Belfast Telegraph

Grand Designs House of the Year: Northern Ireland's House Lessans takes top award

House Lessans
House Lessans
HouseLessans 14 Aidan McGrath.jpg
Sarah Tulloch

By Sarah Tulloch

A unique Northern Ireland home has won the much-coveted title of Grand Designs House of The Year 2019.

The prestigious annual award is given by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) to the UK’s best new architect-designed house.

Located in the gently rolling landscape of Saintfield, Co Down, House Lessans is an L-shaped building of perfectly pitched zinc roofs over cool, concrete blockwork built next to an existing barn.

The property, which cost £335,000 to build, was shortlisted from the Down to Earth category, which Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud described as an accumulation of "plain-speaking, simple, honest homes".

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House Lessans (Aidan McGrath)

Architect Kieran McGonigle, of Belfast firm McGonigle McGrath, said the house "we hope, extends our understanding of how to make buildings in our countryside".

Through the use of basic building materials, cost-saving hacks and the simple arrangement of rooms and spaces, McGonigle McGrath managed to design a home of outstanding quality on a budget.

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House Lessans (Aidan McGrath)

Walls made of cheap concrete blocks have been carefully laid, rendered outside and painted inside with flush mortar joins to ensure a perfect finish. The huge windows are also fixed throughout with openings for ventilation – a far cheaper alternative to bifold doors.

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Chair of the 2019 RIBA House of the Year judging panel, architect John Pardey, said that the house was chosen as the winner as it "represents a paradigm in creating relevant contemporary architecture that truly reflects its local context, venacular and culture".

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House Lessans

"It has an elegant simplicity achieved within a remarkably low budget without excesses, creating delight in the subtly changing volumes as well as its relationship between the inside and outside."

He added: "The house takes the daily business of life and with the architects’ skills in making a house from simple materials, carefully detailed and with precise alignments, succeeds in becoming not just a house, but more importantly, a home.”

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House Lessans

Sylvia and Michael, the owners of the property, said they stuck with one bathroom because there would be less cleaning, despite some people saying they should have more.

“We feel that the house respects and indeed enhances the landscape. It is a joy to live in - from seeing the soaring bedroom ceiling on wakening, being surrounded by the gentle landscape in the kitchen during the day, to enjoying the sunset in the top room.

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House Lessans

"We’re delighted to be a part of the RIBA celebration of the life-enhancing potential of architecture.”

Last year, Maison Wedge in Killinchy, Co Down was shortlisted for the accolade, but lost out to an off-grid “modest, sustainable home” in the Scottish Highlands.

House Lessans was revealed as the winner in the final episode of a special Channel 4 series, Grand Designs: House Of The Year, which aired on Wednesday.

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