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Check out the home office this Cork architect created in his garden 

Check out the home office this Cork architect created in his garden 

Designed out of a need to work remotely during a pandemic, this Cork home office has turned out to be something of a haven at the bottom of the garden.

Architect Gareth Sullivan’s project Working From Home is one of four Cork spaces shortlisted in the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) Irish Architecture Awards.

The crackled alligator texture on the charred wood cladding represents the bark of the many trees that surround and overhang the building. Picture: Celeste Burdon

The original concept was driven by the need to work from home which coincided with the various lockdowns in recent years, says Douglas-based Gareth, who established Simply Architecture in 2009.

“Initially working in the house was not practical so it gave me the impetus to design and build something that was specifically a work-from-home space,” he says.

The garden room office designed by Gareth Sullivan, Picture: Celeste Burdon

The garden room office designed by Gareth Sullivan, Picture: Celeste Burdon

“There was a natural disused part of our garden backing onto a wooded area, so the office also acts as a seamless boundary for our site.

“The main concept was that it would then feel like a boundary fence and not overlook the house.” To this end, Gareth ensured the front façade is windowless with a secret door within the façade, all clad in black charred larch.

“It really works as from inside I can’t see the house, so it doesn’t feel like I am working from home and there is a distinct separation between the house and the office, which is really important when working from home,” he says.

The garden room overlooks treetops. Picture: Celeste Burdon

The garden room overlooks treetops. Picture: Celeste Burdon

You may not see the house, but you can see views of treetops — creating a relaxed and comfortable workspace.

“My favourite spot is the workspace that is suspended over the sloping terrain and looks into the trees is a really beautiful space, with dappled light coming through the tree canopy — it gives the sense of working amongst nature,” says Gareth.

He uses it for work, as does his wife Barbara, who is also involved in the practice. “She uses it in the evenings and having a proper, structured workspace at home has made things a lot easier for us, particularly with the flexibility needed having a young family,” says Gareth.

“The space is primarily used as a workspace for now but as our kids get older it will no doubt evolve to suit their needs as a study space or a social space to enjoy with their friends. The space is very versatile and with very small adaptation could become a home gym, an art studio or a music room.”

Storage is built into several areas including a custom-made wall unit that is integrated into the wall. Deep wall recesses are also used for concealed shelving.

“A mirrored section of wall highlights reflections of the trees and makes the small space feel bigger,” he adds.

“Open rafters painted white give a nice sense of rhythm to the ceiling and also enhance the sense of space while also revealing the structure of the building with concealed lighting at the base of the rafters.

Simple plywood window surrounds are coupled with the same finish on the shelving and custom-made desks meaning only a select few materials are used giving a sense of continuity. “These desks are also on electrical pedestals which give the option of a standing desk and extra flexibility,” says Gareth.

“The crackled alligator texture on the charred wood cladding represents the bark of the many trees that surround and overhang the building.

“Internally a similarly dark wall finish gives a striking contrast to the white ceiling and as a result places extra emphasis on the large glazed openings that frame the trees.”

The garden room took approximately 10 months to complete, between November 2020 and September 2021. “The project was hampered by the lockdowns and the fact tradespeople couldn’t work on it during various periods, but the extra time gave me an opportunity to refine details and make decisions while also working on it myself,” says Gareth.

“I have continually been working on it up until very recently and have enjoyed that phase of the process, adding layers of finishes and final touches.”

We all have a dream of a garden room to escape to, so does Gareth have any advice for others embarking on a similar project?

“Plan everything in advance, down to material orders and having tradespeople lined up and try to be resourceful with upcycling and re-purposing materials,” he says.

“I was fortunate that I was able to design the building, so I was in control of the entire process. I was even lucky enough to source some left-over triple-glazed panes from a local window company and because I was able to adjust the design to suit it really helped with managing the budget.

“Something like a garden room is also an opportunity to have some fun with finishes and design ideas that you may not otherwise try in your home so be brave and enjoy the process.”

Gareth’s garden escape has no shortage of sustainability credentials.

“The building fabric was designed to the same standard as any of the house designs we would typically work on,” he adds. “It is a timber frame structure, very well insulated and air tight. A demand control mechanical ventilation system was installed and an air-to-air heat pump.”

The design features two small identically sized blocks that are connected and sit on stilts.

This is to ensure they are movable if future needs change and it needs to be relocated. “The building, while providing a workspace as a primary function, also needed to be discrete and a subtle intervention in our garden,” says the architect.

“It was important that it wasn’t a dominant, imposing structure and it was very much designed as a backdrop for planting in the garden. This influenced the decision to clad it in charred wood so it would become peripheral to the garden as opposed to a prominent structure. “Connection with nature and providing a calm working space was also very

important. Therefore, all windows capture views of trees and planting, and the view of the house is blocked out.

“Small wooden apertures can be opened within the wall to provide ventilation hatches and a physical connection with the outside.”

So how does the family like the result? “We love how it has turned out and it has exceeded my expectations,” says Gareth.

