The art of adding space and light
A Victorian villa in a dark and spooky corner of Dublin 6 was transformed by adding an elegant extension with an ingenious 'secret' courtyard. Nathalie Marquez Courtney pays a house call. Photographs by Ros Kavanagh. Portrait by Nathalie Marquez Courtney
Walking around this light-filled Victorian villa in Ranelagh, with its graceful red-brick front and airy, innovative, all-white extension, it's hard to imagine it was once known as "a spooky corner".
"People would hurry past it," laughs homeowner Lynda Mulvin. An old, overgrown hedge, dead from the inside, spilled out on to the footpath adding to the creepy feel. "It was quite an oppressive, dark corner."
Spooky on the outside - but full of potential on the inside, with a long back garden that was crying out for a smart extension. "The garden has an interesting orientation, and it's not what you'd immediately choose," says architect Valerie Mulvin, of McCullough Mulvin Architects, who also happens to be Lynda's sister. "In some ways it's almost a northwest-facing garden, but it gets this fantastic sun all afternoon.
"There was real potential to use the garden. You could think about how you could move from the house out into something that would be generous and big."
The result is a beautiful, inventive blend of old and new. Step into the house and the lovingly restored period features of the front rooms give way to a modern, single-storey extension that boasts a private, enclosed courtyard and large living area, lined with bookshelves, built-in seating, a stove and a huge dining room table, perfect for entertaining.
In fact, Valerie recalls that it all began with the table - a large glass-topped piece that comfortably seats 10. "This table is kind of like the holy grail of the house in a way," she says. "It hugely informed the design as it represents so much."
"Everything happens here," Lynda confirms. During the day, she works at the table, her research papers - she is associate professor in art history and cultural policy at UCD - sprawled across its glossy surface, surrounded by nature. In the evenings, her daughter does homework here, or it becomes a place to talk, chat, entertain and eat delicious food with friends. In many ways, the table represents how Lynda likes to live, which is why designing around it has led to such a loved, much-used space.
Working as an academic means Lynda has no shortage of books, and McCullough Mulvin Architects worked to cleverly integrate storage for them throughout the house, even adding shelving to the entryway. "You see the books all the time - they're touchstones through the house in a way," notes Valerie.
At the front of the house, Lynda preserved the traditional 'good room' with its high ceilings, ornate cornicing and walls adorned with striking Irish art.
The kitchen, which marks the beginning of the extension, houses an elegant white Aga, a statement island with a thick oak countertop, discreet white presses and the same white tiles as the bathrooms, which were inspired by the penny-round tiles of Charles de Gaulle airport.
The ingenious, glazed, hidden courtyard, dubbed the 'hidden garden', floods the area with light and ensures that there is a sense of nature coming through, adding layers of interest from every vantage point.
"There's air and light and space and a view everywhere," explains Valerie. "Everywhere you look you're rarely at the end of something, you're usually seeing beyond to something else." The courtyard is also a nod to Lynda's work in ancient art; like in Roman domestic villas, the extension is centred on a 'peristylium', a courtyard open to the elements.
Thanks to the courtyard, Lynda's bedroom, which is on the ground floor and at the centre of the house, has views through the living area to the rear garden. In the morning, she opens the door directly out on to this calm, serene space, taking in the fresh breeze and admiring the pretty maple tree at its centre. "I've never had a bedroom like this," beams Lynda. "I wake to happiness, every single day."
- For more innovative house designs, see House + Design magazine, published by the RIAI, €4.75 and available now.
Sunday Indo Business