It's not always about rows! Meet the architect who became a close friend when he designed neighbour's home
Every architect has ambitions to build his own home from scratch, but few do.
There are many reasons, not least being the scarcity of sites; there's virtually nowhere, particularly in cities and suburbs, to plonk a new build. And then there's the whole 'cobbler's shoes' phenomenon - the cobbler's own shoes were the last to get mended, and ditto with architects; they often put off their own homes while looking after those of others.
Paul Moore was lucky on that last point; he had been doing all commercial work, and it was only after he designed his own stunning home in Hillsborough - his first house design - that he got properly into residential work. In fact, you could say it led him into the area.
Originally from Antrim, Paul says he always wanted to be an architect, though he has no real idea why. "There were no architects in the family. My father had a taxi business; just two hard workers, himself and my mother," he recalls, adding with a laugh, "Lego. It's a bit of a cliche, but I played a lot with Lego. I always built a wee house for my mum."
After finishing school, Paul, the youngest of four, got a place in Queen's University and did his primary degree. He then took three years out and worked with several architects, before going back and finishing his professional qualifications. "It gave me a bit more maturity and made me confirm that I did want to be an architect," he says.
During his time in Queen's, he met his wife, Sue; at the time, Sue was studying for a PhD in English, having done her primary degree in Oxford. "More people from Ireland should apply [to Oxford], we do really well there," says Sue, who's now a freelance writer. "The surroundings were lovely, that was the nicest thing about it; and the rooms were shabby chic, really lovely, with little bedrooms."
One of the highlights of Oxford for her was meeting Seamus Heaney, who was a professor of poetry at the time. "I met him at a dinner, and we got chatting to him about home, and he said, 'I bet your mummy misses you'," Sue says. "I thought that was so sweet and down to earth."
The couple, who met in their rowing club, were introduced by Paul's flatmate, Sean Mc Cann, also an architect. Dorit, Sean's girlfriend, now wife, was a friend of Sue's.
After graduation, while Paul got work in Belfast, Sean went to work in Dublin. After a few years, Sean came back to open a Belfast office for Anthony Reddy Associates, and asked Paul to work with him. Then, in 2007, the two friends decided to set up Mc Cann Moore on their own. "We called that one well," Paul says wryly, referring to the crash of 2008, which hugely affected architects and builders. "We had six staff, but we whittled it quickly down to just Sean and myself, and we've kept it like that ever since. Sean's based in Dublin and I'm in the North."
Until Paul linked up with Sean, he had done mainly commercial work, but for the last 10 years, the two have specialised in extensions, renovations and new houses. "It's a very personal style of architecture rather than commercial, which can be cold and detached," says Paul, "You almost become like a priest. A lot of people like where they live, but their houses don't work for them, and you have to help them to make the most of what they have. It means analysing them and their houses," he explains, adding that clients can be demanding, but that's part of the challenge of the job. "We had one client who always said of the job on her house, 'I want Champagne for the price of beer'. I got them a nice Prosecco in the end."
Paul goes on to explain that people mainly want a good open-plan kitchen with lots of light, and a connection to the outdoors and garden for "the two days of sunshine we get every year," he adds with a laugh.
They have all that and much more in their own lovely home. It's the third house Paul and Sue have owned since they married in 1998. All three have been in Hillsborough, Sue's home place, and where her parents still live. "We were living in Belfast, and not planning to live here as such, but we were looking to move. A friend, an estate agent, was selling a house on the main street here. He was showing someone around the house one day and we went for a mosey," says Paul, adding, "And we loved it. It was a stone-worker's cottage right in the middle of the village, the size of a caravan, perfect for two, and it was brilliant." Not everyone felt the same about it. "The kitchen had an old Aga and a stone floor, and we thought it was just the business," says Paul. "And I remember when my dad came to see it, he said, 'I worked all my life not to have a stone floor in the kitchen'. The reality check."
They loved living in Hillsborough, and two years later, they moved to a bigger house in the village. They had their first two sons there - Archie (now 15) and Freddie (now 13). Rory, the youngest, (now 11) arrived as they were building their current home. What happened was a friend of Sue's parents felt his garden was too big for him, and Paul got outline planning permission for him to build. Then they thought, why not buy the site, and build themselves. Paul did all the design of the house, and Sue, who has an interior design website, did all the interiors. They moved in in 2008, when they had three children under five.
"We made decisions about floors and tiles and the kitchen in 45 minutes, and amazingly they all worked out," Sue says.
With regard to the design, Paul explains that they had to make some compromises, largely due to the orientation of the other house (on the grounds of which their house was being built). He and Sue get the morning sun. "I wanted to get as much light into the house as possible; as much connection to the outside," says Paul.
The house comprises 2,500 square feet, and has four bedrooms upstairs and one en suite. "The one en suite seems to be the en suite for everyone; the boys all pass the main bathroom to get to our good shower," Paul says dryly.
Downstairs there is a huge kitchen/dining/living room with a wall of glass and two big sets of glass doors to the garden; a fifth bedroom; and a sun room with a wall of glass, which slides back to allow access to the courtyard.There are many lovely features, including the welcoming hall, which has light shining through from all four points of the compass, and extra-high ceilings.
Paul's design is cool and contemporary, while Sue's decor adds a quirky, eclectic feel. "I love pops of colour," Sue notes, while Paul adds, "We started off minimalist, but it just evolved."
It's such a perfect house, it's hard to believe it was Paul's first. But it certainly wasn't his last. Not long after they built, a lady came knocking at their door and asked who designed their house. She turned out to be their new next-door neighbour, and she got Paul to design her house, too. And it worked out well - they're all the best of friends. Result.
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine