The Ladbroke family made their fortune from banking. By the 1820s, they owned a sizeable chunk of London based around Notting Hill. Architect Thomas Allason was recruited to convert the area into a fashionable suburb. His pioneering concept was to place all houses around the edge of a garden square so that the owners had direct access to a communal garden. The houses themselves were designed with the Victorian age in mind – wrought iron balustrades, shallow projecting porches, Ionic columns, simple horizontal bands of stucco, low-pitched slate roofs. The concept was brilliant although the houses of Notting Hill would not come become truly fashionable until the 1980s.
It was Allason’s design that inspired Bray architect Brendan O’Connor of Colum ó Broin & Partners when asked to devise a new classical square of seventeen Victorian-style terraced houses to be built just off Bray’s Main Street. The site had previously comprised a little-used GAA pitch and some barren wasteland. Purchased by Newlyn Development, the new square was named Wyvern after the legendary winged dragon often found in medieval heraldry.
O’Connor was familiar with Notting Hill and felt it should work every bit as well in the north Wicklow town. His three-sided square is a faithful interpretation of Allason’s style with a welcome jolt of 21st century ingenuity forming the ‘hinge houses’ where the sides meet. The garden is the work of Tiros Resources Ltd Landscape Architects. The whole does much to soften up an otherwise ultra-urban neighbourhood that embraces the Bray Civic Centre comprising the Mermaid Arts Centre, the Court House, Bray Town Council, the Health Service and the Social Welfare offices.
O’Connor’s interpretation runs deeper than the mere walls, rising up the granite steps and into each individual three-storey house itself. With an interior design by Helen Turkington, No 8 offers a classic example of how these interiors might look. The front door swings opens into a large traditional hall. Silver lamps sparkle upon a dark walnut table. Prints of snow-capped trees and autumnal sunsets are offset by the warm glow of Farrow & Ball’s Elephant’s Breath radiating up the high walls and white oak stairs. By night, the broad tiles of the hall floor come to life [how!].
The drawing room lies to the left. A deep-button Frederick Sofa and a Claude two-seater face one another over a mushroom Navan carpet. Books and artwork adorns the cupboards and shelves built into walls either side of the cream Leonardo limestone fireplace. Against one wall is a glass Andrew Martin side-table, supporting a pair of inordinately large ginger jars. Two Claude armchairs, dressed in red satin, offer further options for sprawling, the temptation echoed in a large mirror above. Chase Irwin curtains draw back to reveal the communal square outside.
A second, less formal living room is to be found downstairs in a room dominated by Jasper Conran fabrics – on the sofa, the two armchairs, the polka-dotted cubes, the pin-striped cushions and along a charming window seat that looks out at the Civic Centre. A Designers Guild coffee table stands upon a *** rug in the centre of the room. It supports two lavender bushes, looking like characters from ‘Fraggle Rock’. Black and white prints sourced by Turkington adorn walls subtly coated in a pigeon hued Sandberg Wallpaper, complimented by Cornforth White on the woodwork.
This lower living room leads directly to the kitchen-dining room, a large open space with a Scavolini’s ‘Tess’ model kitchen, designed by Silvano Barsacchi and supplied by Leinster Kitchen Studio. Key features include a Scavolini Nero black quartz worktops, anti-slam drawers and fully integrated Neff appliances. Helen Turkington designed the glass top dining table and built-in seating option. In terms of fabrics, Jasper Conran shares the honours with Casamance, while the transparent green dinner plates were sourced in Paris. Amongst the other notable pieces in this room are a hexagonal leg table (by who).
Returning up the white oak stairs, themselves an elegant creation by Pat McGowan of Longford, the first two bedrooms are located on the same floor as the drawing room. The Lilac Room features an X-leg desk and side-table by Turkington and a headboard and valances by Manuel Canovas. In the next-door bedroom, Turkington chose to keep everything duck-egg blue – the lamps, the fabrics, the curtains, the Farrow & Ball Skylight walls. She explains that using another colour would have made the room seem cold whereas keeping it all blue creates a heat of its own.
Turkington has another tip for those with small bathrooms – use bigger tiles because ‘they stretch the room out and make a small area look bigger’. In the bathrooms at No 18, the tiles are Damarsk patterned and came from Porcelanosa. The fittings are unsurprisingly state-of-the-art – a classic Napoli free-standing bath, emperador marble worktops, Duravit sinks designed by Phillipe Starck, Gessi Ovale taps and Grohe showers.
The stairs roll on up to the second floor. Directly ahead is The Study, diligently clad in a Zoffany wallpaper (ask HB) and quietly adorned with black and white prints. A linen-dressed Calais chair invites one to pluck a book from the shelving built by Mount Lodge carpenters of County Monaghan. Alternatively, sit back, look out the sliding sash window and marvel at an angle which suggests you really are living on a terraced square in Notting Hill. Next door to the study is a deliciously small children’s bedroom, with chrome lamps set upon Lucia side-tables and a suave walnut table tucked in one corner. Turkington created all the fabrics here – the headboard and cushions resembling those she has used to great effect at Carton House.
The master suite is painted in an all-embracing Joa’s White from Farrow & Ball, the creamy effect broken by a series of charcoal prints. The White Company bed has a deep-button bedhead from Lelievre, who also made the satin curtains. Silver lamps with box shades rest upon side-tables and dressing tables. The bedroom boats its own ‘His’ and ‘Her’ dressing rooms and wardrobes. From here one can look out towards Bray Head, over the sports fields where the citizens of the town sunbathe amid the sprawling daisies.