A Ranelagh House of Contrast


When a Dublin couple developed their home, they decided to go for a tried and tested extension… with a difference.

"When our second child came along, it was a case of move or make the house bigger,” recalls the owner matter-of-factly. “We decided to extend at the back and we’re delighted with the result.” 

The extension, however, was designed in an unusual way. Architect Ryan Kennihan wanted to avoid the usual practice of creating an achingly modern box that “shouts its difference” from a period house. 

“I like the idea that the new structure has a ‘conversation’ with the older house,” Ryan explains.

“By considering the material and spatial qualities of the existing building and garden, we can create a new structure that feels natural and is complementary. We can produce structures with a timeless character that feel as though they have always been there, and will always be there.”  With Ryan’s ideas in mind, a variety of design features stand out once you step into the lovely, light-filled space. Colonnades of old brick separate the French glass doors that lead to the garden. Douglas fir ceiling joists add texture and warmth. The white walls are, in fact, white-stained birch veneer panels that conceal plenty of storage. 

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If you look more closely, other designs become apparent. The white floor and countertops are a terrazzo containing a reflective aggregate that adds depth. The sliding Douglas fir screens, designed to cover the glass doors to the garden, have been computer-routed with a Penrose pattern that adds a delicate contrast to the robust brickwork.

“While at first glance the space seems somewhat minimalist, upon closer examination, the rooms are quite detailed and rich.” Ryan explains. “I enjoy making spaces that use natural materials with depth and complexity and spaces that express their structure. It is anything but minimalist. I love the ceiling. It gives the room a warmth and rhythm that plaster never could while increasing the feeling of height in the space.”

The lack of clutter and clean lines so loved by advocates of minimalism are created by the use of lots of clever concealed storage. Each white wall is a full-height cupboard with a panelled door. At times, the kitchen is a hectic room full of wine glasses, dishes and children’s homework. But in moments it can be all hidden away to create the “serene” atmosphere the owners and Ryan were aiming for. “We worked together all the way though the project,” he says. “They are a very discerning couple and it worked out really well.”

Central, in a way, to the success of the space is the bespoke kitchen table. This is no cool and contemporary chunk of glass and steel; it is an honest chunk of wood. “The area was designed around a large timber dining table that would become the social centre of the house,” Ryan says. “The clients and I thought it should be a place where the family would eat, the kids would do homework, the parents would have a glass of wine and where the family would all gather to hang out together.”

So getting the right table was vital. Together, the owners and Ryan decided to design a piece of furniture with the weight and craftsmanship that gave it the feel of a permanent fixture, as though it was an integral part of the house, and they commissioned furniture maker Kieran Costelloe to build something that would “last centuries”. “Now we live in the new kitchen and living area and in the summer, when the French doors are open, the garden becomes part of one big room,” the owner says.

A stroll around the rest of the house reveals the new extension to be a natural one of a warm and comfortable home. Wooden floorboards have been replaced or restored in each room, a calm palette of colours brings each uncluttered space together, and there are well-chosen artworks and pieces of furniture that help contribute to the calm atmosphere. “It proves a contemporary addition to a period house does not have to feel like a foreign invader or be different for the sake of being different,” Ryan concludes. “Modern architecture and historic buildings can speak the same language.”

PHOTOGRAPHY Mark Scott  WORDS Ben Webb  STYLING Emily Westbrooks