Wednesday 18 September 2019

Dermot Bannon's top advice on starting the design process

Dermot Bannon at his home. Pic by Naomi Gaffey/VIP
Dermot Bannon at his home. Pic by Naomi Gaffey/VIP
Dermot Bannon design in Donabate, Co. Dublin
Sun filled courtyard
Letting light in

When starting from scratch with a new building, getting the most you can from the design is the best foundation

Reader question

Dear Dermot,

I am building a mews house to tie in with an existing new-build that my daughter and her husband built. They have a three-acre site near Slane with views for 20km.

This is my retirement project and I wanted to get my head around what I would like before I approached an architect. I would love to have the project critiqued with regard to the design, how to stay in keeping with the existing house and the area, the type of building (I was thinking timber frame) and finishes.

I would be very grateful for any advice you can give.

Pauline, Meath

Dermot replies...

Dear Pauline,

What a fantastic opportunity to build your own home, on a wonderful site and so close to your family. It's great to be in such close proximity to your daughter yet with the independence of your own house.

One of the first and most important things I would consider is the positioning of your house to give both you and your daughter privacy. With a great site and fantastic views it's really important that you create a little outside space of your own, so the positioning of your building will be key to that.

You need to draw your daughter's house onto a plan showing their driveway, where they park, their outside patio area, your driveway (if it's shared) and where you park and a couple of spaces for visitors' cars.

Once you have all these on, I would position your building to shield yourself from all of these with the intention of creating a private house for you and, more importantly, a really secluded outside space.

Try to imagine the relationship between your house and your daughter's as a mini settlement - like a group of farm buildings which will create a series of outside courtyards or rooms.

The fact that you have views for 20km is great but I can see from the photos you provided that the site is quite elevated and exposed.

With that view, you want to create a really sheltered spot for yourself to make the most of it. To create a good outside area you will need to focus on providing shelter. Find out where the prevailing wind is coming from, and use your building and some planting to form a shield.

I know I have looked at the outside spaces first, which may seem unusual, but if you can site your building correctly, the rest will fall into place. With the house sited, you then need to capture the light and views into the living space. Put your living and dining in the best spot, with the kitchen overlooking them so the whole house flows.

You have said in your e-mail that this is a house to retire to - this is really important when it comes to planning your layout as you may spend a lot more time in the house during the day than you would when you are working. I would use the light to create a few different spaces throughout the day. Facing east, I would place your bedroom so you can finally have those lazy mornings or breakfast in bed in the sunshine without having to rush out the door; perhaps have a little nook that gets the sun in the mid-morning to enjoy a coffee; a living space that enjoys the sun all day long as you may have visitors dropping in at any time during the day, and not just in the evening like before. Write out a wish list of all the things you want to do in the house throughout the day and let the design be informed by these.

You asked how to be in keeping with the local area and the existing house. I would look at a really simple palate as your daughter has used a lot of stone in her house, so you could use a simple render which will contrast the stone but be in keeping with the local vernacular buildings in the area. Meath County Council has a really good publication, Meath Rural House Design Guide, which can be downloaded from its website,

With regards to the finishings on windows, doors and other materials, I would keep it really simple. If you use a render, I would use a simple slate roof and aluclad or hardwood windows.

Colours are subjective but this is where you could tie it back to your daughter's house to make it feel like a collection of buildings as opposed to two individual houses.

With regards to the construction of your house and whether to use a timber frame or not, this has recently become more complicated as the construction method of your house will have a direct influence on your BER rating, so different types of construction suit different buildings and sites. Your architect will be able to discuss all of this with you.

I think if you can think through all of these you will be really well prepared for your project, but do try not to have too many pre-conceived ideas as these may leave you less open to the perfect solution for you and the site.

The design process is a wonderful journey and you should enjoy it - good luck with the project.

It's all about location

If you can site your building to create a sheltered sunny space outside, the rest will fall into place. Get this wrong, and it's very difficult to fix

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