The clients, Rick LeVert and Libby Carton, wanted a building that could work either as a single family house, or as two holiday apartments, or as a house with an attached studio. In addition, they were eager for a quiet and private room into which they could retreat. The response, by MacGabhann Architects, was a building in two parts.

A small north-facing concrete box contains the fixed elements of bathroom, kitchen, entrance, stairs and services and utilities. All other elements – the living and relaxation spaces, are contained in a more sprawling timber-framed and timber-clad building, gathered round the core and perched on a south facing slope. The relationship between the two parts of the building is made more explicit by the use of timber boardmarking on the concrete, in the same proportions as the cedar cladding that is used on the other part of the building. The concrete element, which protrudes above the rest of the building, has a slate roof to accentuate its grounded solidity; the lighter nature of the timber part of the building is emphasised by the selection of a metal roof. Tarla MacGabhann, architect for the project, explained: ‘We looked at the context. Corrugated profiled metal is used on many agricultural buildings. At first we considered using the same corrugated sheeting that farmers use.’ His clients however were concerned that the metal might need frequent repainting.

Instead they went for a modern prepainted steel, Colorcoat HPS200 Ultra® by Tata Steel, which will be far more durable and is guaranteed for 40 years but can still have a rustic feel. The colour, Goosewing Grey, still provides the required rustic impression, while having an evident durability. It sits quite comfortable with the new cedar cladding, but will harmonise with it even better as the cedar ages to a similar silvery colour.

Having established their house, the owners discovered, as happens so often, that they wanted to spend more time there, and needed more space. They therefore commissioned the same architect to design a second building, this time to contain a workshop (the two run a design studio, also called Carton LeVert) and also guest accommodation. They called this building ‘Green Box’, a translation into English of their French names. While the new building uses the same timber-framed glazing system as the original house, it is clearly designed as a subservient building, albeit one that, like its parent, has an interesting geometry. It is a kind of distorted cube, leaning both down the slope of the ground and towards its neighbour.

To further point up the relationship of the two, but to stress the greater simplicity of the second building, the architect carried over just two of its palette of four materials to the smaller building. So this secondary building has large timber-framed glazed openings but otherwise is entirely clad and roofed in prepainted metal. The profiling of the steel runs vertically on the walls, contrasting deliberately with the horizontal patterning of the boardmarked concrete on the main house. But while this cladding is a marker of difference it also, by reflecting the roofing material on the original house, points up the relationship between the two, so that they sit comfortably as neighbours, each enhancing the other.

One might expect, and hope, that the client and the architect would be pretty pleased with what they had achieved. But the level of satisfaction extended far beyond them. In 2003 the house (the workshop had not yet been built) won a prize from the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Ireland as the best building in the landscape.

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