How do we add a new extension to our traditional farmhouse?
Q We have inherited our 100-year-old family home, which is a traditional two-up, two-down rural farmhouse. How do we best adapt it to meet the needs of our young family?
A Old farmhouses that occupy the most rural parts of Ireland are some of the best examples of vernacular architecture we have. They were always sited correctly to maximise orientation, built to an appropriate scale and detailed with beautiful simplicity. In the latter decades of the 20th century we started to lose our way and the beauty of our countryside was blighted by a rapid increase in suburban-style bungalows and oversized mansions. With that in mind, I am delighted that you have decided to restore your old family home and help enhance a rich legacy of Irish architecture.
The first thing to ask yourself is how the farmhouse has been modified over the years. If any extensions were added, then my first piece of advice would be to strip those away to reveal the original farmhouse.
In more recent years, it would also be typical for old farmhouses to have been modified with the addition of sand and cement render. If this is the case it is important to replace it with a lime-based render and restore the breathability of the built fabric.
Another fundamental step you must take is to ventilate and insulate the house. Again, to ensure breathability, insulation products like wood fibreboard and hemp-based solutions are most suitable.
To properly assess the house in this regard, as well as deal with any defects such as rising damp or structural issues, I'd recommend consulting a local architect and engineer, who can also guide you in terms of the planning permission process.
Now for the exciting part of the project; how best to use and adapt your space?
It is likely you'll need to extend the property to meet the needs of a young family, and your architect will be able design a solution that fits your specific brief. The key though is to be brave here and embrace a sharp contemporary addition. It's important to define the old from the new and honour the integrity of the traditional farmhouse. Expressing a clear line of separation can be done in several ways but something as simple as a frameless glass link works well.
For the extension, a good approach is to take inspiration from simple forms commonly found in our rural architecture, and remember that this is an opportunity to really push boundaries in terms of modern material choices and elegant detailing. Keeping the overall form simple ensures that it complements the existing farmhouse. Also think of courtyards and large sliding doors to create a strong connection between the house and the garden.
Be open-minded about spatial arrangements too and really challenge yourself to consider how best to use the space in the existing house. It is not uncommon for houses of this era to have a low roofline, so if this is the case, consider opening up the interior of the farmhouse and incorporating a mezzanine space and a large roof light. This approach can really accentuate the beautiful proportions of the building and be a way of celebrating the retention of the old house.
Consider making subtle changes to the existing window openings to incorporate frameless glazing and perhaps even a large contemporary window box to the south. The deep reveals, also common in old farmhouses, will lend themselves perfectly to generous window seats so you can sit and enjoy those beautiful countryside views.
Building is complex so work with a registered architect. You can find a registered architect on riai.ie, the registration body for architects in Ireland.
Gareth Sullivan is an MRIAI architect with Simply Architecture in Cork; simplyarchitecture.ie
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