how many architects solve the issues around space in their own homes, but not architect Eleanor McGarry and her husband John, who is also an architect. Eleanor and her husband must be among the few people who, when it came to renovating their home, actually lessened the square footage.

"Yes, we shrunk the back of the house. If we went out farther, we'd have reduced the garden, which we really enjoy, so we used other devices to make the interior seem bigger," the engaging Eleanor says. She adds that the important things for herself, John and their sons are not just the space, but rather the usage and enjoyment of it; making each room fit for purpose, yet comfortable and aesthetically pleasing.

We talk a lot these days about work-life balance, but Eleanor, who is an architect with Dublin City Council, is one of those people who puts it into practice. "People talk about sustainability, but it really starts at home. I love my work, but I work to live," she says simply.

Oak units and open shelving combine to create a warm, friendly kitchen, while the Carrara marble worktops add a certain sleekness and are, according to Eleanor, a delight on which to prepare food
Oak units and open shelving combine to create a warm, friendly kitchen, while the Carrara marble worktops add a certain sleekness and are, according to Eleanor, a delight on which to prepare food

Originally from Limerick, Eleanor says she was always artistic. "From the age of 15, 16, I was always sketching old buildings. I remember we used to get Time magazine and I'd be copying the skyscrapers," she notes with a laugh, adding, "I discussed doing art with my art teacher, and she said because I was good at maths as well, she thought architecture would be good for me."

Eleanor studied in UCD, and after graduation in 1992, she went to the States to work. When she came back, she and John went to Berlin for two years. The couple had studied in UCD around the same time, but didn't become an item until after graduation.

It was cycling that first brought them together. "We used to hang around in a group. John and I loved cycling; no-one else wanted to come with us, so that was it, we'd go off cycling together," Eleanor says with a laugh. She says they still love their bikes, and often go on cycling holidays with their sons. She herself cycles to work on the quays from their home in Glasnevin, though she does worry about her safety on the Dublin roads, and isn't confident about the boys cycling to school. "I'd be terrified of the boys cycling in Dublin. Maybe it's because, as a cyclist, I see what it's like. I often come home and find myself saying, 'I nearly got killed today'," she says with a shudder.

The period in Berlin was good, and the couple enjoyed it. "From an architect's point of view, it's always good to travel; you absorb so much," says Eleanor. "Berlin was a good place to live when it comes to amenities - great public transport, great cycling and swimming, and it was a very exciting time to be there. The wall had come down, there was a lot of building and it was a good time from the point of view of architecture. We were able to earn enough to come back with the deposit for our first house."

When they came back in 1997, both Eleanor and her husband worked for de Blacam and Meagher, one of the most prestigious architectural companies in Ireland. Then, after two years, Eleanor decided to join Dublin City Council as she felt an office job was, for her, more compatible with raising a family; the couple went on to have Samuel (15) Oliver (13) and Hugo (10).

They moved to their current home, their third house, in 2004. When they first saw it, they fell in love with everything about it. They loved the area - the stone wall of the Botanic Gardens, which is part of their vista when they step out of their house; the actual gardens; the nearby river; the village feel of the neighbourhood and, of course, its proximity to the city centre.

The front reception room has a wonderful bay window with textured-glass panels. Furnishings here include design classics - such as Eileen Gray’s iconic table and Le Corbusier's chairs - and modern pieces like the grey DFS Cuddler chair. Photo:Tony Gavin
The front reception room has a wonderful bay window with textured-glass panels. Furnishings here include design classics - such as Eileen Gray’s iconic table and Le Corbusier's chairs - and modern pieces like the grey DFS Cuddler chair. Photo:Tony Gavin

The terraced house dates from 1895, and has lots of lovely period features, including the bay windows with textured-glass panels; high ceilings; original wood floors, and the mantelpieces. However, when they bought it, it was 2004 and prices were through the roof. The house wasn't in good condition, but, according to Eleanor, that was good for them. "There were orange walls, things like a shower in a bedroom; things that we could see beyond. I remember thinking, 'Brilliant, those things will put other people off buying the house; we'll be in with a chance,'" she recalls.

They were thrilled when they got it, but there was serious subsidence and other major problems. "We had to rebuild the whole back of the house, so while doing that, we remodelled the ground floor. We opened it up to give ourselves better connection to the garden," Eleanor explains, adding that she and her husband collaborated on the design. "We compliment each other massively; we're good at different things. I handle the money side; I'm a whizz when it comes to the money. Actually, it's not money, really; I just love numbers".

The house comprises a comfortable family kitchen, two interconnecting reception rooms, and four bedrooms, with the main bedroom at the top of the house, in what was formerly the attic.

Everything about the house is pleasing; it's furnished with lots of natural materials and full of subtle, thoughtful devices, like a niche in the back reception room that affords glimpses of the kitchen right through to the garden; and a small window in the kitchen that is ideal for circulating air without opening the larger windows.

The house is very much geared to the family, and it has evolved according to its needs. Houses are complicated because people are complicated and as the children grow, so do their needs. Hence, there are massive amounts of storage - for example, storage cleverly concealed under the built-in mahogany bench in the kitchen - to cater for the needs of the boys, who all play sports. They also recently put doors between the two reception rooms. "We had everything open-plan when the kids were small so that I could keep an eye on them, now it's nice to have more separate spaces," Eleanor says.

When it comes to furnishings, they love good design and have collected interesting pieces over the years including Hans Wegner kitchen chairs, Le Corbusier sitting-room chairs and Eileen Gray's iconic table, but a whole house can't be furnished with classics, so they also opted for good modern pieces combining design and comfort, like the DFS Cuddler in the reception room.

The back room is full of light, and is currently used as a space for the boys - they do their homework at the Eero Saarinen table
The back room is full of light, and is currently used as a space for the boys - they do their homework at the Eero Saarinen table

The place Eleanor herself most enjoys in her house is the bath at the top of the house. The couple remodelled the attic room, turned it into the master bedroom and installed a bath facing the dormer window, which affords amazing views of the city. "I can see the Pigeon House chimneys, the Spire, and, of course, the stars. It's a quiet refuge away to take it all in."

Eleanor McGarry - a woman who's got life sussed. 

Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin

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