Sunday 19 November 2017

Let there be light: At home with a houseologist

Architect and 'houseologist' Eva Byrne created her own home in south Dublin 11 years ago, which is a testimony to her interior design mantra of light, space and storage.

Architect Eva Byrne in the living area of the large open-plan ground floor of her town house in Dublin 4. The cabinet near the window is a recycled shop unit, while the black leather chairs from Habitat are 14 years old and in perfect condition. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Architect Eva Byrne in the living area of the large open-plan ground floor of her town house in Dublin 4. The cabinet near the window is a recycled shop unit, while the black leather chairs from Habitat are 14 years old and in perfect condition. Photo: Tony Gavin.
The dining table seats 12 and was made by Chris Boyle. Eva has a matching table in the kitchen area, and, when they are entertaining large numbers, they join the two tables together. The white chairs are by Arne Jacobsen. Photo: Tony Gavin.
This room was recently transformed from a bedroom to a hanging-out area for Eva's teenage children. The Fleapit, as Eva calls the area, leads onto a south facing terrace. Photo: Tony Gavin.
The en suite is compact, but has everything you could need in a bathroom
The master bedroom is now in the newly added third floor. The vintage gilt mirror is a family heirloom. ’It was presented to my grandfather by his men in the Army in the 1950s,’ Eva says
Mary O'Sullivan

Mary O'Sullivan

Musical instruments are prominent in Eva Byrne's home – a harp, a double bass and a piano all catch the eye on entering her D4 town house, and first impressions suggest the home of a musician. While Eva is musical, however, and plays the piano, by profession she's an architect. But, then, as the German philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, said: "Architecture is music in space, as if it were frozen music."

Words feature large in Eva's home, too – from a particularly eye-catching lamp hangs myriad love notes in different languages, and there's one extremely large art work that bears the legend "Re-organizing the Signage Again". And, in a way, this very sign goes to the heart of the way that Eva practises her profession. She doesn't design buildings, she doesn't do building-site visits, and she doesn't work with builders.

What she does is very precise, yet incredibly valuable – she visits houses and consults with clients who know they're not getting the best out of their homes in terms of light, space and storage, and she helps them to reorganise. It's often because, as Eva says, a lot of houses are still badly designed, and storage is rarely given the importance it deserves.

Over a two-hour period, Eva listens to her clients' house issues, works out a series of possible solutions with them, generates ideas, and draws up a simple and workable plan for them to act on.

The idea is to modify their living spaces, but only to suggest additional building work when necessary.

Eva usually only does two-hour consultations, but, on Saturday, she will be giving one-hour consultations at the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (RIAI) offices in aid of the Simon Open Door event.

Eva's website – www.houseology.ie – which bears the von Schelling quote, is full of glowing testimonials from happy customers, and some have invited her back to see how they executed her suggestions.

"I had a lovely episode recently," Eva enthuses. "A woman, who had a lovely house, but a dark kitchen, which gave on to a plastic-covered area. It was all dark and miserable. I just saw a Mediterranean courtyard. I said: 'Make the kitchen window bigger, paint the courtyard white, and use blue.' I left her with a plan and a photo of a blue chair from the Aran Islands, and I said, 'This is your inspiration', and she transformed it."

Not only is Eva amply qualified on a professional level to deliver this service, but she also has an extensive amount of personal experience on which to draw. Due to the constantly changing needs of her family, she's always tweaking and modifying the impressive home she shares with her husband, Gerard Carty, who is also an architect, and their two teenagers, Oscar, 15, and Vita, 14. In recent years, these changing needs even resulted in an unusual extension to the house – Eva built on top, transforming it from a two-storey building to a three-storey one.

Eva, who comes from Glasnevin, and Offaly-born Gerard met through architecture in college, though they weren't in the same class. "I took the scenic route," Eva says, adding with a laugh, "I'm still taking the scenic route." She's referring to the fact that, after working both here and abroad – the couple spent three years in Seville – and even starting her own practice, Eva gave up full-time employment in favour of staying at home when her children were small. "I was working as a regular architect when Oscar was born, though I went part time. When Vita came along, I gave up to stay at home with them. I always said I'd give up if I had kids. I know it's old-fashioned, but that's what I wanted," she says firmly.

Being at home with the children had many upsides, not least the gathering of intimate knowledge of how families use their homes. "It's like a PhD in house design," Eva says. "I wouldn't be doing the work I do if I hadn't done it.

"It completely informs you about all the things I advise about – light, space and storage. If the house works, it's going to help the dynamic of a family, and, if it doesn't work, it's just chaos."

Eva notes that 95 per cent of her consultations are about creating one major space, incorporating kitchen, dining and living.

Her mission in life is to scrape the kitchen away from the window – that way you get a better use of space.

"People's needs still aren't being met," she says. "They are still building houses the way they did in the 19th Century. You've got your hallway, with the stairs. Now, where is the storage for your coat, your bag, your shoes?"

The couple built their own house in Dublin 4 in 2003 – Eva came up with the concept, while Gerard, who works for the multi-award-winning Grafton Architects, and who works on building design here, as well as in London, Paris and Toulouse, executed the plan. While the first floor is fairly traditionally laid out, with bedrooms and bathrooms, the downstairs is one enormous, open-plan space. Eva explains that their design defies many of the conventional wisdoms of architecture, yet it works, in terms of the three concepts closest to her heart – light, space and storage.

"The room is 16 metres deep, with windows at either end. Five metres is the rule of thumb," Eva explains carefully. Her strategy was to make the ceiling rather higher than is the norm – three metres, rather than the usual 2.4 metres – and to provide slots of light where possible, as well as the two expanses of glass at either end.

The area is subtly divided into three separate spaces – the area to the front is for relaxing. In the middle, there's a long table, which seats 12 and can be used for working on or dining, while, to the back, is the kitchen area, which also has a table, but it's all specifically designed to be flexible.

The middle is plumbed, so, if they wanted, the kitchen could be moved there – the bulthaup kitchen units are all on castors. There are sliding doors, meaning the areas can be separated off.

"If we're entertaining and there's a panic in the kitchen, we can close them," Eva jokes. Because the back of the house is north-facing, they built a south-facing terrace on the first floor to the front of the house, outside what was the master bedroom and office.

Then, two years ago, they transformed that area into what Eva calls the Fleapit – an area specifically for the two teenagers and their friends – and broke into the attic and beyond, and designed a new master bedroom en suite.

None of the bedrooms are particularly big, but, thanks to Eva's clever ideas, every possible inch of space is maximised for storage – even the headboards of the children's beds.

Functionality is extremely important, but so, too, are aesthetics – art and beauty are a huge part of Eva's style, and she's constantly moving her furniture and her art works to get the maximum benefit from them.

"I'm constantly changing the house. It's important to realise that it can be easy to make changes. I suppose you could say my family is enjoying a permanent consultation," she says.

For more information on Eva's consultations, see www.houseology.ie

The RIAI Simon Open Door takes place next weekend, on May 10 and 11. For more information, see www.simonopendoor.ie

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