Turtle Bunbury

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Temple Bar - The Heart of Dublin City

Photographs by James Fennell.

For the past decade most visitors to Ireland have either begun or finished their vacation in Temple Bar, perhaps the most celebrated of Dublin City's many districts. Sometimes compared with to Covent Garden in London or Les Halles in Paris, the area lies along the southern bank of the River Liffey, less than five minutes walk from Trinity College Dublin and the shopping boulevards of Grafton Street and O'Connell Street. Up until the dissolution of the Catholic monasteries in the mid-16th century, the land on which Temple Bar stands belonged to the Augustinian Order. It takes its name from Sir William Temple, a prominent Dublin magistrate who some believe was the father of Jonathan Swift. By the 1960s the area had become so run-down that the state transport company were strongly advocating the bulldozing of everything in order to build a new central business terminal. Fortunately the planning authorities failed to give the go-ahead and so, in the 1980s, a consortium of local businessmen enacted a new plan to convert the area into a rather bohemian "quarter", a stronghold for artists, musicians, restaurants and cultural centres.

Angus Craigie purchased this chic apartment in Temple Bar in 1995. At the time, it looked no different to any other newly built flat, with basic fittings and concrete floors throughout. He called on designers Amanda Hogan and Jackie O'Keefe to turn it into something rather more special. Hogan and O'Keefe firmly believe that when you set foot in your home, you should enter a new world of calm and stillness. What they created is just that; a peaceful, uncluttered living space, minimalist yet carefully planned for functional use.

They enhanced the sense of space by removing the skirting boards on the internal walls, and by leaving a gap between walls and floors which gives the impression that the walls are floating above ground level. The use of white walls and maple hardwood floors combined with organic materials in neutral tones - slate, metal and timber - adds to the general feeling of calmness and harmony throughout the apartment. The serenity contrasts favourably with the bustle of a prowling city outside the walls. Indeed, Craigie's apartment is situated right beside what many believe to have been the original 9th century Viking settlement of Dubh Linn (The Black Pool). The apartment has excellent views of the River Liffey making its way through the capital city to its union with the Irish Sea a few miles to the south. To maximise viewing potential, all wooden floorboards are directed towards the river. Steps from the bedroom lead out to a balcony, commanding wonderful views across the city. The bedroom itself is west-facing and thus the perfect place for enjoying those rare but always special Irish sunsets. The futon nestles in the custom made bed, while the wide shelf around it eliminates the need for bedside tables. Even the most dedicated minimalist has clothes and shoes so built-in wardrobes and free-standing rails organise the clutter beyond the eye of the beholder.

The south-facing living, kitchen and dining area is full of natural light and manages to be minimalist without being too severe. Designer furniture combines perfect form with practical function, from the Eileen Gray tables and Castanza lamps to the Corbusier and pure wool Cassina Met chaises. The flecked fabric in the Cassina chaise introduces colour and texture to the living area and brings out the blue tone of the Brazilian slate shelves. These are low hung, giving an added sense of height to the room and making things easily accessible when seated.

The kitchen layout is practical and by giving the illusion of a much larger space, it enables the kitchen to exist as a separate entity within the living area without dominating it. The stainless steel splashback and counter run the full length of the back wall. Units that are deeper and wider than normal make good use of the space, while a cantilevered Belfast sink and wide span suspended drawers emphasize the use of horizontal lines. The off-white colour of the units, tempered by metal, wooden and white ceramic accessories, provides a clean finish. Appliances are hidden behind cupboard doors and sockets are concealed within the left hand, over-counter storage unit, creating a minimal feel. By sliding open a cleverly hidden panel to the left of the hob, sockets and kitchen utensils can be accessed without having to open the entire cupboard.

"We wanted to evoke the simplicity of life before the modern world came clattering in and made things so much more complicated", explains Hogan. "The dining table and chairs are designed to give an aura of straightforward monastic rusticity". Like the walls, the chairs also seem to float slightly above the ground, their bases resting on tiny metal studs. The radiator covers also have no visible means of support; the attachments are hidden behind the MDF panels.

Hogan and O'Keefe created a sparse Turkish-style bathroom, with strong, clean lines. They achieved this look by installing a wide framed cantilevered Belfast sink and retro bath and then decorating the entire room with tiny mosaic tiles. For a streamlined effect, the plumbing is expertly hidden behind marine plywood walls. The tiles are unglazed and therefore non-slip so the owner can splash about in here to his heart's content. Their greyish-brown colour lends an earthy tone to the room while indirect lighting and a tinted mirror soften the overall look. The designers admit that you have to be organised to live in a space like this; vital storage is hidden behind the mirror so that Vola fixtures and d-line fittings are the only adornments.

This article appeared in Identity in 2003.