How one architect built a family home for those twilight years

This looks like a straightforward house, but it took years of complex planning and incredibly detailed preparation to create a build of such unassuming simplicty

It might look like a fairly standard house, but this build made Darran Crawford face his deepest fears: “It is the project that strikes terror into every architect’s heart – a house for the parents!” he laughs. The house, called Dearg (Gaelic for ‘red’), sits next to the traditional house his parents, Alex and Ffiona, have lived in for 25 years. Crawford had to follow the street line and material language of the setting on the outskirts of Belfast, and while domestic and suburban context (a mixed bag of red-brick and pitch-roofed detached houses) has been addressed, the solution is far from prosaic.
“Not wanting my parents to spend their golden years in a conceptual shiny box simply to boost my own career, we developed the plans over many long dinners,” says Crawford. Building on the site (Ffiona’s award-winning garden) had received outline planning permission as far back as 1992.
Following the dinners and discussions, Dearg emerged after a painless planning process and ten-month build, in something of a homage to the red-brick terraces of East Belfast that Alex had been brought up in. “The main material is a rich orange (Leicester Red) brick that is a close match for the now unavailable but still ubiquitous Belfast red brick,” explains Crawford. As well as its plain weather­ing simplicity and aesthetic appeal, brick also made sense in other ways. “You can endlessly experiment with brick; after all, it was the original and best prefabricated building element. A good rule is to avoid anything fashion­able and any textured finishes – brick should be a style-neutral material, able to be used creatively on any building.”
Another important aesthetic decision was the choice of black doors and window frames: “The two materials conceived for the house were brick and shadow. Ensuring that the building fittings such as slates, gutters, windows and fencing were black meant that the brick­work would become much more vibrant and prominent, and everything else would fade into the background.”
Inside, the kitchen is the main social hub and opens to the ground-floor circulation area and living areas via 2.4m-high blank fire doors. These have Karcher handles and recessed shadow gaps created by the joiner. “This is much cheaper than putting facings on, but has the same high-quality feel and finish,” says Crawford. “The tongue-and-groove panel­ling is another cost-saving sleight-of-hand touch. The regular, striated variety of panelling gives a visual complexity to some­thing that would otherwise be quite plain – harsh, even.” The doors and windows are flush with the floors, creating an inside/outside seamlessness.

This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 162-1167, issue 97.

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Words Caroline Ednie
Photography Donal McCann