A Modern Timber Home In The Wicklow Woods
Deep in the Dublin Mountains, a brother and sister dreamt of building dramatic and contemporary homes side-by-side in the forest.
There’s something charmingly Hansel and Gretel about the two timber houses beautifully camouflaged among the soaring spruce trees. Like a modern version of a fairytale, this brother and sister team have created a magical home in the forest and are enjoying a decidedly happy ending.
With its vertical “fins” that mimic the tree trunks and the black preservative on the exteriors timber, the building is almost invisible from a distance. “The privacy and sense of calm are incredible,” says one of the owners. “It’s fantastic to be less than 30 minutes from Dublin city centre, yet tucked in a wild country landscape. We can lie in the part of the house that cantilevers over the cliff – there is nothing but fresh air below – and enjoy the stunning oil painting view of the Dublin Mountains.”
From a bird’s eye view – one of the jackdaws, perhaps, that flits above the trees – the house is in the shape of an X that is divided up into two homes. “The design is extremely clever,” the owner says. “Despite being physically connected, the two homes are quite independent. We don’t see each other ... unless we run out of milk and want to, of course!”
The building is located in a clearing formed by an abandoned quarry in land the family has owned for generations. Given its inaccessible location, the project was very challenging. The landscape demanded a sensitive design. With all the surrounding tall trees, light was at a premium and the fractured quarry ground made setting foundations difficult. And then there was the Herculean task of lugging the materials into the mountains…
But, like all good fairytales, it was a case of determination and good intentions triumphing over adversity. “One idea solved several of the main challenges at once,” explains architect Andrew Clancy. “We raised the houses up to get closer to the light and so they could span over the ground like a bridge, dancing over the broken bedrock and touching the ground only where we were sure of getting a good footing.
“The woodland works with the quarry to make a tall space, open to the sky, like a living room in the landscape,” he adds. “This proved the inspiration for the design of the houses, which acts as a stand of trees to close the quarry and make a shared garden room for the two families.”
In contrast to the dark exterior that sits among the forest shadows, the interiors are bright and airy. A lot of time was spent ensuring the mood of each room was right, a serene complement to the surroundings. The architects designed furniture, light fittings and were very careful when sourcing samples and checked them onsite with the owners. “We wanted the interiors to be timeless, classical, gracious and relaxed,” Clancy says.
As the quarry faces due north, the use of light has had to be maximised. Raising the houses and creating the X shape were vital. The living rooms, which overlook the quarry garden and face south, have a veranda and are filled with light. The more intimate spaces face north. The family kitchens have cosy den spaces for the Irish winter – both homes have carbon-neutral heating systems – and are perfect for retiring in the evening when you can enjoy the view towards the lights of Dublin. “Our favourite part of the completed houses is dropping in to chat with the owners, sitting in front of an open log fire and watching the light change as the day passes,” Clancy says.
Today, the two homes provide a wonderful sanctuary for the brother and sister who always dreamed of living in the forest. “It is a real privilege living here,” says the owner. “Coming home one night, I counted 12 deer on the driveway; you see foxes slinking through the wood; squirrels prancing from branch to branch, and blue tits tapping on your bedroom window. It’s a bit like a childhood storybook.”
The Brothers Grimm would approve.
WORDS Ben Webb
PHOTOGRAPHY Alice Clancy and Mark Scott