A version of this piece was published in The Sunday Times
In Greek Legend there is a story called Theseus' paradox — a kind of thought experiment. It goes like this. Imagine that there is a famous ship sailed by a hero called Theseus. So famous is the ship that it has been kept docked in the harbour as a museum piece. Inevitably as time passes some of the ships wooden parts begin to rot and are replaced by new ones. Eventually, all of the parts of the ship have been replaced which poses a question: is the "restored" ship still the same ship as the original? The answer normally goes something like this: with regards to its materials the ship is not the same, but this was not just any ship. This ship was sailed by the Theseus and is therefore more than just its materials. The ship has a story; the story of a great hero; it has meaning beyond its canvas sails and the timbers that form its hull.
This was the paradox that Antipas Jones, one of Dublin’s newest architectural practices, had to face when they were commissioned to work on the renovation and extension of an existing council built house overlooking the river Brandon in Kinsale Co. Cork. A client who wanted to maintain the atmosphere of the house while facing the reality that the majority of the building would need to be demolished in order for their brief to be met.
For Lucy, who co-founded the practice with business partner Christophe Antipas, Kinsale is more than just the location of a project, it’s a part of her family history. “As a young man my grandfather left the area with his brothers to try and make his fortune in Dublin.” The Jones’ settled in Dublin. Lucy’s father, Martin Jones, became an architect and while working as a director in a large Dublin practice was commissioned to work on the redevelopment of the Murphy’s Brewery in Cork. “This was a large project meaning many visits to Cork which my parents decided to spend in Kinsale” says Lucy. “The area has many Happy memories for me — some of my closest friends are there.”
One of those friends began an informal conversation with Lucy about the possibility of making changes to their house. The conversation quickly began to “unravel like a ball of string.” The kind you’d have over a glass of wine if you’ve a friend who’s an architect — imagining; dreaming; wondering, what might be possible: if. The conversation continued and the ‘if’ became a real possibility. “Thinking forward to the next generation the client wanted to enlarge and improve the house, making space for the family while also allowing her to retire there in future” says Lucy “it was also small and cold; in need of updating” the grey rendered external walls worn and tired from years exposure to the costal weather. As the architects began to understand the clients needs and requirements more fully — tripling the size of the house, adding more bedrooms and maximising the spectacular views — the ball of string unraveled until all that was left of the property was the front and back walls, a bit of the roof, and the wall separating the house from the adjoining property.
Meeting the clients brief meant that the architects had to start from an almost blank canvas. “In the end the whole house” like Theseus’ ship “was pretty much completely gutted” says Lucy but “the client was very much attached to the atmosphere of the existing house and its gardens.” The challenge was how to rebuild the house from scratch without loosing the sense of home accumulated over decades of family life.
To solve the paradox the architects designed three separate but interconnected extensions stepping down the naturally sloping site toward the winding path of the Scilly coastal walk. The first, to the side of the existing house, they call “a silent extension.” Silent because, designed sympathetically, in the same style as the existing house — matching windows, existing door — you would be hard pressed to work out where the extension begins and the original property ends, the grey render now white refreshing the facade.
Internally — co-designed with interior design Daphne Daunt — simple white walls maximise the natural light while timber floors meet vibrant Jaipur fabrics creating splashes of pattern and colour set against carefully placed pieces of more traditionally styled furniture. First-floor bedrooms open out onto a timber terrace enclosed by a simple glass balustrade which forms the roof to the second extension — a sleek, modern, steel-framed glazed pavilion opening out to breathtaking sunrise-to-sunset views and sailing boats slowly tacking their way up and down the river.
The third extension is tucked in at the bottom of the Daphne Lowman designed terraced gardens — a rectangular block of bedroom accommodation, with generous windows, clad in locally sourced stone; a nod to the traditional ancient stone walls that thread their way across the surrounding agricultural landscape — a modern design firmly rooted in the present by reaching back to local crafts of the past. Each of the three blocks — all different yet non feeling out of place juxtaposed against the others — have been, “articulated differently to read clearly and to create a specific relationship with the site, its views and the adjacent outdoor space” Christophe says.
One of the many success of this scheme — the first of its kind in the area — is in the precedent that it is setting for similar, considered and thoughtful modern interventions to traditional houses in the town. “The neighbours are planning to do something similar,” Lucy says. What Antipas Jones has done is to successfully curate the story of the changing needs of a family while carefully translating those needs into a design that both respects the past, embraces the future and most importantly maintains a sense of home.