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Behind the scenes: How to guide a period property gently into the 21st century

How do you guide a period property gently into the 21st century? Architect Colm Doyle shows Nathalie Marquez Courtney how to blend the charm of the old with the convenience of the new. Photos by Ruth Maria Murphy

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Herbert Park Residence

Herbert Park Residence

Ruth Maria Murphy

Herbert Park Residence

Herbert Park Residence

Ruth Maria Murphy

Herbert Park Residence

Herbert Park Residence

Ruth Maria Murphy

Herbert Park Residence

Herbert Park Residence

Ruth Maria Murphy

Herbert Park Residence

Herbert Park Residence

Ruth Maria Murphy

Herbert Park Residence

Herbert Park Residence

Ruth Maria Murphy

Herbert Park Residence

Herbert Park Residence

Ruth Maria Murphy

Herbert Park Residence

Herbert Park Residence

Ruth Maria Murphy

Herbert Park Residence

Herbert Park Residence

Ruth Maria Murphy

Herbert Park Residence

Herbert Park Residence

Ruth Maria Murphy

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Herbert Park Residence

While the romantic allure of a period property appeals to many, like any good love story, it comes with its fair share of drama: from the costly restoration to finding a way to balance maintaining the character and charm of the original design with the practical needs of modern family living.

This was the challenge that faced architect Colm Doyle when he and the team at DMVF (dmvf.ie) were commissioned to renovate and extend an Edwardian house in south Dublin. "The owners loved the original house and wanted to be respectful to it," says Colm. "It had been well loved and cared for, but was a bit tired and in need of updating."

When you purchase a property of this age, be prepared to find things like dry rot, roof panels in need of replacement and a few leaks, not to mention re-wiring and re-plumbing - they are an almost inevitable part of the package. "These are all relatively regular things that you can expect to find in old protected structures," points out Colm.

Old meets new

For some, it's a small price to pay for what you get in return - beautifully proportioned rooms and a rich design heritage to draw from, which you can use when planning any new additions. In this case, the original house featured a lot of fine brick detailing. You could take that as an opportunity to recreate faithfully a tasteful extension with similar materials, or be more loosely inspired and go with something modern. Here, they did both.

A panel of hit-and-miss brickwork shows off the traditional material in a fun, fresh way, while its hue is carried up and on to an angular, slanted metal roof. "The old tiles were a kind of red clay, and so we wanted to do a similarly coloured roof, referencing the old one but in a modern way," explains Colm. The huge chimney stack of the original house is echoed by a large new chimney stack that forms the heart of the extension as well as being home to a sleek and stylish covered terrace barbecue - not something the Edwardians would have had a lot of.

There are a few well-worn challenges to face when adding a contemporary extension to a period property, not least of which is maximising the available light in the new without sacrificing light in the old. Get it wrong, and you'll end up with a bright, light box of an extension that everyone gravitates towards and a series of wasted, dark and pokey rooms at the front of the property. There are a few clever ways to avoid this happening.

"The rear garden is east facing, so it was a slightly difficult orientation," Colm points out. High level windows, including a clever, triangular design, ensure light floods in to the extension from all angles.

But what of the main house? "It was very important to us that the reception room held on to its external window and continued to get light," says Colm. Instead of simply merging the original reception room with the new extension, they made the decision to keep the external window, designing things so it looks out over a pretty courtyard, still catches the light and functions as it always has done.

"When you enter and come around the corner at the bottom of the stairs, you're getting a view through to the kitchen, dining room and straight out to the garden - so you're all the time getting a view of light."

All of the essential services - utility room, boot room, pantry and downstairs loo - were put deep in the plans and zoned to the darkest parts of the house.

Modern family

It's crucial that any period property renovation takes into account the practicalities of modern life. This house is home to three young children, and so, in the boot room everybody has their own locker with their name on it. "School bags, sports gear, equipment - it's really important that all that stuff has a place to go," says Colm.

The extension is also kitted out to be family friendly. Discreet storage units wrap around the base of the chimney stack - easy places to stash things like kids' books, toys and board games - and there's even a drawer in the kitchen island that doubles as a charging station for phones and tablets.

Many families lust after these big open-plan extensions, but Colm warns that they need to be cleverly designed to be comfortable so that everyone in them isn't on top of each other (never more important than in these stay-at-home times).

"So many of our clients want open-plan spaces, but it's important to try to separate them into distinct zones, each with its own ceiling height and own feeling," he says. "You need to have ways of closing off spaces instead of just having one massive open plan."

Photo finishes

Choosing decor and finishes for a period property can leave many people stumped. This house was built in the picturesque Arts and Crafts style, which placed huge value on quality craftsmanship and natural materials. Using that as a touchstone ensured that the new additions honoured the spirit that the original property was built in.

Though undoubtedly modern, the raw oak floor planks, a quiet colour palette and an elegant timber kitchen (hand-crafted and hand-painted by Rhatigan & Hick) ensure the transition from old to new isn't a jarring one. "For us, it was about playing with traditional materials but in a fresh way, so referencing back to the original architecture and intent but still be modern at the same time," says Colm.

A cool bent plywood light fixture, sourced by interior designers Ryle + Company, adds another contemporary twist. Like so much of the house, it's a lesson in expertly blending the old with the new. "You can be respectful to the original design while still having some fun with it."

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