Monday 19 March 2018

City sanctuary

The balcony off the kitchen, with a table and Panton-style S chairs, is a convivial space.
The balcony off the kitchen, with a table and Panton-style S chairs, is a convivial space.

Amanda Cochrane

Tucked away on an industrial laneway in Dublin 8, the outside of the dwellings known as Moire Moire Moire -- a development of three contemporary mews houses -- appears as a robust and opaque mass.

One of the mews houses is the home of architect Dave O'Shea, his English wife Senta and their son Miles (six). When Dave, of ODOS Architects, was commissioned to design the three new buildings, he had no idea he would end up living in one. He only bought into the project as it was nearing completion.

"We had been looking for a site for a while and one had just fallen through in Blackrock," he explains. "It's been interesting living in a house designed for a client. It's a real test to see whether you would be prepared to live in one of your own designs.

"I understand my clients better now -- since I became a client of this house, I see what it's like to worry. It's no longer just a day job. And the clients [their neighbours] are right next door. You can't get away!"

The industrial setting of the laneway was instrumental in shaping the architectural language of the development. Dave reveals: "It is known as the house with the unknown quality and is an inward-looking house; it turns its back on the laneway."

The name of the buildings stem from a moiré pattern, or an interference pattern, created when two grids are overlaid at an angle. The cantilevered upper section of the building is made of industrial powder-coated metal flooring planks arranged in a structural steel frame.

"These voile-like planks have been laid out in varying widths and have been periodically doubled in depth, which creates the moiré or interference pattern," Dave says.

This effect of the buildings is particularly apparent at night, when the front elevation comes alive and the transparency of each building is revealed as they are lit from within.

Views of foliage and tree tops coming through hint at what lies beyond and it is only as you pass under the front cantilever of the O'Sheas' home, through the powder-coated metal plinth, that the warm, light-filled heart of the building is truly exposed.

Arranged on seven floors with five courtyards, the layout of the house is unusual. As you enter the building, there is a cinema room at entry level, and stairs to the next level arrive at a glossy white kitchen, which is mirrored and bathed in light and leads to a leafy balcony area.

The layout of the house and choice of décor, which combines black painted walls, glossy surfaces and unusual lighting, is not what you might expect in domestic architecture.

"This throws the visitor when they enter the house," Dave readily points out. "It doesn't conform to their normal understanding of how a house should work, but it later implores them to question the status quo."

Looking towards the contemporary design of European buildings for his inspiration, Dave describes the building in gender terms. The exterior of the house -- dark, good-looking and brooding -- is masculine. The interiors -- which play with mirrors, large expanses of sumptuous velvet curtains and tactile surfaces such as polished concrete and Italian marble -- are definitely feminine.

"By day the house is steely and masculine and, perhaps to take on its industrial neighbours, it needs to be that way," Dave explains. "At night, the house becomes much more feminine."

Conceived as a flexible dwelling, the building covers 2,000 square feet. With plenty of open-plan spaces and the use of mirrors, glass and polished concrete flooring throughout, however, it feels significantly more spacious. The secret to the building's success is a series of outdoor rooms and hidden gardens. Featuring bamboo and leafy, scented indigenous plants, the gardens ensure each room has direct natural daylight and ventilation.

Miles's bedroom has its own secret garden, the kitchen has a large balcony complete with outdoor table and chairs, while Senta, who works from home as a copywriter, merely needs to take a couple of steps from her desk to enjoy her personal outdoor space.

It was the gardens and the introduction of plants that convinced Senta this house could work as a family home.

"I am not an architect and, as I don't have that vision, initially I couldn't see myself living here," Senta admits. "There was no furniture, and when I looked around at the house I felt completely numb. But then the plants arrived and suddenly the house felt like a home.

"Sometimes, I think we don't realise the importance of outdoor spaces."

To a great extent, the couple have acted as guinea pigs for Dave's designs, trying out his latest ideas such as the dominant black colour palette used throughout the house.

"I went to a lecture by Peter Zumthor and he talked about an office space that he had painted in black and I was really drawn to the idea," Dave says.

Senta, on the other hand, remained unconvinced. "I was afraid of the black. I didn't think it would work," Senta recalls, "but now I love it; it's really cosy."

ODOS Architects. Tel: 01-672 5300;

Irish Independent

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