Functionality was the driving force behind this modern-day take on the Wexford holiday home.
We’d spent enough holidays in Ireland under lashing rain to know that we needed a good design to make our trips to our second home enjoyable,” says Andrew Bryce, who with his wife Cathy and two children had been holidaying in Co Wexford for years.
“We liked this area of Wexford but it was too expensive for us to buy, until the boom disappeared and prices became more affordable,” he says. “We got very lucky, we purchased the house at auction in 2011.”
Renovate or knock down?
Renovate or knock down to build new? This conundrum is one that self-builders often face and for Andrew and Cathy the decision to let go of the original bungalow wasn’t a hard one to take. This, despite the original house having been well located, elevated to get view across the inlet and at an angle from the road.
“We wouldn’t have been able to achieve as much within the existing footprint and even though we didn’t move the house by a lot we did angle it better to improve the aspect. Also, the original bungalow really would have had to be gutted and extended to make it work as a practical holiday home,” explains Andrew.
“We also wanted to achieve a good energy rating and retrofitting all of that insulation would have been costly and troublesome.”
It was in 2012 when they were toying with the idea of an extension. “At the preplanning stage we explained our line of thinking to the planners and they felt it was a good idea to start from scratch; on that basis we discussed what we could do.”
Their architect was already on board at this stage as he’d advised them during their house hunt. “We’d received very good local recommendations and Zeno helped us with estimating how much it would cost to convert the houses we were looking at,” says Andrew.
“It was a natural progression to keep him on board as we had a very good understanding, we had a solid relationship and communication was excellent.”
As far as wish lists go, Andrew and Cathy’s wasn’t prescriptive in terms of design. “It was more of a functionality list,” reflects Andrew. “We wanted everything to flow off the kitchen – inside but also outside with a patio area – I like to barbeque in all weather conditions!”
“We didn’t define if we wanted a bungalow, modern or anything specific,” continues Andrew. “What our architect came back with was essentially what we built, with a few minor tweaks here and there.”
The two storey height takes in the views, the overhang at the front of the house protects from overheating on sunny days and (in Andrew’s view, more importantly) from rain for the barbecue.
The games room, meanwhile, occupies the children on those wet days.
An integral part of the solution was to create one living space that could be closed off in sections, which includes the kitchen, living, dining and games room.
“We’re all together without being on top of each other,” says Andrew. “It’s the ideal holiday set up. Our children are now 13 to 15 years old, they were 10 to 12 when we started this building project, and the long term plan is to allow them to have their own space with their friends, simply by sliding the games’ room 8ft door shut.”
Furthermore the new low level wall provides a line along which to plant trees; the layout now also provides more privacy from the roadside.
“I think it can work better not have preconceived idea, not to be fixated on an aspect of design,” says Andrew. “We loved what Zeno came up with, and I think if we’d tried influencing the design it might have gotten a bit muddled. We trusted our architect’s design capabilities and he really surpassed all our expectations”
Planning permission was secured without any conditions and they went to tender for the construction phase. “Five builders came back and we chose ours based on price and reputation, and we really couldn’t praise him highly enough. He’d already come with a good reputation but I felt he outdid himself, going way beyond what was expected of him,” gushes Andrew.
“The finish was excellent and he was always prepared to go the extra mile. This was a build that was entirely driven by the architect, who acted as the project manager, and builder. In terms of our involvement the house was built largely by internet with digital photos and by email for the first 80 per cent of the house, they simply called if they came across any problems. It was that easy!”
Low cost and eco
“We wanted a low cost, environmentally friendly house. We always said it would be built on a 30-year plan – we had to get as much right as possible from the start.”
They therefore spent time on the design phase, in order to not have to change anything during construction, and got on site in 2013.
“During the build any issues were flagged quickly,” says Andrew. “For instance we felt the downpipes at the front of the house would have been unsightly so we chose to use rain chains instead, hidden behind the overhang and pillars. They work really well.”
Andrew and Cathy wanted underfloor heating and chose to install an air to water heat pump for heating along with a gas boiler for backup and for hot water.
“We also wanted a stove, installing a solid fuel one upstairs and a gas fired one downstairs,” recounts Andrew.
“The first time we lit the wood burning stove we set off the heat alarm! It gets very hot if you load the stove fully. It’s a good thing we can control it as the house does get warm very quickly.”
Heat pumps take a while to crank up the heat in the underfloor heating so the couple installed a system that gives them remote access to the controls.
“We turn on the heat a few days before visiting from our mobile phone; the way it works is the slab heats up at night on the cheaper night electricity tariff, and it slowly heats up the house during the day. We’ve tiled downstairs and upstairs we have three bedrooms which are all carpeted; there the underfloor heating is encased in polystyrene board instead of screed.”
Their architect recommended they visit the SelfBuild show in Citywest for insights and inspiration. “We got loads of ideas and got quotes, it helped us to find what we needed at the right price,” says Andrew. “It was our responsibility to source the finishes and the kitchen. We already had ideas of what we wanted in terms of functionality, our 650sqft urban townhouse has a galley kitchen and I have to say it’s still one of the best we’ve ever had – you get something out of the oven and straight onto the countertop, it’s as easy as that. So we replicated that ease of use.”
Andrew says the builder was especially helpful in recommending local suppliers, which was important as they felt very strongly about supporting the local economy. “If we had to pick out a door or a finish, wherever possible we went local,” he says.
“On a cost basis, it’s important to keep searching but also trust going local – I found them to go the extra mile, they made sure the products got to us on time too.”
All I want for Christmas…
What didn’t arrive on time were the windows, which were delayed by four months, a relatively common issue with self-builds and in this case totally the fault of the supplier.
“That first year all we wanted for Christmas were our two front doors! Thankfully the windows arrived on the 21st of December and the doors five weeks later.”
The porch roof couldn’t be supplied by the company they’d initially ordered it from so they had to find another supplier. “We spent part of our first summer without a porch as a result,” comments Andrew.
Bifold doors were too expensive so they chose the sliding door option, which they make great use of. “At Easter and in the summer we have all of the sliding doors wide open, it really makes the inside of the house feel like it’s part of the outside. We live at the back in the morning and then move on to the front in the evening,” adds Andrew.
The influence of this build extended to the children who became engrossed in construction blocks during the design. “One of our girls even went through a phase of using a free online modelling tool, designing all sorts of houses and structures.”
A budding architect, perhaps? “Our only hope is that if she does, then she ends up as good as Zeno!”
House size: 350 sqm
Site size: 2/3rds acre
Total cost: €400,000
Airtightness test result: 3.0 m3/hr.m2
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