An Armagh home that lets its views shine
When designing a home in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it feels instinctual to try and let the landscape become a part of the house as much as possible. Making the most of views, is, of course, a must, but so too is creating a building that doesn’t feel like an imposition on the surrounding area.
This was the challenge presented to principal architect Sarah McNulty of McNulty Smyth Associates by her clients for their relatively small site situated in the Ring of Gullion in Co Armagh. Not only this, but they wanted the home to accommodate their family lifestyle, with a social living space, garden and space for parking.
When it came to making the most of the landscape in her design, there was the problem of the existing building on the site, as well as a mass of overgrown plants, blocking any potential views. “It was very hard to see what the view would be,” Sarah explains. “We went off up ladders just to try and see what it would be like, but when the site clearance happened, that was the big reveal. At that stage it had all been long designed and planning permission received, so thankfully, it did reveal a lovely view of the mountain.”
The open plan living and kitchen space looks out onto this view, with a six metre expanse of sliding glass doors. The size restrictions on the house mean that this is the only communal room in the house, with the rest dedicated to bedrooms and bathrooms, so Sarah explains that it had to be incredibly hard working. “It needed to be really social because they do a lot of entertaining. They also wanted it to be quite dramatic, airy and bright.” To achieve this, Sarah created a double height ceiling that follows the shape of traditional farm buildings in the area, combined with the expansive views through the glass doors.
This unimpeded view was cultivated by employing a ha-ha boundary between the end of the garden and the adjoining field, making the most of a natural drop rather than adding a fence or wall. The bedroom spaces are understated, a quieter escape away from the hustle and bustle of the living and kitchen area, but they too capture glimpses of the surrounding landscape with large windows. “We wanted to create almost a picture view,” Sarah explains, “it's like a living landscape painting.”
While the interiors feel bright and spacious, Sarah was mindful of not putting a huge house on this site that would look out of place in the landscape. “You access the house from the side, when traditionally people like have a statement front door. We made it a bit more understated, prioritising other spaces in the building, the spaces you're in all the time.” What the entrance hall does have is dramatic double height glazing, and an open staircase allows light to flow freely through this space. The house is in fact just a storey and a half, so it sits into the surrounding area rather than sticking out.
None of the spaces, however, feel anything less than generous, something that Sarah puts down to her careful consideration of proportion. “It's really important to us when we're designing houses. Whilst you're trying to create proportion in the form of building, the proportions of actual rooms are really important, that each one individually feels right. It's something that I've worked really hard on over the years. Because when you go into a well-proportioned space, well, you feel it.”
The palette of materials inside and out has been kept deliberately pared back, giving a sense of calm simplicity. Details like the doors and steps of the staircase were treated with an oil to bring out grey tones, while similar tones in the slate and zinc exterior not only link to the interior, but nod to the fact that the house is modern, yet is aware of the history of other buildings in the area.
With this careful design, Sarah has created a home that ultimately is a relaxing space for this family. “It's instantly calming, and something I always aspire to in my designs is calm elegance. I really believe that the spaces you spend time in make an impact on how you feel. These types of spaces have the ability to slow you down – you can just sit in a chair, quietly contemplate life and look out to that fantastic view.”
PHOTOGRAPHY MICHAEL ROBINSON
WORDS MEGAN BURNS