1930s reborn with Boyd Cody

Design features in older homes were sometimes deployed for unexpected purposes which could surprise us today. Until now you might have reasonably considered that the recessed porches appearing in Dublin homes from the 1930s were put there just to provide a dry space to shake your umbrella and get the key in the door?

Now consider a magazine ad placed by Kenny builders in the 1930s for new homes in Dublin, stating that its latest house style is “distinguished by its deep open porch to the front which is perfect for a pram to take the healthy air”.

Until the 1950s Irish parents commonly left their pram bound infants outside and alone in the front garden for much of the day and in all weather. Fresh air was considered healthy in times when TB was rampant and leaving the baby alone outside was considered a necessary character building facet of childcare.

The same article promoted Kennys’ “Electricity Demonstration House”, showing off comforts “that can only be secured in a house designed and built for the full service of electricity”. New Kennys came with double door garages to house the newly arrived family motor car (too valuable to leave unattended in the front drive!), indoor WCs and plumbed in bathtubs which didn’t have to be hung on the wall after use.

The 1930s saw the first truly modern homes built and also the widest variance of home styles. Kennys offered no less than nine different styles of four bed semis with an average price of IR£1,000.

In the interwar years builders like Stringer, Stain, Crampton and Kenny were looking mostly (but not always) to Britain for inspiration. But suddenly the message had become mixed as design schools led by new technologies and emerging new materials tussled with the lingering remnants of Victorian values and long held traditional outlooks on homebuilding. Mock Tudor, garden city, arts and crafts, art deco and continental modernism all competed for the hearts of builders, designers and homebuyers.

The design of 133 Stillorgan Road in Donnybrook, with its pram porch, strongly suggests characteristics favoured by John Kenny in league with his motorcycling designer and engineer John Du Moulin. Du Moulin hedged his bets and incorporated a little of everything into their 1930s homes. Distinctive fingerprints of the firm include the soft rendered bay windows and an extra protrusive gutterline brim.

Fast forward to 2011 and Number 133 required a revamp. The owners called on award-winning architectural firm Boyd Cody. Dermot Boyd and Peter Cody worked extensively for well known practices in Europe and the USA before returning to Ireland to set up their practice in 2000. They’re winners of the prestigious AAI Downes Medal and are known for cubular contemporary homes. So what would the angle loving medallists do with a curvy Kenny?

Two different single storey extensions were added either side of a new outdoor terrace. The owners had requested a big new modern and bright kitchen and dining area with a separate laundry room. They also required a storage room.

When faced with juxtaposing modern design with older styles of building, most architects give up and simply opt for a neutral glazed link to a contemporary glass box-style extension, drawing a clear line between the two eras. But Boyd Cody eschewed that approach, noting that the style of red-brick used in the pram porch could also provide a strong defining feature for both a wholly contemporary interior and exterior, which married easily with the original house. Meantime the incorporation of smooth handle-less light wood units and panelling was used in new and original spaces, lending a seamless modern look that also manages somehow to nod back to the clean and opulent liner styling of the 1930s. Clever clogs.

In doing so, they’ve also somehow managed to add the equivalent of a large modern four-bed semi (1,291sq ft) to an already substantial 2,152 sq ft home but without bullying the original structure, nor making the site look at all crowded.

Now it’s for sale through Hunters seeking €1.8m. Accommodation includes an entrance hall with timber floors and floor to ceiling panelling, a study with built-in storage, a living room with carpeted floor and glass doors leading to the garden. There’s a sitting room and the new kitchen/dining room has glass sliding doors to the garden. Off this is a laundry room, also with access to the garden, a guest WC and a big boot room with an entrance from the front. The master bedroom has floor to ceiling wardrobes, wall mounted reading lights and an en suite shower room. There are three more bedrooms. If that’s not enough, there’s planning for a self-contained apartment of 430 sq ft.

And that baby hardening porch is still at hand at a time when childcare experts are newly reappraising old methods, these days inspired by the ‘forest schools’ of the Scandinavian countries and where children sleep outside. In sub zero temperatures.

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