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Dublin: 8 °C Monday 19 November, 2018
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Making the fairytale come true for your family home

We spoke to David Leahy about fulfilling his dream of a home for the ages in his native Co Limerick.

CLASSICAL MYTHOLOGY HAS it that Elysium is the destination you might wish for after death, continuing to enjoy a blessed and happy existence.

What if Elysium were a place on earth?

Architect David H Leahy had a clear vision about what that might look like for him and his family – and it started with spotting the perfect site in his native Co Limerick.

02 (1) Source: David H Leahy via dhlarchitects.com

He told TheJournal.ie:

I’ve always been into the rural landscape, I grew up in the southeast of Co Limerick and knew this area. One day, I was standing on the hills at the back and the light was shining down on that field.

The seed was sown. A little amateur sleuthing later and, as luck and fairytale endings would have it, the field wasn’t part of the landowner’s main farm and so he was willing to sell it on.

Taking on the project supervision of building his own home was one that Leahy said has given him a greater insight into what a client goes through during a renovation or new build. “I realised how frustrating it can be, how stressful,” he said, “It is something I have tried to hone out for my clients.”

All the while during the complicated build, however, was an overriding wish to both fulfill a promise to his eldest daughter and to his own boyhood interests in the castles and ancient ruins of Co Limerick.

On the first, Leahy tells how he and his wife were living in London as he tried to gain experience as a young architect. They were living in a basement flat, with very little light coming in, and he told his daughter, “One day I will design you a house and you’ll have a room with a big window.”

On the second point, Leahy saw the house as a chance not only to improve his family’s quality of life but to reflect the “fun and magical element” of those old ruins of his childhood landscape.

As a kid I loved classical civilisation in school – there is a romanticism in how I look at buildings, and with my children involved, I wanted wonderment for them as they grew up in this building. I know it’s a privileged thing to be able to do that.

The north-facing part of the house – the one that faces more towards the road – has that sense of grandeur, especially around the double-doored entrance. It has been described to Leahy as having a “monastic” feel, which is fitting as the architect found elements of Glenstal Abbey, where he went to school, inspiring the facade.

Source: David H Leahy via dhlarchitects.com

The exterior, with its barrelled roof shaped from powder-coated corrugated sheets, emulates what you might see on barns in the area, and fits nicely into its agricultural context. One friend, trying to find the house, was given directions by a local on the road with the bonus comment that Leahy had “turned the house the wrong way round”. Leahy takes that as a compliment, that the “grand stuff” is not at the front, that it’s very downplayed from the approach. “I’m not trying to make a grand statement.”

It is only when standing in the two-acre site to the south-facing elevation at the rear that the house opens itself up. This is where the living areas are located, designed to take in all the light and views that the rolling landscape offers.

Source: David H Leahy via dhlarchitects.com

Leahy got to play with unusual window sizes. Triple-glazed, they allow a constant connection with the outside, while keeping the elements at bay.

A house like this can be enjoyed all year round. You become aware of the seasons – you can wake up in the morning and enjoy the worst depths of winter, watching the howling rain coming in sheets across the landscape.

02 (12) The view from the south-facing terrace. Source: David H Leahy via dhlarchitects.com

Inside, the entrance is made bright by pulling light through the terrace on the first floor into the double-height hall atrium. The staircase is set in concrete and cased in an interesting material called armacoat which gives an industrial but slightly glossy finish, and it ties in the floors throughout the various levels of the house.

Source: David H Leahy via dhlarchitects.com

“I really enjoy having an interesting entrance,” said Leahy, “It creates fun and excitement. When the kids would have parties, you would find them darting around with their friends – there is a nice inter-relationship between the ground and the first and second floor.”

Source: David H Leahy via dhlarchitects.com

The living and dining areas at the rear are sun-flooded and designed to encourage the family to gather together.

I grew up in a house where we never used the dining room – it’s a very Irish thing to have this good room that is hardly ever used. This time, in my own house, I wanted it to be at the centre of the home. The kids come in and do their homework there at the table, it’s at the heart of the talking of the house, we are there, cooking alongside them.

Source: David H Leahy via dhlarchitects.com

02 (5) Source: David H Leahy via dhlarchitects.com

02 (16) Source: David H Leahy via dhlarchitects.com

However, he also learned the difference between an architect’s initial vision and the practical implications of design on a home’s occupants. Initially, he put the playroom on the top floor with “my architect’s head on me”, and that didn’t work so well when his children were small, Leahy notes.

However, now that they are older, it works better as a space where girlfriends, boyfriends and friends can hang out and Leahy and his wife can go about their own business downstairs.

Does he feel he’s achieved the hope he had of building a home for his family that he feels he could live in for a long time to come?

Yes, would be the short answer. “Even if I won the lottery, I wouldn’t go through the process again,” says Leahy, “And I won’t ever need a bigger house.”

The lintel at the entrance articulates his love for the house he’s built. The word ‘Elysium’ is carved there, of course, along with another inscription. He explains:

“The ancient Greeks and Romans were lucky enough to go to Elysium when they were brave in battle, hence the name I chose for the house as any project of this nature is a challenge on so many levels especially if you’re the builder.

I also wanted to respect the physical built form and how it would watch over my children. People don’t tend to write on buildings any more which is a shame, so I wrote an ode to the home, ‘Noble house proud and true keep safe the little ones here with you’. I then had a very nice lady stonemason carve this into the stone which was placed over the front door.

Source: David H Leahy via dhlarchitects.com

To view more of David H Leahy’s projects, see his site here>

How to slip a house into a 2.3-metre wide corridor>

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About the author:

Sally O'Regan

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