“It has really enhanced the sense of privacy and enclosure in the garden and as an office, it is an ideal place to work.

“This space has had a major positive impact on the way I work now. The flexibility it gives us as a family is great, but equally, it has given me an ideal space to foster design ideas and develop really meaningful work.

“The comfort and connection with nature give us a calm workspace that ensures complete privacy and separation between work and home. We love the space and it has made an enormously positive difference to our work and home life.”

Gareth, originally from Monaghan, moved to Cork in 2009, when he started his practice Simply Architecture, www.simplyarchitecture.ie. In 2019 the practice was awarded the RIAI Future Award which recognises an emerging practice in Ireland.

  • Work From Home is shortlisted in the Workplace and Fit-Out category which is voted for by the RIAI jury
  • Separate to the main award in each category, the public can also choose their favourite building across all categories in the Public Choice Award, www.riai.ie/public-choice-award-poll

THERE are a fabulous four Cork spaces and buildings in the running for prizes in the upcoming Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland awards.

The public has been encouraged to have its say and select the nation’s favourite piece of architecture — choosing from super school structures and homes with the wow factor to reimagined workplaces and adapted public spaces.

Horgan's Quay, Cork, O'Mahony Pike Architects. Picture: Jed Niezgoda

Horgan’s Quay, Cork, O’Mahony Pike Architects. Picture: Jed Niezgoda

Online voting for the 2022 Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland Public Choice Awards opened during the week.

The Public Choice Award marks the launch of the annual RIAI Architecture Awards, now in their 33rd year, which celebrate excellence in the design and delivery of buildings. Award categories include Adaptation and Re-Use/Conservation, Cultural & Public Buildings, International, Learning Environments, Living, Public Space, Wellbeing, Workplace & Fit-Out, Research, Urban Design & Master Planning, and Universal Design.

There are 31 projects on this year’s shortlist, all of which were designed by RIAI-registered architects and were completed in 2021.

Horgan's Quay, Cork, Ireland, O'Mahony Pike Architects. Picture: Jed Niezgoda

Horgan’s Quay, Cork, Ireland, O’Mahony Pike Architects. Picture: Jed Niezgoda

There’s strong regional representation with buildings and public spaces located across the country — in Cork, Carlow, Donegal, Dublin, Wicklow Kilkenny, Meath and Westmeath, as well as internationally in London and Liverpool, UK, and Chicago, USA.

Public realm projects that enhance our built environment shine, such as the Cobh Masterplan, as do workplace designs and fit-outs, keeping pace with Covid, hence the Working from Home garden room by Simply Architecture, in Cork, as well as a range of new workplace developments across the country.

Bringing to four in total the number of projects from the Rebel County are the Honan Chapel Conservation Project, by FMP Architects, and phase one of Horgan’s Quay in Cork city by O’Mahony Pike Architects.

The mayor of the County of Cork, Cllr Gillian Coughlan, welcomed the RIAI Award nomination for the Cobh Urban Design Public Realm Plan, by Cork Council Council, Capital Projects Department. Cobh was announced as Ireland’s Tidiest Large Town 2021, and has adapted to unique challenges and capitalised on the “staycation market”.

“Over an 18-month period, we saw astonishing levels of public engagement,” adds Ms Coughlan.

“The design development utilised an online public preview of plans, workshops and remote presentations. We received 722 submissions to the process. We are immensely proud of the fact that this project is now a national case study in good practice for public participation.”

Horgan's Quay, Cork, Ireland, O'Mahony Pike Architects. Picture: Jed Niezgoda

Horgan’s Quay, Cork, Ireland, O’Mahony Pike Architects. Picture: Jed Niezgoda

Horgan’s Quay Phase 1 is an office development, which is part of a new city neighbourhood, located adjacent to Kent Station in Cork City. The development, which provides 10,850 sq m of office space, is the first of three phases and includes a significant protected structure — the goods shed — and a new south-facing waterfront public open space.

“The end-user for the building has the benefit of great views over the generous public open space, which forms a new pedestrian route between the train station and the historic city core, and the integration of the goods shed within the project offers the end-user a great variety of types of working environment,” says the architect.

Honan Chapel conservation project, FMP Architects. Picture: Peter Murphy

Honan Chapel conservation project, FMP Architects. Picture: Peter Murphy

The Honan Chapel at University College Cork outwardly presents as a simple oratory church and has served both as a chapel to the university and as a parish church for residents of the area for generations.

Cobh Public Realm Urban Design Plan is up for an award. 

Cobh Public Realm Urban Design Plan is up for an award. 

But, despite its modest size, notes FMP Architects, “it is steeped in intricate decoration with references to the Hiberno-Romanesque period combined with a contrasting mix of architectural and decorative styles which blend together to form a unique richness not seen in any chapel of the period. The conservation and repair of this chapel have protected and enriched this chapel which is unique of its time and has been scheduled in many publications including The Honan a Golden Vision by Virginia Teehan (2004)”.

  • All of the Public Choice projects are available to view online at the RIAI website. Voting closes at midnight on June 21. The winner will be announced on June 23.