Wednesday 24 January 2018

Inside the stunning Dublin home of award-winning architect Daire Bracken

 

Daire Bracken with his wife Eimear and their three children - Aoibheann, Tadgh and Liam - in the music room on the ground floor. The arched windows echo the curve of the pitch of the ceiling
Daire Bracken with his wife Eimear and their three children - Aoibheann, Tadgh and Liam - in the music room on the ground floor. The arched windows echo the curve of the pitch of the ceiling
Daire's children, Tadgh and Aoibheann, on the steps - like a stage - of the music room. The masonry stove is built into the bricks. The window faces directly onto the wall of Phoenix Park and one of the front windows is reflected in the expanse of glass. The copper light fittings are made from a disused immersion heater
The house has no garden, but upstairs there's a door to a balcony,where Daire and Eimear sit and enjoy the peace and greenery of the Phoenix Park
Daire in the dining area upstairs. Clever use of space means not an inch is wasted; the window seats double as storage. The floors throughout are concrete.
Mary O'Sullivan

Mary O'Sullivan

The CAO offers will be coming out at the end of the month and students all over the country are in a state of high anxiety waiting to see if they're going to get their first choice, or at least the course they listed as their first choice.

Very often, young people are swayed by their parents, and that's not always a bad thing. Architect Daire Bracken wanted to study music but his parents weren't keen, and so Daire, the middle child of seven, did as they suggested when he was filling in his CAO form back in the day, and put down architecture. "It really made sense once I put the pieces together. I was always drawing," Daire says, adding, "My parents were teachers, and we lived in one of those Georgian houses along the seafront in Monkstown. When my parents bought the place, my grandfather came along and said, 'You'll spend your whole life fixing that place up'. He was absolutely right. I grew up in that kind of environment, where my dad was teaching by day and fixing the house by night, so that gave me a big interest in houses. He's done a lovely job of it," Daire continues, adding with a laugh, "He's still doing it."

Thanks to his qualification in architecture, Daire has, in turn, created a really interesting home for his family, as well as making a living as a practising architect, but his music has been good for him, too. He's a traditional violinist, and it helped him finance his college degree - although his tutors didn't always approve - and it was a great fallback during the recession, when architecture went through the floor. "Music has always been a part of my life. The tutors in college weren't too impressed with the way music interfered with my studies. Typically, during term time, we'd be up all Thursday night, working on projects for Friday. We had amazing tutors, practising architects, most of whom worked full time, who came in on Friday afternoons - and I'd have a gig that night in Ennis," Daire notes with a laugh. "I was missing a lot. I wasn't a model student in college."

Danu, one of the bands Daire was in, had great success in America, and he took time out to travel around the States with them. "The tutors were constantly telling me to go full time as a musician," he notes wryly. "Of all courses, outside of music, architecture is a great one to do; it's so related to music, with the same terminology. Rhythm, scale, form: you'd hear the same words popping up in each."

Daire's children, Tadgh and Aoibheann, on the steps - like a stage - of the music room. The masonry stove is built into the bricks. The window faces directly onto the wall of Phoenix Park and one of the front windows is reflected in the expanse of glass. The copper light fittings are made from a disused immersion heater
Daire's children, Tadgh and Aoibheann, on the steps - like a stage - of the music room. The masonry stove is built into the bricks. The window faces directly onto the wall of Phoenix Park and one of the front windows is reflected in the expanse of glass. The copper light fittings are made from a disused immersion heater

He and his wife Eimear, also a musician - she plays piano and violin - met, in a way, through their shared interest in music. "We met at a MedSoc ball. I was playing in the band; it was my first gig with a band called Slide. I'd just left Danu to go back to college, and Slide, at the time, were more home based. When I came off after the gig, this very good-looking lady came up to me and said, 'What's the story with Danu?' Not the best thing to mention, but we got over it," Daire explains.

