A dormer that will extend your imagination

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A dormer that will extend your imagination

The owner of this Galway home was refused permission to demolish the original bungalow, so instead she extended it in two directions to award-winning effect, writes Eithne Tynan


The original bungalow is still recognisable, but up close the place is transformed
The original bungalow is still recognisable, but up close the place is transformed
The bedrooms, of which there are four, are placed at either end of the house
The view from – or should that be into – the bathroom
Room with a view: the living room has a wall of windows overlooking the garden

Architects are often scathing about planners, for reasons that may be obvious. Town and county planners tend to be conservative, after all, even where conservation is not necessarily desirable. They like to preserve vernacular architecture exactly as it is, and they take a poor view of ostentatious designs for giant glass-and-steel cubes amid thatched Connemara villages. So they also get in the way of the architects’ dreams of fame and fortune.

But there’s another reason too for the antipathy and it’s that planners are often considered notoriously difficult to impress. It doesn’t matter how spectacular your design is, a planning officer is going to evaluate only in terms of whether it corresponds to what’s on the site already. All your fluid ambiguities and bold juxtapositions will count for nothing against a mismatched roofline.

Take the case of St Jude’s, at Glengowla West near Oughterard, on the edge of Connemara. By all accounts this was a reluctant build to begin with, if not quite a hopeless case. There was a standard dormer bungalow on the site (one that would later be described as having “no intrinsic value”) but the owner reportedly could not secure permission to knock it, so instead she had to keep it in situ and extend it instead.

She enlisted the architectural firm of Ryan W Kennihan (then going by the name Boyer Kennihan) and they came up with an arresting design – modernist but respectful, brave but restrained – a design that would go on to make these young architects the envy of their peers. And yet this was the official assessment contained in the Galway County Council planner’s report in 2004:

“The extensions may not be considered an ideal method of extension (as the existing structure on site is not reflected in their nature)”, it says, suggesting it was a pity that the architects had so signally failed to perpetuate that cherished mid-20th-century bungalow aesthetic. But even though the proposed extension was found not to “reflect the ‘character’ of the dwelling”, it might be allowed all the same, for the following reasons:

“The extensions cannot be deemed to constitute obtrusive features in the landscape, nor do they adversely affect the residential amenity of adjoining property. Accordingly the planning authority have no objection to the design of the proposed extensions,” the report concluded.

Faint praise indeed: To paraphrase, the planners would consent to the extension design because, while it wasn’t great, at least it wasn’t conspicuous either. And they could find no stand up reason to refuse it.

What a contrast to the way the resulting home was viewed in architectural circles once completed in 2006. It got a Special Mention that year from the Architecture Association of Ireland (AAI) and also in the RIAI Annual Design Awards. And the following year it won the prize for Best Building Under €1m in the Opus Design & Construction awards, with one of the judges reportedly lamenting that “the silly inflexibility of a development plan insisted a derelict 1940s house of no intrinsic value should be retained”.

That original controversial bungalow is still recognisable here, and indeed from a distance it’s all you can really see, so that St Jude’s looks as much like a little snowy-white cottage daubed into a Paul Henry landscape as it ever did.

But up close the place is transformed. The extensions, for there are indeed two, occupy the spaces at each gable end – northeastern and southwestern – and they’re low-profile and finished in local limestone and black render. And instead of being a compact dormer bungalow as it once was, it now sprawls over 2,351 sq ft all on one floor, containing broad open-plan spaces with innumerable windows taking in the landscape of Corrib Country and the Connemara Mountains.



The view from - or should that be into - the bathroomThe view from - or should that be into - the bathroom

The view from – or should that be into – the bathroom

The entrance hall sets the tone immediately, with its white-painted high-gloss concrete floor, walnut-panelled walls and a great window overlooking the front garden.

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The heart of the house still beats where it always did, the kitchen being in the original bungalow. It measures just over 22ft by 12ft and has a walnut floor, walnut cabinets and a built-in bench at the dining table. The appliances (included in the sale) are integrated. There are patio doors from here to an inner courtyard garden and views over both the front and back gardens.

Steps lead down from the kitchen into the living room, also with walnut-panelled walls and a wall of windows overlooking the garden. There’s a solid-fuel fireplace inset in one wall here (the energy rating is C2), and patio doors on the opposite wall giving access to the inner courtyard.

The bedrooms, of which there are four, are placed at either end of the house. Two of them are set off the main living areas, and both are en-suite. The third bedroom is used as a music room and office (and has a baby grand piano on a walnut plinth.

The main bedroom, then, is at the far end of the house, down that white-floored hallway from the entrance hall which is lined with hidden storage cupboards and a hidden utility area.

The bedroom measures a fairly whopping 27ft by 19ft and has wardrobes built into the walnut-panelled walls. It has an en-suite with a jacuzzi bath and separate shower, and it also has patio doors, leading this time to a second, secluded courtyard.

Hidden within the walls of the living room is a staircase leading to the first floor, where there’s now a large open-plan area, fully carpeted. It measures some 47ft by 12ft – about the size, in fact, of the entirety of a traditional Connemara cottage – and might be used as a den or playroom.

St Jude’s sits on just under two-thirds (0.64) of an acre with mature trees and shrubs, stone walls and lawns. A little way north of the house and west of the house is Lough Agraffard, and just beyond the boundary of the garden the Owenriff River can be heard wending its way towards Lough Corrib.

The property is on the main road between Oughterard, five kilometres away, and Clifden, which is about 40 minutes’ drive, and you must pass over the Quiet Man Bridge en route. About half an hour in the car will get you to Galway city.

Indo Property

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