Friday 20 April 2018

Take advantage ... it's a client's market

Architects have been among the hardest hit by the property crash, with almost half of graduates unemployed. Now is the time to take advantage of their experience and make the most of your home. Susan Daly reports

Architects Grainne Dunne and Nicola Ryan in the two storey extension they designed and project managed at a private family home in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin
Architects Grainne Dunne and Nicola Ryan in the two storey extension they designed and project managed at a private family home in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin

ARCHITECTURE has been one of the most unfortunate victims of the property bust. Long-standing firms that have weathered the storm so far are struggling to keep busy and many have been forced to let go highly trained staff.

Setting up a new design practice in such an inhospitable climate might seem brave at best. Nicola Ryan and Grainne Dunne did just that, however, establishing their Studio Red practice in 2008.

"The first few years of a company are always going to be hard," says Dunne, "but as it turns out, if we had stayed with a larger company, we would definitely be unemployed now, or in another country."

The 30-year-olds had spent several years working in larger practices before they decided to set up their partnership.

The saving grace for their new company has been the pair's willingness to adapt their skills to a range of projects, large and modest.

"It really is a good time for clients," says Dunne. "We have to have a happy client because our next project depends on that.

"That can be said for every architect out there and that might not always have been the case."

People sometimes dismiss the thought of using an architect unless they're looking at a large-scale new-build, but an architect can be invaluable in reimagining the use of an existing space.

"Houses have to last now," says Ryan. "If people are going to stay there for 20, 30 years, the house needs to grow with them. We have to see all the different roles that house will play in that family's life."

It is what Dunne calls "future-proofing" -- literally, a design for life.

"You don't know if your mom is going to be in a wheelchair in 10 years' time and living with you; you don't know if your kids are going to be rugby monsters and need somewhere to dump all their mucky stuff," says Dunne.

When the pair enter a prospective client's house, they ask that the place not be tidied up beforehand.

They want to see how the household operates and identify what changes they can make to the light, space and flow of the rooms to improve the quality of living.

While redesigning and adding a two-storey extension to a 1930s redbrick house on York Road in Dun Laoghaire, for example, storage was a clear problem for the family who live there.

"In their new open-living plan, we used a lot of fitted furniture, lots of shelving, we used any kind of recesses or nooks in the rooms. It was bespoke and, despite what people think, bespoke doesn't cost the world."

As labour and material costs have dropped across the board, Dunne and Ryan are able to secure quality craftspeople and the finest building materials for about half of what it would have cost in boom times.

It's a similar story on a kitchen renovation the pair designed for a house on Whitebeam Road in Milltown. All is air and light thanks to new double doors, rooflights and a shadow gap around the bottom of the walls which replaces the skirting board and makes the wall appear to float.

The ingenuity in the design also proved hugely economical. "The brief was that they wanted an extension for a living, utility and kitchen area," says Dunne.

"We did a survey and drew what we thought would work and we said: 'You've got buckets of space, you actually don't need an extension'."

Friends and former classmates at DIT Bolton, where they earned first-class honours degrees, it's clear Ryan and Dunne share a passion for making good design available on all budgets. They see the role of the architect expanding rather than contracting with the tough times.

"People think you're going to do them a drawing and then they're on their own and terrified," says Dunne.

"No. We'll liaise with the builders to make sure the contract is completed as agreed. We'll advise you what heating system to put in, and so on.

"For example, we would have researched maybe 30 window companies, looking at price, how the window performs, how it looks. People are so vulnerable out there trying to do this stuff on their own. We take away that worry."

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Irish Independent

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