Friday 30 September 2016

The Marmite House: 'you either love it or hate it'

House designed by two Dublin architects has divided opinion somewhat

Published 16/05/2014 | 02:30

The quirky exterior of 90B Waterloo Lane off Dublin’s Leeson Street
The quirky exterior of 90B Waterloo Lane off Dublin’s Leeson Street
Grand designs in the living area.
A look through the hallway of the house.
The unique brickwork in the house.
The kitchen/dining area.
The Universita Luigi Bocconi in Milan designed by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara
Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara

Back in 2008, Dublin-based Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara were officially the best architects in the world on the basis that their 2008 designed Universita Luigi Bocconi (University of Economics) in Milan had been voted world's best building at the inaugural World Architecture Festival awards – the global Oscars for architecture.

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In achieving the award, their small Dublin practice Grafton Architects beat off global architectural heavyweights which included Zaha Hadid and Foster and Partners.

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara

They also achieved the Downes medal in that year, making them Ireland's best. In the very same year as they designed the remarkable Milan university building – then their biggest project to date – Grafton was also sketching plans for one of their smaller schemes: two near identical mews houses at 90A and 90B Waterloo Lane off Dublin's Leeson Street.

90B has just been brought to market for the first time by the Dublin-based dentist who commissioned it – and on the above basis you could argue that they were sketched by the world's best building designers.

The quirky exterior of 90B Waterloo Lane off Dublin’s Leeson Street

So it should be an easy sell for Bergin estate agents who are looking for €1m on behalf of the commissioning owner? Well some love it and some don't.

"This is what I'd call a 'Marmite House' – you either really love it or hate it," says Nicola Williams of Bergins, the selling agents, who is a big admire of Grafton's work.

"A lot of people who have seen it cannot understand what the attraction is while others are falling over themselves to get into it. We have someone flying back from New York specifically to view it."

The house was built in a site in the rear garden of the practice of Dr Karl Mullan of Leeson Street. Interestingly the house has bits of Bocconi in it while devices deployed by Grafton for the first time in this little mews project are currently being installed in a major university Grafton has designed in France.

Having spent many years in the Middle East, Dr Mullan, who hired Grafton for the project, wanted to bring an Arabic feel to the property.

his is evident in the brick lattice work of a sort traditionally used in the Middle East to provide ventilation and shade, but with privacy and security – enabling the owner in this case to slide open the glass from floor to ceiling to ventilate the house without worrying about anyone getting inside when you're not looking.


The site was a narrow one and Grafton had to utilise every square inch of space. To have achieved accommodation of nearly 1,750 square feet on such a narrow site is quite an achievement. But there were other challenges to overcome.

Shelley McNamara, who worked most closely on the houses, said: "These were designed as a pair and we didn't want the narrow footprint to take away from the experience of living in them. Like any mews, there were complex issues of overlooking and privacy to be overcome. We were very careful to use the same brick, almost the same colour, as the main house on Leeson Street in what was the garden of the property.


"We tried to make the ground floor free and open so you could see right through it from the entrance to the courtyard. We were more sculptural in our approach upstairs.

"We used devices from this two house project – including the open brick work – in our current big project under construction, a new university at Toulouse. The Milan project came ahead of these houses and you can see the particular means of emphasising the space from the ground to the roof from the Bocconi in this house."

The Universita Luigi Bocconi in Milan

What it means is that there are bits of the big Milan and Toulouse projects right here in Waterloo Lane.

Downstairs, the house opens immediately into one large open plan space. It is punctuated by a sculptural staircase which dominates the centre space, light wells and steps down to a very well appointed kitchen.


The line of the space is maintained by the "clotted cream pointed" brick wall on the right, a feature through the house and right the way up to the roof garden.

Hardwood flooring and a concrete ceiling maintain the elements of warmth in this area, and the various living spaces do feel remarkably cosy and individual, despite being part of one large footprint.

Upstairs and to the front is a large master bedroom with generous ensuite. All storage is built in, meaning that the only requirements are a bed and bedside tables.

On the same floor are two further bedrooms, a wet room/bathroom and a laundry. This area has high and low level storage units, a washing machine, and accesses the rear garden by stairs.


It's a practical space and removes the noisy services from the open plan living downstairs. Upstairs on the second floor is the study/office, with large windows, floor mounted services and a door to the roof garden.

The house is unusually private and it also has outdoor speakers for the integrated sound system, lighting, sockets and a wall mounted shower.

So do you like Marmite? Do you have a taste for a contemporary spread with an international flavour? The price is €1m through Bergins (01-6603587).

  • How Grafton achieved such space with this narrow scope at Waterloo Lane:

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