A house for a sea-swimmer in Clontarf, with a roof terrace for views of Dublin Bay

This special three-bed semi-d now has a roof-terrace overlooking Bull Island and the sea beyond

Location is one of the most important factors when it comes to buying a home, so when this homeowner found a property with a “perfect” setting in Dublin, she knew that, despite it needing a lot of attention, the end result would be worth all the effort.

“We moved into the house in March 2020 at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and although the property needed work, the location was the main draw,” she says. “It looks out on to Bull Island, with views of the Poolbeg chimneys to the right and Howth to the left. We lived in it for 18 months before the renovation started which really helped in the development of ideas and guided the design.

A standard, three-bedroom semi with a garage on the side and an overall floor area of about 125 sq m, the property was constructed in the 1960s. It is located close to the Wooden Bridge in Clontarf, and benefits from wonderful views of Bull Island in the foreground and the full expanse of Dublin Bay in the background.

After moving into this house, I am a regular in the waters off the Bull Wall, which has always been a special place, and which became a precious place of escape

The brief for architect Gareth Brennan of Brennan Furlong was to provide a comfortable home for his clients, which took as much advantage of the location and the spectacular views as possible.


“Our clients are keen sea-swimmers, and we wanted to design a home which created an intuitive and emotional link between where they go for recreation, and where they would return to afterwards,” says Brennan. “So we took our primary inspiration from the concrete shelters and structures along the Bull Wall and the Clontarf Promenade, many designed by Herbert Simms in the early part of the 20th century, as we wanted the house to create that same sense of shelter.

“Structurally the house was quite sound — the primary interventions were around the garage area which was effectively rebuilt to house a new home-office to the front, a shower-room behind, and the new kitchen area beyond. The formation of the concrete bay to the front of the house was a significant undertaking, particularly where that structure intersected with the front wall of the original house. We completed our initial designs for the project in May 2020 and the job started on-site in October 2021.”

Although the works were completed in under a year, the project in its entirety took almost two — from initial design discussion to the contractor finishing on-site and the clients moving back in.

Sticking to a strict budget, a quantity surveyor was employed at the outset to constantly monitor costs and ensure the costings remained on track. And, while some structural work was undertaken, the interior design and the final look of the property was very much the brainchild of the homeowners.

“The clients had very strong ideas which we explored with them throughout the design process and on through the construction phase on-site,” says Brennan.

“I often got WhatsApp messages with screen-grabs of Instagram or Pinterest posts and so much of the design, in terms of colours, was proposed by the client and developed by Grainne Keogh in our practice. It was critical to them that many areas were created to allow views of the sea, so the layouts of both floors were agonised over to get this to work as well as possible.

“So, for example, the front sittingroom windowsill was lowered to allow a view of the sea when sitting at the dining-table and the position of the front bedroom door was altered to afford views towards the Poolbeg Chimneys from the bed. But the biggest single intervention was the decision to remove the box-bedroom to extend the landing, form a huge picture window which captures the view of the entire expanse of Dublin Bay and the Wicklow Mountains, and create an access on to the roof of the former garage, creating a roof-terrace overlooking Bull Island directly opposite.

“Also, the clients were very keen to retain the original staircase and balustrade, and paint it a vibrant teal colour, which helped create a real element of personality and character on entering the hall.

The primary goal for the house was to create a comfortable home for our little family — a forever home which would grow with us and would welcome our friends and extended family of all ages and abilities

“In addition to this, we designed the kitchen to act as a social space which connected directly to the rear terrace — so we arranged all the tall units on the inner wall so the outer wall consisted of a long counter with a large five-part bi-fold window which opens directly on to the rear terrace.”

Although the architect says there were no ‘hiccups’ with the project, there were elements of the design which had to be revised along the way in order to stick within the budget. But planning permission was secured without issue, and despite the need to secure a specialist concrete subcontractor to construct the concrete bay, this only added two months on to the duration of the build.

The clients have now moved back into their home and the team is currently working on transforming the garden.

This is being done with Eoin Gibbons, the Constant Gardener, and is expected to be “largely complete” for late spring next year.

The homeowner is delighted with the end result.

“I had been a sea swimmer before moving into this property, but would have often gone to Portmarnock or Seapoint,” she says. “However, after moving into this house, I am a regular in the waters off the Bull Wall, which has always been a special place, and which became a precious place of escape and support during the pandemic for me and many other Dubliners.

“The primary goal for the house was to create a comfortable home for our little family — a forever home which would grow with us and would welcome our friends and extended family of all ages and abilities. We wanted social spaces to gather after a swim or somewhere cosy to look out at the murmurations or the passing ships — and that is what we have.”

Brennan advises anyone who is undertaking a big project to be patient and focus on the end goal. Things take time.

“When the concrete bay to the front first went up, our clients had passersby remarking that it would be nice when it was painted, and for me, it’s still about two years from looking the way we intended it to be,” he says. “The planting, which includes carefully-selected grasses of the same species which grow on Bull Island, will thicken and tumble over the edges of the concrete, the joinery of the front door and window will further weather and soften, the teak fence to the first floor terrace will also soften and silver with age, and the longer-term plans for the landscaping, paving, and planting of the front garden will cause the concrete to settle into its context over time.