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Home, Home on the Range

Grand Designs Magazine, August 2005

It's long, low and barrel-vaulted. But that's where the similarity with  vernacular architecture ends – the Callaghan's home in Northern Ireland  is spankingly modern.

Joann and Thomas Callaghan's house is not easy to find.  We knew we  were looking for a long, low building with a barrel-vaulted roof, but in  the gently rolling countryside of County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland,  every other barn fits that description.  Some were only discounted when  cows were spotted inside; the building has won an RIAI award for its  use of Irish vernacular architecture, but cows were probably taking  'vernacular' a bit far.  We eventually found it nestled in the lee of a  hill up a winding track just outside the village of Roslea, near the  Irish border.

The couple were given the site as a wedding present  by Tommy's father.  "I've had this land for years," says Tommy.  "It was  always the place we were going to build.  It's so quiet and peaceful,  and has lovely views."
Fortunately, Joann agreed, so they went to  her architect sister's firm, Aughey O'Flaherty Architects, for ideas.   Joann is clear that credit for the design should go to her sister Lora  Aughey.  "It's really her dream home," says Joann.  "We were thinking  traditional, but Lora had something different in her head.  We just let  her get on with it."

While many people hanker after the big spaces and open-plan living of  barn conversions, for the Callaghans, the decision was dictated by the  setting.  At first they looked at the top of the hill, "but then we  noticed this ancient cottage further down where it's not as windswept,"  says Lora.  "They knew where to site in those days."
The cottage was small and in a bad state of disrepair so, says Lora: "We  thought it better to build from scratch with modern conveniences, but  set up a language with a complex of buildings so that they would relate  to each other."
The set up of the buildings echoes rural Irish vernacular architecture  with the new house as barn to the cottage.  'Southfork' style ranches  are all the rage south of the border, but, Joann explains, "We have to  pay rates in Northern Ireland so our houses tend to be smaller."

The house is a long, narrow building in the tradition of Irish  cottages, with double aspect and access from the open-plan living area.   It runs east to west, parallel to the old cottage, while an old cow  byre, now a car port, closes off the third side of the rectangle to  create a courtyard.  Eventually, they will renovate the outbuildings so  the cottage can be used as a guest wing.

The traditional proportions of Lora's design helped them get it  through planning, as there was a stipulation that the new building  shouldn't overpower the older ones.  The copper-clad, barrel-vaulted  roof covers both the open-plan living area and the two-storey sleeping  accommodation, but from the outside, the house appears single storey.   "People are always amazed at how big it inside," says Tommy.  In the  living area the space soars up to the white-painted curved roof, so it  feels light and airy.  "When we saw it at the foundations stage, we were  worried that the kitchen was far too small," says Joann.  "But we  trusted Lora and she was absolutely right."

The outside of the building subtly reflects its split interior  layout.  "The house is very simple," says Lora, "So we used the  fenestration to distinguish different functions."  The rendered walls to  the east (the sleeping half) are punctured with discreet windows – the  side facing the lane has long vertical slits to bring light to the upper  level.  The living area to the west is rich with doors and full-height  windows set in Iroko timber cladding.

There's a real outdoor-in feel throughout the house as the timber is  continued over a long veranda on the courtyard side, a decking platform  on the views side, and there's even a balcony from the upper bedroom,  which gets the morning sun.  "I thought they'd use it as the master  bedroom," says Lora, but Joann preferred the bedroom with the en-suite.   "Bathrooms are very important to the Irish," says Joann.  There are  already three bathrooms to three bedrooms, and they were originally  going to have one more.

The greatest challenge during construction was the roof.  "The truck  that brought the steel trusses over was too big to get up the driveway.   They had to be taken away, cut in half, brought back and bolted  together on site."  Initially the copper was cut to the wrong template  and had to be redone.  Getting the strip boarding straight was a fiddly  job.  "We were lucky to have a fantastic builder who would always find  solutions and couldn't wait to get stuck in," says Lora.  The builder  even cast the Spanish-style chimney pots in his garden and hoisted them  up with a crane.

The house always gets an amazing reaction, and Joann and Tommy love  it.  "Joann would have told me straight away if she didn't!" says Lora.