This story originally featured as "Out to Sea" in The Book of Interiors Volume 2 (2005)
The sumptuous views from Howth Head have undoubtedly been the talk of men ever since the first settlers landed here several thousand years ago. The contours of land and sea are today as hypnotic and ever-changing as the urban skyline of Dublin Bay. But the peninsula itself essentially remains a treasured and strictly controlled sanctuary of leafy, green homesteads.
In December 2001, Gerry Salley of Crean Salley Architects in Rathmines was commissioned to extend and convert a dilapidated 1950s bungalow on Howth's eastern coast. A specialist in state-of-the-art design, Salley's brief was to create a design that would allow the buildings, furnishings and surroundings to become part of a unified, interrelated composition. As such, he took another look at Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright's Pennsylvanian masterpiece of organic architecture.
Salley's new structure was built into the rock, the horizontal contours of its various floors echoing the gorse-clad rock ledges behind it. To integrate the surrounds with the interior, massive windows were installed, enabling natural light to pour in from several sides. The effect is to provide a balanced ambience within, the daylight rebounding off mirrors, walls and cream tile floors. The eye is constantly guided outward toward nature. The interior merges effectively with the exterior but can be sealed off by curtain or blind as and when required. This same principle was employed in the original wing of the house where the south west facing wall was broken down and replaced with a series of windows. The garden beyond is in the process of redesign and Diarmuid Gavin is on hand to further integrate the existing structure with the fertile surrounds.
Designed by the owners in conjunction with Inside Interiors, the principal living room embraces a stunning view across Howth Head and Dublin Bay, with the Millennium Spike on the north and Bray Head to the south. Conservatory doors burst outwards, inviting the fresh maritime air to scent and cool the room on those rare but peerless warm summer days. Above the original fireplace, an avant-garde mirror by Kate Fiennes is ingeniously angled so as to reflect this uplifting panorama back across the room. A smooth decking floor of Merbau with wenge inset, supplied and installed by The Hardwood Flooring Co. Ltd, flows delightfully with the demure mulberry and amethyst hues of the Gyform sofas, dining chairs and rugs, supplied by Inside Interiors. The walls are enlivened by modern art, some East European in origin, others playful and risqué, like Michelle Rogers interpretation of Caravaggio's Taking of Christ. A chandelier by Louise Kennedy hangs at a respectful distance above a dining table by Bross. Castle Curtains supplied the cotton curtains and blinds.
The owners deliberately limited the colour scheme to a few neutrals as he felt, understandably, too many colours would have a jarring effect on the overall style. Cool white tiles from Tom Doyle Supplies run throughout the ground floor, save for the wooden decking in the main living room. A genteel staircase of Brazilian hardwood rises up to a second floor, Michelle Rogers again securing the focal point with her amusing take on Caravaggio's Conversion of Saint Paul. The main bedroom is found at the top, a clutter-free hideaway, designed by Inside Interiors, with its own wooden balcony affording another option to behold the magnificent view. Seductive flora curls around the balcony, emanating from Vietnamese pots by Earthly Emporium.
"I didn't want the house to be a mausoleum", explains the owner. "I wanted every part of it to be used. But it's an adult house because our children had grown up by the time we moved in and so we were able to do things we had not done before". Like, for instance, the cinema. The man of the house is a self-confessed technological fanatic. As such, he has built the ultimate in home cinemas. A supersize plasma screen, bordered by original movie posters, dominates one wall. Facing this is a custom-made L-shaped sofa, from Inside Interiors, clad in burgundy chenille. Inside Interiors designed the kitchen from marble top table and non-stick tiles to double fridges and simple kitchen units. The owners stresses that every inch of the room has a function - no space is left untouched.
The overall achievement has been to create a house that unites human life, architectural form, and nature.
Photography: Paul Sherwood