Thursday 25 May 2017

An artful makeover - peek inside this architecturally designed hygge home

Aine Curran and her husband bought the house of their dreams in 2000, but waited until they found the right architect to translate their ideas into the perfect home.
Aine Curran in her light-filled kitchen with its mix of stainless steel and white units. The island top is Neolith, a man-made material of natural elements
Aine Curran in her light-filled kitchen with its mix of stainless steel and white units. The island top is Neolith, a man-made material of natural elements
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The bathroom is entirely new, apart from the fireplace. The bath is from Versatile Bathrooms and the Moroccan-style tiles are from Best in Waterford
The Penguin book covers design is a perfect wallpaper for the former kitchen, which is now a study
Aine and Peter are passionate about art and graphic design, and every available bit of wall has something hanging on it. The drawing on top is by architect and furniture designer Eileen Gray, and the one below it is a cartoon by Aine's dad of Peter and his multi tasking
Will opted for a feature wall in his bedroom, where a scene depicts the New York skyline
Aine was worried the kitchen might look too industrial with so much grey and stainless steel, but the pop of colour from the yellow Ikea cabinet and the many windows add warmth, welcome and light

Though it only hit our shores last autumn, hygge is a word with which we've all somehow become familiar.

Maybe it's the fact that it's hard to pronounce and we enjoy trying it out. Or maybe it's because it's a Danish word and we love everything Nordic - their TV shows, their restaurants, their jumpers - so why not hygge? Hygge translates as a feeling of cosiness, and maybe our embracing of this funny word is because it's something many of us were in danger of losing sight of when it came to tarting up our own homes, and this concept came as a timely reminder.

Aine Curran, who lives in a beautifully designed and decorated house in south Co Dublin, is very familiar with hygge, having lived in Denmark in the early days of her marriage. And there's no doubt that those two years informed the way she and her husband Peter renovated their house in recent times - it is beautiful, yet 'cosy' and 'easy to live in' are also words that spring to mind on a tour of the house.

"It's funny to see all those books coming out now about hygge. I remember the Danes trying to explain it to me; it was the biggest compliment anyone could pay your house to say it was hygge," Aine notes, adding "Danish people have a very different attitude to doing up their houses to us. They tend to meet in each other's houses; even students would have each other over to dinner, and even people in their 20s would be very houseproud. Their queen is a graphic designer; they really value design, it's massive there. We were invited to all the neighbours' houses, and they would have a story about each piece of furniture; so much thought was put into each thing. 'We were 12 years looking for this rug' or 'This chair was so difficult to come by'. They are lovely people, really."

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However the Danish experience isn't the only reason why Aine's home is so interesting yet cosy; both Aine and her husband, Peter Robbins, are extremely creative, and it's apparent in their colour schemes, their choice of furnishings and the many pieces of art hanging on their walls. Peter, who studied marketing followed by a PhD in innovation, is head of the department of Design Innovation in Maynooth, and teaches creativity right across the campus from undergraduates to PhDs. Aine studied fine art printmaking in NCAD and has been teaching art in the art department of Our Lady's College, Greenhills in Drogheda, for the last 25 years. She has also begun to do etchings again in recent years. "I love teaching. I don't know if I could work on my own all the time, as most full-time artists do. I love working with people, specially creative people. We've a big art department, and a lot of our students go on to do art at third level," the engaging brunette notes.

Aine and Peter, who both hail from Blackrock, Co Dublin, have known each other since their teens, but didn't get together until their late 20s. They have two children Sophie (18) and Will (16). Apart from their sojourn in Denmark, they've mainly lived in south Co Dublin, and have been in their house since 2000; their first house was around the corner. "We used to look at this house and say to each other, 'Wouldn't you love to live there?'" Aine notes, adding, "We could see it from our house. It was bigger than ours; it was in a cul-de-sac; it was on a corner site; you could park in the drive - all the things we didn't have."

