Butterfly House - May 2016
Doonkelly, Fivemilebourne, Co. Leitrim
2007 - 2011
Photographs – copyright John Sheridan
courtesy of LiD Architecture
When judging the 2012 AAI Awards, Professor Michael McGarry identified the distinguishing quality of this modest 50sqm domestic extension: how it responds to a rural condition and yet is not preoccupied with the vernacular or burdened by the existing house. ‘I like the matter-of-fact, robust response to the existing house – gable wall whipped away and new room added: no angst.’
What a difference a room makes. The young family’s dormered cottage farmhouse had small windows and low ceilings. ‘They are a very sociable family, says LiD’s Dougal Sheridan, ‘and wanted more room to have people coming by. The cottage is modest from the roadside, so the entire discussion was really about siting the home in the garden and the broader landscape. It’s a beautiful location, on the edge of agriculture and wild uplands, with a lake nearby. We had a lot to draw on. We decided to make an autonomous structure, something of a garden house, related to the landscape.’
They opened up the centre of the cottage and added a social room, a high-ceilinged, ply-lined, semi-public area for cooking, dining and living, arranged at right angles to the western gable. The result is a dynamic, honey-toned, sun-drenched space with multiple views of the surrounding hills, while the old cottage retains all the ancillary and private spaces. Areas for different activities within the extension are subtly demarcated by the inflected ‘butterfly’ roof that gives the house its new name.
An agriculturally-scaled glazed sliding door turns the extension into a loggia when open and, through the removal of the gable wall, transforms the old living room into a bright area orientated towards the landscape. ‘The clients are very indoor-outdoor people,’ says Sheridan, ‘so the big door – which is the same size as the gable we took away – is often left open, and not just in summer. They are happy to wear a jumper if needs be.’
The timber-framed extension is given its own autonomous expression, liberated from the architectural language of the old cottage. ‘Rainscreen cladding, with its ventilated cavity, works really well with timber construction,’ says Sheridan. ‘We prefer dry construction to wet trades. Timber is a very forgiving material. You have more freedom over window openings, and it allows ambiguity in terms of scale.’
Vertical joints in the fibre-cement cladding are covered with dual wooden slats, separated by spacers to support climbing plants and cast shadows on the facade. ‘It’s just a layer,’ says Sheridan, ‘not a planted screen. The slats provide a vertical rhythm, like the trees behind. They read very differently, depending on the light. On a grey, misty day, the form visually disintegrates.’ Conversely, the subtle colours of the cladding panels appear heightened in the subdued light provided by overcast conditions.
Colour is at the core of the project. The client had formerly lived in Berlin, where LiD is also based and where colour is widely celebrated. The exterior of the cottage was previously purple and each room boldly coloured. Discussions between architect and client even touched upon dazzle painting, the naval camouflage technique that attracted interest from avant-garde artists in the 1920s and 1930s.
‘We worked to sublimate her strong interest in colour to what we could work with in the landscape,’ says Sheridan. ‘If we could do that, the rest of the house could go back to white. In the end the exterior became grey to let the Butterfly House do its own thing. Very early on, we digitized the colours of a range of physical cladding samples from Tegral and then prepared different rhythmic scenarios, based on the landscape, with which to wrap the extension. The selected tones relate to the changing colours of the surrounding trees, hedgerows, fields, mountains and sky.’
Finally, this knowing-yet-naif piece of architecture displays a rare affinity with the wood-butcher’s architecture of the hippy counterculture, a form of ‘architecture without architects’ that also influenced Frank O Gehry when he came to extend his seminal house in Santa Monica. There, infamously, the neighbours were shocked; here they must be charmed.