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From terraced Howth cottage to light-filled modern home: ‘I’m still walking through each room with a smile on my face’

Extending the footprint of the property involved introducing courtyards and boosting energy efficiency

Modern life can be very fast paced, so for those with busy work and social lives, a home which feels like an oasis of tranquility is a must.

This is exactly what Gareth Brennan’s clients had in mind for their terraced cottage in Howth, when they hired him and his team, which included Grainne Keogh and Jozefina Godec, to transform it into the their dream home.

The homeowners had bought a cottage in the coastal village, and then approached Brennan Furlong in 2019 about their home, which measured about 100sq m. It was on a street of 48 cottages, and had been altered by previous owners. There had been a porch added, window openings widened and the rear poorly extended.

“Our brief was to delicately modernise the once three-bedroomed cottage, to provide a calm, comfortable home for a professional couple,” says Brennan.


“And when we first went to the house one bright cold morning, the winter sunlight fell beautifully around the building, along the street, and into the garden. We immediately wanted to capture this light and bring it into the house – as the dark kitchen offered glimpses out to the long well-kept garden beyond, and the house felt low, as if hugging the ground.”

The original cottage was accessed by two irregular external steps at the front door, and Brennan says that once inside the porch, the house was “difficult to navigate, with narrow corridors and rooms”.

“A central part of the brief was to ensure the new house allowed full and comfortable access for the clients’ parents, who are provided with a guest suite with accessible bathroom and shower, to the front of the house,” he says. “The smaller courtyard is accessed directly from this suite, while the kitchen and dining areas open out on to the larger courtyard via a carefully detailed and insulated triple-slider level threshold.

“Our reconfigured plan retains the same spaces and functions but has reorganised the layout and increased the size. The original part of the house includes a bedroom, bathroom and a living area, all to the front of the property, while the new extension, which wraps around the two courtyards, houses the utility, kitchen-dining area and the main bedroom.”

According to the Clontarf-based architect, the design was “informed by the original site morphology and materials, along with the interrelationships of street, house, garden and lane”. And while the brief was not without its hiccups, clever design and planning brought about a very satisfactory end result.

“The process of matching the budget to the scope was challenging and the design process was lengthy, as the project was refined and developed through design, planning and eventually tender processes,” he says. “The clients were very clear that quality was their priority over quantity – so they didn’t want a ‘big’ house, they wanted a ‘good’ house – and we believe this has been achieved.”

The overall project, which was completed at the end of 2023, took just over a year, and now provides contemporary comfort and style for the homeowners, while also having retained, restored, and repaired the character and fabric of the original 100-year-old cottage.

“Breathable solutions and natural materials such as wood fibre, lime, cork, and clay-based plasters were used to insulate the thick stone walls,” says Brennan. “And complementing this, the new extensions are designed to open on to and inhabit the surrounding outdoor spaces – as large openings draw natural light into the primary living spaces of the house and create better connectivity with the outdoors and with nature.”

The renovation has also led to a significant boost in energy efficiency. When the homeowners first bought the home, it had an F rating. Now, it has an SEAI-verified A3 rating, with energy provided by an air-to-water heat pump and underfloor heating throughout.

We’re in a couple of weeks and I’m still walking through each room with a smile on my face

Also, a demand control ventilation system ensures continuous air quality, while a solid-fuel stove provides a homely ambience on winter evenings. Much of the pre-existing mature garden was retained and the couple, who are keen gardeners, are re-landscaping the new external spaces themselves.

“From our perspective, we believe the resulting home demonstrates how a modest cottage can be carefully treated to facilitate another century of sustainable use of the pre-existing 100-year-old fabric,” says Brennan.

And the homeowners, who say they are “over the moon with the end result”, agree.

“Being honest, I was very sceptical about the layout at the outset but am surprised how well it works,” he says. “I’m delighted we did a full refurb of the old part of the house, raising the ceiling and putting underfloor heating throughout. And I’m glad we were persuaded to have ecological insulation and the breather membrane in the roof.

“We’re in a couple of weeks and I’m still walking through each room with a smile on my face. I’m still only realising how clever some of the smallest details are – also, I’m not sure what this means but there is a lovely feeling in the house.”

His partner agrees, and says that the end result has “far exceeded” their expectations.

“If I had to use one word to describe the house it would be comfort,” she says. “The original house contained small rooms, which were dark and cold with a smell of damp throughout. So, natural, breathable products were used to insulate the old stone walls in the front section of the house and in contrast the rear contains high ceilings and large glass areas, which let in light all day. The ventilation system stops the rear from getting too warm in summer and prevents any sense of stuffiness in winter.

“We intend to add solar panels in the next year or two, which should minimise the carbon footprint further,” she says.

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Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in health, lifestyle, parenting, travel and human interest stories