Belfast Telegraph

Grand Designs: Northern Ireland home in running for House of the Year

House Lessans
House Lessans
House Lessans
Sarah Tulloch

By Sarah Tulloch

A breathtaking Northern Ireland home is in the running to become the Grand Designs House of The Year.

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

Presenter Kevin McCloud and the Grand Designs team explored the property alongside four others homes in with a chance of winning the prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) House of the Year title - all of which have been fuelled by a desire to innovate and pioneer and at the cutting edge of contemporary design.

The Co Down home was entered in the Down to Earth category, which McCloud described as an accumulation of "plain-speaking, simple, honest homes".

"The sort of houses you’d want to go to the pub for a drink with," he said.

"They are quietly spoken - but don’t let that fool you. These are also brave homes that take risks. They make bold choices but never just for the sake of showing off."

House Lessans was designed by McGonigle McGrath, a RIBA Chartered architectural practice based in Belfast, formed by Kieran McGonigle and Aidan McGrath.

Kieran said the intention was for the new home, completed in 2018, to look like an agricultural building.

"The existing barn is basically corrugated steel on a masonry base. The client knew they wanted to maintain the barn and add a building on to the side which complimented it," said the architect.

With interiors McCloud called “a lesson in grey minimalism, all geared round the views,” the building has been divided into sleeping and living zones.

House Lessans
House Lessans

The generous double-height sitting room with an open-plan kitchen and pantry boasts lots of space and light. Beyond this, there’s a snug and above the pantry is a study with a gallery.

Across the hallway is the sleeping block, also double-height, which features three bedrooms of equal size looking out onto a courtyard, with only one bathroom between them.

Owners Sylvia and Michael said this was a deliberate decision they made to "save on cleaning".

House Lessans
House Lessans

The building's huge volumes have been broken up with one horizontal line that runs around the entire house: white above, grey below, to give the rooms a familiar scale and "avoid any whiff of an art gallery".

Completed in 2018, the estimated cost comes in at about £1,400 per square metre - less than half the cost of the average top-end self-build.

To do this, Kieran put a lot of thought into what to build the house from, with the knowledge that they "could create interesting spaces using very basic building materials".

House Lessans
House Lessans

McCloud praised the architects' savvy use of concrete bricks coupled with his careful attention to detail.

He said: "Kiaran has made inexpensive materials look high end by finishing them beautifully, with flush mortar joints and careful painting, which has allowed him to spend the real money on keeping the rain out with the zinc rooftop."

Architect John Pardey, the chair of this year's judges, selected House Lessans and The Secular Retreat, a home in rural Devon, to be shortlisted for the prestigious House of the Year title.

Speaking about the Northern Ireland home, Pardey said: "Low budget materials brought together with creative flare... That’s powerful."

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.

This year's winner will be unveiled in the finale of Grand Designs: House Of The Year which airs on Channel 4 on Wednesday, November 13 at 9pm.

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