Thursday 18 July 2019

A fairytale home with an elliptical shape, which inspires the question: why do most of us live in rectangles?

Ballingaddy West Ennistymon, Co Clare

Asking price: €370,000

Agent: DNG O'Sullivan Hurley (065) 684 0200

The main bedroom at Ballingaddy West in Clare, which has dormer windows cut out of the thatch, has Irish blessings inscribed into the beams of the vaulted ceiling
The main bedroom at Ballingaddy West in Clare, which has dormer windows cut out of the thatch, has Irish blessings inscribed into the beams of the vaulted ceiling
The sitting room with limestone fireplace centrepiece
One of the bedrooms with a vaulted ceiling
The elm-wood kitchen
The house comes with a thatched roof and studio to the side
The main bathroom with a Jacuzzi

Eithne Tynan

The bushcraft and survival expert Ray Mears was asked about his favourite type of house-building. He mentioned yurts and mud huts and had special praise for igloos. But generally, he maintained, it's all about the shape.

"Any time I come across people who live in round houses, they seem far happier than people who live in rectangles," said Mears. If he's right, then why do almost all of us live in rectangles?

Humans have been living in round houses since at least the Bronze Age, all over the world. If you want to, you can find convincing replicas of the native version at Craggaunowen open-air museum in Clare. And an elliptical shape was certainly good enough for Vespasian when he was having the Colosseum built in the first century AD.

Consider the advantages: rounded structures are more aerodynamic, which means the wind puts less stress on the building over time, and this should also make for fewer draughts. They offer the maximum interior space per metre of wall, the mathematical properties of a circle being what they are. And they look more natural in the environment.

The house comes with a thatched roof and studio to the side
The house comes with a thatched roof and studio to the side

At Ballingaddy West, near Ennistymon in Clare, is an elliptical house surrounded by much more orthodox rectangular neighbours, so this would be a good place to put Mears' happiness theory to the test.

It was built over four years in the 1990's as a labour of love by Noel McMahon, a local plumbing contractor (it has a 'flush fireplace' with a cistern of water for getting rid of the ashes). He was assisted by his brother in law, a carpenter who crafted the extraordinary bespoke timber and furniture. The house is located on an elevated site with long views of the countryside towards Lahinch Golf Club.

So it's not only a well rounded house, it's also thatched and rough-plastered, (giving off strong hints of Middle Earth), and the stone lintels above its windows and door give it a heavy-browed, slightly cross look. It's the sort of house, in fact, where you might be sitting just before tea, minding your own business, when a hobbit would ring the doorbell, and then another, and then two more, and then another four and another four and finally Gandalf, leaning on his staff and blowing smoke rings before flushing the fireplace.

Luckily, there's enough space here even for an unexpected party of adventurers. As well as the main house, there's also a detached studio on the grounds - also elliptical in shape and also thatched. The studio has two main rooms and a bathroom, which you might use for housing guests.

But back to the main house and inside the wooden front door to the entrance hall, where there's a pine floor, a beamed ceiling and an open-tread stairs leading to the first-floor dormer level, rough-hewn from solid wood. The hall sets the tone for the rest of the house, and you'll find old-style fixtures such as carriage lanterns, beamed ceilings, wood-panelled walls and cast-iron radiators throughout.

The main reception room on the ground floor is a living room left of the entrance hall, measuring some 20ft by 14ft, with four shuttered windows along its curved wall looking out over the view. The centrepiece of the room is the fireplace, fashioned from a slab of limestone said to have come directly from the nearby Burren.

The sitting room with limestone fireplace centrepiece
The sitting room with limestone fireplace centrepiece

Right of the entrance hall is the eat-in kitchen, also with a wooden floor and a beamed ceiling. The kitchen is of elm wood, custom-made to obey the curve of the house, and the room also has a black solid-fuel stove next to the dining table. The kitchen has a separate utility room with fitted cabinets and a tiled splashback.

On the ground floor there's the main bathroom, partly tiled and partly wood-panelled, with a shuttered window and a corner jacuzzi bath. There's a second bathroom, this time with a shower and steam room, on the first floor, and this is where the three bedrooms can also be found. All three bedrooms have wood floors, walls half-panelled in painted wood, and old-style cast-iron radiators. The main bedroom has dormer windows cut out of the thatch and a vaulted ceiling with Irish blessings inscribed into the sturdy beams.

You might make a fourth bedroom in the adjacent studio, where there's a monastic-looking room with a full-height ceiling, rough-plastered white walls, a round window and skylight. In total, you've got 1,466 sq ft of curved interior space to work with here, with gas-fired central heating and a C3 energy rating. And to top it off, the thatched house also has has an eyecatching water feature outside. So what was the inspiration behind Noel's truly unique home?

"Well I love the greyhound racing. And to be honest I always fancied a house in the shape of a greyhound track."

The elm-wood kitchen
The elm-wood kitchen

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