That was 1998. Daire completed his architectural qualification, and went on to work with the distinguished architect Professor Cathal O'Neill, and then the OPW. He gave that up when he got the opportunity to go to America again, this time with Slide, but he worked on various architectural projects on his laptop while on the road. "There's a lot to be said for working on projects while on the road; travelling gives you the opportunity to think and develop your designs," says Daire, who is a great admirer of world-renowned architects, Sigurd Lewerentz from Sweden and the American architect Louis Kahn. Daire now works full time with Lafferty architects, and does mainly commercial projects.

However, one residential project close to his heart is the design of the home near the Phoenix Park, which he shares with Eimear, a primary teacher, and their three children: Tadhg (eight) who plays piano and a bit of fiddle; Liam (five) and Aoibheann (two).

He's thrilled that it just recently won one of only four Architectural Association of Ireland (AAI) awards for 2017.

"I designed it as a home for us. I wasn't doing an architectural project as such, so winning the award makes it extra special," Daire observes.

And it was while touring that he got one of the most unusual ideas he subsequently employed in the design of the house. "We were playing in Austria in winter and it was very cold. We went backstage and huddled around this masonry stove; you don't find many of them in Ireland. Essentially, it's a stove that's built into your walls and it heats up all the bricks. I wanted to build that comfort into my house," he explains.

Daire in the dining area upstairs. Clever use of space means not an inch is wasted; the window seats double as storage. The floors throughout are concrete.
Daire in the dining area upstairs. Clever use of space means not an inch is wasted; the window seats double as storage. The floors throughout are concrete.

They bought the house in 2005; it consisted, at the time, of an old cottage and an extension. The cottage was crumbling on the inside, with damp problems. "It wasn't an old cottage you could save; I'd have loved that," Daire notes.

At the time, they were looking for a small starter home. They started off looking on the south side, in Crumlin, but couldn't afford anything there; then they started looking in Cabra, but houses were beyond their price bracket there, too. "We were driving away from a viewing in Cabra and we saw this. On the day we viewed it, it was cold and damp and it was very dark and it didn't seem appealing at all," Daire says. "My wife was like, 'No way'. It wasn't until that night, I started thinking about it. I thought, 'Detached, great from a musician's point of view; Phoenix Park, good location'. Suddenly, it had everything. The ugly veil came off and I thought, 'That's actually a fantastic opportunity'. It was in bad condition. I wouldn't have bought it if I wasn't an architect, but I thought, 'I'm an architect, I can fix it'."

Eimear was happy as long as Daire did everything. They couldn't afford to begin changing things right away, but they lived in the house until the time was right, and that was September 2015. Daire feels it was a good thing they had to wait, as it gave himself and Eimear time to think about what they'd like.

According to Daire, it was also a fantastic opportunity in terms of design. The whole cottage had to be demolished, and he had free rein to redesign the living space. Two of the three bedrooms are in the existing extension, which was in relatively good nick and didn't need to be touched.

The kitchen is on the upper floor. The units, made of marine-ply sheeting, were built on site. Between the trusses and the ceiling there are windows to allow light in. The little light bricks just above the units are an interesting addition
The kitchen is on the upper floor. The units, made of marine-ply sheeting, were built on site. Between the trusses and the ceiling there are windows to allow light in. The little light bricks just above the units are an interesting addition

The downstairs was dark, so he reversed the living areas and put the kitchen upstairs. With four windows, it's full of light. The whole extension, both inside and outside, is made of brick; the floors are all poured concrete, and the units are all made of marine-ply sheeting. Clever use of space means that not an inch is wasted; for example, the window seats for the children double as storage. Everything was done on site.

Of course, inevitably for two musicians, music takes pride of place, and virtually the whole ground floor is devoted to a music room, and that's where the brick fire is, too. So there is no shortage of sessions in this house, and no one has to huddle around the fire to be warm.

The house has no garden, but upstairs there's a door to a balcony,where Daire and Eimear sit and enjoy the peace and greenery of the Phoenix Park
The house has no garden, but upstairs there's a door to a balcony,where Daire and Eimear sit and enjoy the peace and greenery of the Phoenix Park

For more on Daire's house design, see the RIAI's house+design magazine, issue 02, 2017

Edited by Mary O'Sullivan

Photography by Tony Gavin

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