Remote working, rural living

In a bid to escape city life post-pandemic, Una and Laura embarked on a journey to create their dream home as well as workspace in rural Ireland, filled with innovative features and design solutions

TEXT Tom Boddy IMAGES Una & Laura

Over the past decade, couple Una and Laura have had to deal with urban living to support their careers, initially residing in Cork for seven years before relocating to Dublin in 2020. Both have busy and demanding roles – Una works as a vice president in the fraud department for a ‘fintech’ firm while Laura is a manager at a large tech company. 

When the pandemic ushered in the new era of remote working, the pair realised the traditional confines of city living were no longer essential. This discovery opened up possibilities for them to consider relocating elsewhere, and together with their cockapoo, Bear, they decided they wanted to move closer to their families. 

Yet, amid a turbulent housing market, finding their ideal home proved to be a challenge. “Houses were being sold as soon as they were listed and there were generally many competing bids driving up the prices,” Una recounts. “We felt that we would be paying over the odds for a home that wasn’t built to suit our needs.” 

This realisation saw them gravitate towards self-building. Despite being fully aware of the rising costs of building, they saw this option as a more cost-effective alternative, and one that would afford them the opportunity to craft a bespoke home tailored to their desires.

Una grew up in rural Tipperary. As her family still owned farmland there, her parents were in a position to generously offer them a site, ideally situated 30 minutes from Laura’s parents’ in County Clare. “This was a win-win in terms of location for both of us and we were both excited to live in the countryside again after living in the city for so long,” explains Una.

The vision

Una and Laura envisioned their future home to be a modern yet inviting space infused with a touch of tradition. The goal was also to have large open spaces but at the same time avoid the house feeling “empty,” explains Laura. “Good lighting was important to us but we equally didn’t want wall to ceiling windows as we felt this would make it difficult to get the cosy feeling we were looking for.”

These concepts were presented to Brian Aharn, a skilled architect who’s based in Limerick. Laura attests to how he truly grasped their vision, and highlights an invaluable advantage he brought to the project – flexibility. “Brian presented options to us based on our wish list, and always created space for changing the design or trying a different approach to make sure we were 100% happy with everything.”

Securing planning permission was the next hurdle in their journey. The body responsible in Ireland, Rural Ireland, is renowned for its stringent approach, a rumour which was well-founded in this project. Even with Brian at the helm, navigating this stage was “lengthy and complicated,” says Una. Their initial choice of site was rejected due to concerns over ‘ribbon development.’ (In Ireland, this is classified as a high density – almost continuous road frontage development – which means five or more houses on any one side of a given 250 metres of road.

Given the circumstances, they found themselves with no alternative but to abandon the original site. However, by another stroke of fortune Una’s parents owned a similar site nearby. Without needing to modify the design, the team managed to seamlessly shift the home to the new location. “We were very lucky to be in a position to do this and get approved for planning,” explains Una.

Breaking ground

Una and Laura recognised that with them lacking in construction expertise, they’d need to opt for a contractor-led build as the most practical choice. “We both have very busy full time jobs so we didn’t feel we had the time to invest in an independent self-build,” explains Laura. They selected a local builder with a strong reputation, and they provided invaluable guidance throughout the project.

The home has been constructed chiefly using concrete blocks, a deliberate choice made by the couple due to their familiarity with the building method; and they believed that local building contractors would be better equipped to handle this approach. Additionally, a key requirement for them was to incorporate a concrete floor upstairs to minimise noise, in fact it was a ‘non-negotiable’ for their design.

Spanning 18 months, the construction process saw Una and Laura renting temporary accommodation for the initial 12 months of the build, then residing with family for the final six months before moving in.

The couple’s lack of construction experience drove them to educate themselves as much as possible. This was to enable them to make key decisions to get the house to a ‘builders’ finish,’ ie a completed building fabric. “Having a contractor was a huge help here and took the burden off us in terms of coordinating the different stages of the build. They always let us know what we need to start thinking about next.”

Once the structural framework was complete, Una and Laura actively oversaw the interior finishes, managing aspects such as bathrooms, kitchen design, colour schemes, and furniture selection from start to finish.

A seamless blend

The finished home seamlessly blends contemporary styles with intricate, clever details, incorporating snippets of traditional elements that infuse warmth into the space, resulting in a stunning and thoughtfully designed residence for Una and Laura to enjoy.

