Monday 27 January 2020

Construction is on the upturn - here are the must-read books on house design, renovations, interiors and more

Construction is on the upturn, but this surge in new housing also needs to be accompanied by quality contemporary design

TV's Dermot Bannon offers tips on improving your home
TV's Dermot Bannon offers tips on improving your home
Deirdre Conroy

Deirdre Conroy

The alternative housing crisis that has plagued Ireland for decades is sadly evident in the poorly designed one-off housing in rural scenic spots. Design needs to take precedence in the surge for new housing.

With construction on the upturn, this appraisal looks at a variety of Irish and international books on house design, renovations, interiors, historic conservation and decorative craftsmanship. These books encourage better-quality contemporary design in a local context. Each publication is available from the RIAI (Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland) bookshop on Merrion Square, where you will also find catalogues from practices such as Henchion+Reuter (Barrack Lane Press, €18.00) and practical examples of new work in the RIAI journal House + Design (€4.75).

With the Living City Initiative providing tax benefits to restore pre-1914 houses, the go-to bible is Frank Keohane's Irish Period Houses (Dublin Civic Trust, €45). This is an updated version of Keohane's pioneering conservation guidance manual (2001), with all the explanatory detail you will need on brick, ironwork, joinery, stone, windows and much more. Keohane's practical approach takes the mystery out of repair and restoration.

Still with historic craftsmanship, Christine Casey, associate professor in architectural history at Trinity College Dublin, has launched Making Magnificence (Yale University Press, €60), a chronicle of immigrant stuccodores in Europe and Ireland. This epic tome has been in the making for 10 years. Whilst we are familiar with the work of the Swiss Lafranchini brothers at Russborough, Castletown and Carton, Christine has traversed Europe in search of stuccatori whose work adorns Palladian and neo-classical mansions.

Two celebrity architects have published resourceful guides on why good design is fundamental to living well. Harmony and serenity in your living space has a calming effect. In Love Your Home (Gill & Macmillan, €22.99) Dermot Bannon, host of RTE's Room to Improve since 2007, demonstrates the potential benefits in house-hunting and home improvements. Packed with tips, the extensive illustrations will inspire homeowners.

In Rooms (Hachette, €26), Declan O'Donnell, architect and judge on RTE's Home of the Year, challenges you to de-clutter and re-cycle underused rooms, neglected hallways and impractical kitchens. Rooms focuses on the minutiae of elements that make a house a desirable home.

The coastal villas and small houses in Built By The Sea, edited by Julie Cirelli (Arvinius & Orfeus, €48) are a testament to the work of Norwegian architects, Lund Hagem. One hundred years ago, Norway and Ireland were Europe's two poorest countries. The frugal life has translated into a certain puritanical approach to design, evident in the organic architecture, scattered around fjords and inlets. Each dwelling is unique to the natural topography of the site, with clever approaches and using materials that reflect the landscape. This approach would vastly improve coastal, riverside and lakeside house design in Ireland.

When it comes to alterations in your townhouse, particularly where space is a challenge, Richard Wilcock's Renovations (RIBA Publishing, €43) is an inspirational design primer. Tackling low-energy retro-fits, solutions to storage and design techniques for tiny terraces, this book records award-winning residential projects by various British architects.

It is a common misunderstanding that windows in 'passive house' design must be small in order to maintain low energy. Inspiring projects in Introduction to Passive House (RIBA Publishing, €38) contradict that notion. Justin Bere, advocate of ecological and environmental design, completed London's first passive house in Camden in 2010. He believes the construction industry needs leadership from skilled architects to produce buildings that are comfortable and energy efficient.

Starting with a bible, I conclude with some prayers. Architectural critic Shane O'Toole has just published One Hundred & One Hosannas for Architecture (Gandon Editions, RIAI, €20). His essays on Irish architecture were written between 1999-2016, but discuss the renovation of such 1970s icons as the Ronnie Tallon-designed Goulding summerhouse in Enniskerry (on which I worked as project manager). He chronicles an unprecedented period of activity in Irish architecture and his knowledge of international practice provides him with a platform to challenge what passes for design. This slim volume is a perfect travel companion and informative guide to the best of our buildings in the past two decades.

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