When they got the opportunity to buy it, they jumped at it, and have loved it ever since. "The houses were built in 1939. There's a lovely mix of people on the road: students, young families and people in their 90s who've been here since the houses were built," Aine notes.

The downside was the house had hardly been changed since 1939, so Aine and Peter did a bit of renovation in 2005, adding a kitchen and playroom, though the main changes were to the garden. Diarmuid Gavin designed it, and his planting is still thriving - a particular delight is the row of tall Tilia lime trees. "Diarmuid called the Tilia trees our 'hedge in the sky', as when the leaves are in bloom, they prevent us from being overlooked," Aine explains.

Those changes sufficed until 2015, when the kids grew bigger and the couple decided they needed a reorganisation of the space. They decided to completely change the whole house. Together with their architect Patricia Mangan - whom they came across when she did a successful renovation with friends, who sang her praises - they worked out exactly what they wanted. "It all started because Will's bedroom was ridiculously small, then the bathroom was too small for two adults and two teenagers. We also like to buy bits of artwork, mainly prints from the Graphic Studio, and we have some pieces that are very important to us, like a painting by my dad, and we had run out of walls. We also decided we'd like a family room that you could sit in and eat in; a hub, if you like. Then Patricia said that with teenagers you need a few different pods, so we did that, too," Aine explains, adding, "We spent about a year talking to Patricia. She doesn't rush you. She was very open to our suggestions. We'd have a chat, then she'd come back with, say, seven options for downstairs and four options for upstairs, and we'd pick bits of each options. She kept coming back with sketches until we decided on the final design when we were all really happy. It was then she produced the architects' drawings. She's the kind of person who likes to get really involved," Aine enthuses.

The house was four bedroomed; it now has three bedrooms - the master, complete with dressing room and en suite, is over the kitchen extension. "We tried to stick with a single storey extension to avoid a two-storey addition, but it worked best this way," Aine explains. And there are lots of pluses about it, including access from the master bedroom to a roof garden, which offers views of the beautifully landscaped garden below. Subtle but important changes have been made throughout the house - the bathrooms are all very functional and efficient, yet a delight to spend time in; the utility room is now upstairs, and it makes total sense; while the landing has been widened, making it an extremely bright and useful area. Patricia found space for huge amounts of storage, invaluable with two teenagers.She also added many small subtle yet thoughtful features that only a woman would think of; for example, she insisted on a niche at seating level in the shower, as she felt it would be handy for anyone shaving their legs.

The bathroom is entirely new, apart from the fireplace. The bath is from Versatile Bathrooms and the Moroccan-style tiles are from Best in Waterford
The bathroom is entirely new, apart from the fireplace. The bath is from Versatile Bathrooms and the Moroccan-style tiles are from Best in Waterford

However, the most dramatic difference to the house is the edgy kitchen/family hub. It's an entirely new addition, and it's where their creativity and love of design really break through. "I wanted a slightly industrial look, but not cold," says Aine, and with the interesting combination of milky oak floor, stainless-steel units, and Neolith - a man-made material from natural elements - island top, as well as the pop of yellow on a single unit, she has achieved exactly that. Completing the pod qualities of the kitchen/living room is the living area with its leather sofa, and the dining area which is furnished with a mid-century-modern oval table. "There's a funny story about this table," Aine starts off, adding, "We were having 20 people for dinner and we needed a table, and couldn't find anything. Then Peter's brother Dave rang to say he had the perfect table. Dave had it in his garage/shed, it belonged to their uncle Harry O'Hare, a massive figure in their lives, and we could have it for a loan.

I've grown very attached to it, I hope they never want it back. Funnily enough, it was made in Denmark, so two lovely connections, Denmark and family."

Now there's a story Aine can relate when the Danes come to visit.

See studiomarchitects.ie email info@studiomarchitects.ie

Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin

Will opted for a feature wall in his bedroom, where a scene depicts the New York skyline
Will opted for a feature wall in his bedroom, where a scene depicts the New York skyline

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