A modest bungalow on the shores of Strangford Lough in Co Down has been transformed into a haven perfect for three water loving teenagers and their parents.
Sixteen and a half years ago, John and Heather bought their seafront bungalow to enjoy as a summer home. After having many happy holidays there whilst living in Dublin, when they moved back to Belfast the couple’s thoughts began to turn to the future. ’Although we now live in Belfast, our plan is to eventually move down here permanently. When we bought the house, we didn’t have any big ideas about renovation, we saw it as just a very comfortable holiday home. I think you also need to live in a house for a while to see what its potential is,’ says Heather. Knocking the house and starting again was never on the cards. ‘It was suggested to us a few times, but I think it would have lost quite a lot of its character and neither was it really necessary as fundamentally the house was sound. It just needed to be rejigged a bit.’ Making better use of existing space is something many people are turning to as lifestyle changes mean that what was once ideal, is not any longer. With three growing teenage children, John and Heather found that the layout had become awkward to work with and at the same time, realised they could make much better use of the fabulous views..
Recognising that the house wasn’t working very well is one thing, knowing what to do quite another, which is why they brought in an architect. As Heather said, ‘It’s very difficult when you’re used to living in a house to be able to see it as just floor area and views.’ The couple heard about Ian’s work through word of mouth and when they met him were impressed by his approach. ‘He began by asking about us, how we lived and the main purpose of the house now, and in the future. It was only after doing that exercise, which was useful for us as well, that he went on to make suggestions about changes to the layout. The scheme he proposed didn’t involve going either up or out, it was all internal so we didn’t need planning permission. Instead he helped us to identify where the main focus of the house – kitchen and living area – should be located.’ At the time, as is so often the case in houses of this period, (1960’s), the kitchen was at the back; the new layout has it at the centre of the house. Standing in the kitchen there is now a wonderful view out through sliding glass doors (‘the biggest we could get’), which have excellent seals to keep them weather tight, something the existing glazi ng was most definitely not! Given their coastal location it is important that the fabric performs well and that includes the windows which were double glazed, but the seal had broken and so these were replaced with new. The glazed doors open out onto a patio that’s used winter and summer and which proved to be a perfect spot for a sunken hot tub, a feature enjoyed by the family all year round. Instead of a garden to look after, they can relax with the magnificent seascape as a backdrop which, as Heather remarked, is different every day and doesn’t require either weeding or the grass cut!.
The second major change involved altering the layout at the front. ‘There were two entrance doors at the front of the house, one of which we never used; it now opens into a shower room. I know that might sound a bit odd, but with a family who all sail it’s brilliant! They wear wet suits and used to arrive back leaving a trail of wet, salty and sticky seawater through the house. Now they can walk straight into the shower room and strip off in there.’ Taking the idea one step further, they also fitted an outside shower in a secluded corner, an idea which came from a family holiday in Costa Rica. ‘We showered outside the whole time there. Of course it’s roasting hot and you wouldn’t want a cold shower in this climate! But we said ‘why not have a hot shower outside? In Costa Rica we had monkeys sitting on the wall beside us, here we have fabulous sea views which I think I prefer!’
The second front door now opens into a hallway connecting the living area with three further bedrooms and a bathroom in addition to the new shower, where once there were only two bedrooms and a bathroom. The roofspace above is floored for storage and now reached by a folding ladder. By removing the staircase, an extra bedroom was created. The master bedroom with en suite lies off the living area, and is accessed via the new central kitchen, which is approached from the opposite end of the hall to the bedrooms.
During the build, the family were based in Belfast and although they visited the house, they were confident in the ability of the builder to carry out their plans accurately.. ’If the builder had a question, he was quick to contact me, he was excellent. He had been recommended to us by the architect and some of our friends had also used him so we knew we were in safe hands.’ A house of this age requires heating and with far more efficient boilers now available, Heather and John decided to replace the existing one with a new oil fired model to heat the radiators as well as provide hot water. The couple did seriously consider solar panels because the house is south facing, but in the end took their builder’s advice and didn’t go ahead. ‘We figured financially there would be a long payback, the house heats up very well, gets a lot of solar gain and rarely feels cold. We’re kind of outdoorsy people anyway and the shelter from the other houses and a big hedge help to protect us from the south westerly gales. In winter we draw the blinds and they are very good also at keeping the heat in.. The kitchen is always warm from the oil fired Aga cooker which moved from the back of the house to the centre, and a log stove now uses what had been the cooker flue.’ To complete the overhaul, the house was rewired and replumbed (‘the drains were very old’).
When the house was built, natural daylight was less valued but times and tastes change and creating a light filled house was a priority for Heather and John. ’Anytime we’ve bought a house we’ve had a compass in our hand to make sure it is orientated to get the best possible light. ‘Although the kitchen is in the centre of the house, it is very bright from a large roof window, something of an afterthought as Heather explained. ’I went down to the house during the build one very sunny day, walked inside and realised the kitchen didn’t feel as bright and light-filled as it could have. The builders were about to block off the roof when I asked them to stop and put more roof windows in. It added a few more thousand pounds to the cost but I’m so glad I thought of it. I caught it just in time and it’s really made a world of difference’ In keeping with the practical approach to their lifestyle, as Heather trains puppies to be guide-dogs, wooden floors were chosen for ease of cleaning and convenience.
What would the couple say to others thinking of an internal remodelling of their existing house? ’Our requirements are probably different to most people. We have three teenagers who love sports and being in the water means mess, lots of wetsuits and mud. As sailing is something we will do all our lives, it was important the house reflected that, so in general we would advise thinking about what you do most often in and around the house and use that as your starting point.’
Apart from the requirements that come with being a sailing family, most importantly the couple wanted to create a house their family would love too. ’We find they want their friends to come to our house and at one stage we had something like 18 people in the tub !. It’s only meant to hold eight so it got quite busy! Very often their friends stay over which is great and they haven’t wrecked the house yet!’
Walls: 100/100/100 cavity with 90mm EPS insulation. U-Value around 0.30 W/m2k
Roof: Trocal (single ply pvc membrane) on 90mm Polyurethane insulation (Kingspan TR26). Existing ceiling insulation throughout dwelling upgraded to a total of 200mm mineral wool insulation. Extension roof U-Value around 0.22 W/m2k
Floor: Suspended timber floors extended with new 150mm EPS rigid insulation board between new and existing joists. U-Value around 0.25 W/m2k
Windows: Double glazed, Argon filled with low-emmissivity “K-glass” coating. U-Value of around 1.7 W/m2k
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