The site on which the home sits upon is a tranquil and deeply rural locale, offering an escape from the hustle and bustle of urban living which the couple have known for so long. The home also boasts panoramic views with minimal neighbouring dwellings.

The external appearance of the home exudes clean lines and a symmetrical shape. The blend of the sleek grey render, rustic stone cladding, and dark grey roof tiles, adds texture and depth to its overall aesthetic. “Stone cladding was a design feature that we both wanted from the outset. We think it blends in nicely with the countryside and is a timeless feature,”
explains Una.

The downstairs offers a seamless flow between spaces, featuring an expansive open kitchen and living area, with an office, boot room, utility room, wet room, and main sitting room situated at the back. Laura highlights how they spent a good amount of time designing the kitchen: “We wanted a large space where we could entertain friends and family but equally wanted it to be functional.”

They chose a bespoke ‘in-frame’ solid wood, hand-painted kitchen for the “seamless look,” plus Farrow and Ball paint in Lamp Room Grey and Downpipe for the units and island respectively. A Silestone Calacatta gold quartz worktop and backsplash added elegance and practicality to the space. 

In designing the kitchen island, the couple aimed for a clear surface conducive to both entertainment and food preparation, opting to keep the hob and sink separate. “This was important as we had to make sure we had enough wall space in our kitchen design to accommodate our ‘must-haves,’” asserts Laura. Some of these included a pantry, five-ring induction hob, double side-by-side ovens, larder fridge, and larder freezer. 

The TV room adjacent to the kitchen was designed to strike a balance between openness and cosiness. To achieve this a sliding pocket door allows the space to be an open plan kitchen, dining and living space when open, yet retains the option to create a snug environment when closed. A square panelling feature wall and wall-mounted television further enhance the room’s aesthetic appeal and functionality. “This is a very simple and cost effective design using MDF panels that finishes the room really well,” tells Una.

There are some innovative design features that stand out; particularly in the downstairs area with the vaulted ceiling to the staircase, where the two skylights flood the space with natural light. “We wanted our entrance hall to feel like an open space but we equally didn’t want to make this excessively large as we didn’t think that would be a good use of space,” explains Una. The ceiling was the “perfect solution,” creating the illusion of a large expansive area without having to add extra floor space. Complementing this architectural design, the couple selected a 10-bulb pendant light fixture.

The staircase design itself was crucial; a walnut finish is is used for the handrail, steps, and scroll which adds warmth to the home. Poplar spindles, risers, and posts painted white creates a striking contrast. The ambient kicker lights on the steps highlight the staircase’s intricate details, Laura exclaims that they “love how this turned out!”

The upstairs is designed to cater to the couple’s needs, featuring an office, a master bedroom with a walk-in wardrobe and ensuite, a second ensuite bedroom, a standalone bedroom, and a main bathroom. Laura explains, “The office room doubles as a potential bedroom in the future, but for now, it serves as our dedicated workspace.” 

Laura elaborates further, stating, “Our main goal for the upstairs was to create a generous master bedroom with a walk-in wardrobe and ensuite, as well as a second ensuite bedroom.” A notable practical feature is the laundry chute accessible from both the master ensuite and the hallway, providing convenient access to the utility downstairs. Laura enthuses, “Adding this was one of the best decisions we made. We remember watching Home Alone and seeing it! So we made this fantasy a reality.”

Reflecting on the overall interior, Laura describes it as both functional and stylish, with a focus on clean lines and a relatively minimalist finish. She adds, “We aimed for timeless neutral tones complemented by warm, feature tones to make it feel homely.” 

SOME ‘Eco’ extras

Sustainability may not have been their primary focus during the design process, but the home is filled with eco-friendly aspects which add to the house’s energy performance. Some of these include triple glazed windows, high-grade insulation, and energy-efficient appliances.

When it comes to heating their home, the couple opted for air to water underfloor heating. “We felt that this was the most efficient way to heat our home in the long run and we love that we can keep a consistent temperature in our home 24/7,” explains Una. Additionally, they implemented a Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) system to ensure good ventilation with a continuous supply of fresh, filtered air. All of these aspects combined resulted in Una and Laura achieving an A-rated EPC for their home.

Reflecting on their completed build, Laura and Una express how thrilled they are with the end result. “We feel that it really brought our dream to life, and it works really well day-to-day. We love our kitchen/dining/living room space in particular as this is the heart of our home!”

Learn more about Una and Laura’s self-build journey by following their Instagram page @house_by_luna.