Small is beautiful as architect owner opts for simplicity

When architect Emmet Scanlon bought his 1930s Dublin house, its vendor, Maureen Bolger, wistfully said: “I presume you’ll come in and knock everything down and build a big extension.” If, and when, she returns for a look-see at the recently finished make-over at her old family home of decades past, she may be favourably surprised: she might even feel at home. Extension mania gripped us during the boom, and, even now, despite the building slump, still holds sway. Magazines are devoted to extensions.

Enter Emmet the architect, and his proud boast of “the best extension never built.” Note, that’s NEVER. Unusually, he’s a pro who didn’t do the “˜Grand Design’ thing in his own backyard, who knew when enough was enough, and that was 1,500 sq ft, plenty for two people.

Emmet and his partner, Philip, a painter, bought this Sandymount semi-d in 2002, when property values were rising exponentially. At the time, Emmet “” who’s from Cork “” worked for award-wining Grafton Architects on major commercial schemes, and even small-tier design practices were routinely adding on “˜mother-ship’ extensions to modest homes.

Emmet, who heads up CAST Architecture, in Dublin, and Philip deliberated over what to do. They looked at trading-up options, extensions, did models and sketches “” and then did very little, just enough “to open the house to itself. We wanted to do the minimum, for maximum gain, to make it suitable for contemporary living, for our needs. We didn’t need more space, we just needed the existing space to work better,” Emmet says. Thus, the best extension that never was.

The Irish Examiner