New build by the sea in Donegal, Ireland

New build by the sea in Donegal, Ireland

This contemporary take on a traditional Irish home was designed to embrace its surroundings

By Hannah Fenton |

Set on an elevated site in Donegal on Ireland’s north-west tip, Tony and Mary Bateman’s house boasts a stunning vista that overlooks Gola island and the other islands in the archipelago of Inishfree Bay.

When you first encounter this strikingly modern home you are immediately impressed by the clean crisp angles of the exterior and the flow of light that is channelled through the internal space.

Designed by MacGabhann Architects, it was built in 2009. The brief was to come up with an innovative design that would capitalise on the views and allow as much light into the house as possible.

New build by the sea in Donegal Ireland 5

Photo: Philip Lauterbach

‘The first consideration was the location,’ says Tarla MacGabhann of MacGabhann Architects. ‘The weather can be very changeable here; as we walked about the site to decide on the location, within the space of a few hours we had driving rain, strong winds and bright sunshine. ‘So ultimately it was the weather that helped influence the decision on the positioning of the house. It’s nestled near a rocky outcrop which is to the east of the house and offers some shelter from the harsh, variable conditions.’

The Batemans were keen that the house would also work with the landscape. They didn’t want it to be at all conspicuous; it had to be harmonious with its dramatic surroundings, so the angles and lines of the house were derived from the jagged forms of the local terrain.

‘Tony and Mary were keen to bring in the latest in architectural thinking and connect this to the Donegal vernacular, as they wanted to respect the landscape,’ explains MacGabhann. ‘Thankfully, our practice is familiar with the stringent planning regulations so we were careful to make sure the design met all the local requirements to prevent any delays.’

Photo: Philip Lauterbach

The house was designed to utilise natural materials, drawing inspiration from the traditional farmhouses in the area. Its whitewashed render and corrugated roof are reminiscent of an agricultural barn meaning the modern structure sits perfectly in the surrounding landscape.

‘The property is quite narrow, similar to a traditional Irish long house,’ says MacGabhann. ‘It’s one room deep, so by incorporating large windows on either side of the main rooms the light floods in from the west and the east and the views can be enjoyed to both sides simultaneously.’

The ridge line of the pitched roof gently rises and steps up to provide the space for the first-floor belvedere. There’s a glazed area where the two geometrics of the roof intersect, allowing even more light into the space.

The house has a strong element of protection against the forces of nature; its solid walls are perforated by deep windows that have large projecting oversized reveals. The traditional roughcast wet-dash render accentuates the robustness of the structure.’

Not only were the view and the landscape important to Tony and Mary, but the layout was a major consideration. They were keen to have a very sociable house, with plenty of space for entertaining their children and grandchildren.

Photo: Philip Lauterbach

Photo: Philip Lauterbach

To achieve this, the house was designed with the bedrooms at the opposite end to the open-plan kitchen, dining and living area, which is the focal point and hub of the house.

The first-floor belvedere was designed as a timber-clad retreat, with roof lights offering views out over the bay.

‘We have a large family, so it was important for us to have a space where everyone could gather, and the open-plan nature of the design takes this into consideration,’ says Tony. ‘It’s simple yet functional, and the large glazed areas maximise the views and merge the inside and out. Th e whole house is practical for the family and feels wonderfully light and spacious. The four double bedrooms are also large and bright and offer privacy while still enjoying the views.’

The simple, streamlined kitchen echoes the clean lines of the building’s architecture and has plenty of storage and worksurfaces. The unfussy layout and understated styling mean that the kitchen doesn’t impinge on the living area.

The large picture window maintains the emphasis on openness and natural light, and lets the kitchen cohere with the other spaces to give the owners the joined-up, sociable feel they required.

The look for the living area is sophisticated and uncluttered, and the contemporary wood-burning stove provides warmth and ambience in the cold winter months while fitting perfectly in its modern setting.

New build by the sea in Donegal Ireland 4

Photo: Philip Lauterbach

When it came to the décor throughout, the look has been kept simple and pared-back. All the materials were chosen for their quality in terms of appearance and texture.

‘The wooden finishes mean that the house doesn’t feel cold and clinical. Columbian pine was chosen for its hue and works really well with the Donegal light,’ says MacGabhann. ‘I drew inspiration from the eminent Donegal architect Liam McCormick, the father of modern church architecture in Ireland. He designed more than thirty churches that used natural materials and timber cladding to great visual effect. As he was a local architect, I thought it would be nice to incorporate some of his influence into the house.’

In their choice of furnishings, Mary and Tony opted for natural fabrics and timeless wooden pieces that complement the Columbian pine perfectly and keep the space uncluttered and contemporary.

The bedrooms are sparsely furnished with wooden beds and simple wooden tables, while the light cream tiles in the bathrooms emphasise the geometric lines.

Mary and Tony wanted a modern house that embraced the surrounding views. The result is a perfect illustration of how their architect worked with them to fulfil the brief, at the same time designing a stunning piece of architecture that is sympathetic to its owners’ aspirations and requirements.

Photo: Philip Lauterbach