Thursday 21 February 2019

Our dream family home turned out to be the house next door

Alja Kramberger and her daughters in the kitchen of their modernised Edwardian redbrick
Alja Kramberger and her daughters in the kitchen of their modernised Edwardian redbrick
Large roof lights in the extension allow light to flood in
The beautifully proportioned front reception room
The elegant entrance hall

Barbara Egan

Alja Kramberger was renting a house in Dublin with her husband and two young daughters when they spotted the lovely Edwardian redbrick home beside them was for sale.

“We had grown out of our smaller Victorian home nearby and sold it, but with the housing market uncertain at that time, we decided to rent for a year and see what would happen next,” says Alja.

“We love period homes, but learnt that they need careful planning to bring them up to modern comfort levels,” Alja explains. “We really liked this neighbourhood and the architecture of the house. The fact that it was really an empty shell was a plus for us as it gave us a blank canvas to work with.”

The two large reception rooms on the ground floor were already beautiful in proportion and period feature, and just needed refinishing, but the existing kitchen was a tiny galley, with a flat-roofed extension tacked on the end.

“I envisaged a very modern kitchen for modern living, but I love the original features of the house, so it was a case of carefully blending the modern with the existing style,” says Alja.

The couple went to the architect Stefan Hoeckenreiner of Ambient Architecture ( for the renovation. “We had worked with Stefan before on the renovation of our last house and were really impressed with his ideas and creativity,” says Alja. “We also both found him very easy to work with — he was very receptive to our ideas and needs.”

Stefan designed a complete reconfiguration of the house with a large kitchen/dining extension to the rear to replace the galley kitchen and flat-roofed extension. The room can be opened to the garden with large-scale folding doors, creating an outdoor room in summer.

The rear reception room became a TV room, and timber panels in the dividing doors between the two reception rooms were replaced with glass. Large roof lights and clerestory lighting in the extension allowed light to flood in.

The layout of the first-floor bedroom remained unchanged, but in the return on the half-level, Alja wanted to create a large, elegant bathroom. As the existing area was a little too large for a bathroom, it was an ideal location for the couple’s large book collection.

At the top of the house, Stefan modelled a generous attic bedroom with ensuite out of the attic space. “We needed a comfortable guest room for visiting friends and family from my native Germany,” says Alja. A small room on the half-level return became a laundry room.

“We planned the whole house very carefully with Stefan’s help to work well and be comfortable and easy to use and live in. We use every room in the house, which I think is very important. It’s a wonderful house, a real pleasure to come home to.”

Home Truths

My favourite thing: The Bling Chandelier (Robert Abbey via in the front reception room. As the house is generally quite understated, it adds a touch of indulgent luxury.

Best buy: The mirrors and moulding (supplied by The Old Mould Company, above both reception room fireplaces. They are simple but very effective and cost very little.

Design tip: In a large kitchen/dining space, installing a galley kitchen on a single wall with a bench worktop instead of a solid island opens up the space. Alja put the hob on the workbench so you can face into the room while cooking and chat to family and friends.

Colour warning: Strong colours can be stunning, but in a narrow space can darken and appear to bring in the walls. Alja used white to dado rail height in the hall to avoid this — it works equally well with the colour at the bottom and white above too.

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