Arid Environment

Look inside architect-designed coastal bolthole in West Cork

Would you trade a surefire five-star lifestyle in the Middle East for the craggy wilds of West Cork? You might if you’d tired of beige cities and searing heat.

Dubliners Petrina and Seamus Cox worked for half a dozen or so years on the Arabian Peninsula but never lost sight of their desire for an Atlantic coastal bolthole.

When eventually that bolthole was sourced, it was as far removed from the vast desert landscape and its glittering skyscrapers as you could possibly imagine.

The Hatchery is set right above a granite cliff.

In fact, the only bit of glitter was when the sun lit on its galvanized metal roof.

A bedroom overlooking the west Cork vista.
A bedroom overlooking the west Cork vista.

The location though was pure gold — this large concrete shed was nestled into the coastline on the northern side of Mizen, right above a granite cliff, overlooking Dunmanus Bay, and across the water, Sheep’s Head Peninsula.

Petrina’s brother-in-law spotted it online in April 2017, three years after the couple had left for the Gulf States.

Architect Caroline Shortt said the corrugated metal
Architect Caroline Shortt said the corrugated metal “pays homage to The Hatchery’s commercial heritage”.

It was a case of third time lucky — an old farmhouse in Schull went by the wayside on a builder’s advice, and a second property also fell through.

The one they finally settled on — the shed above the bay — was an entirely different prospect, a commercial building, uninspiring on the outside, but put to fascinating use.

The residence overlooks Dunmanus Bay.
The residence overlooks Dunmanus Bay.

Called The Hatchery, it was used to breed sea urchins by local man John Chamberlain, who devoted 20 years to rebuilding stocks of these tiny, spiny, sea creatures — once ten a penny in the shallow rock pools around Dunmanus Bay — but drastically depleted by a combination of environmental factors and overharvesting.

After her brother-in-law spotted it, Petrina asked her sister to take a look, who, as good luck would have it, is UK-based Caroline Shortt, a member of the Royal Institute of Architects (RIBA) and a director with Barc Architects Ltd in Exeter.

Caroline, a past pupil of Bolton Street, flew home to view the site with Petrina, who was home on holidays from her job as an art teacher in the Middle East.

Previously the only bit of glitter in The Hatchery as it was, was when the sun lit its galvanized roof.
Previously the only bit of glitter in The Hatchery as it was, was when the sun lit its galvanized roof.

“I met her and John (Chamberlain) and we looked at the property.

“It was just a shell really, essentially walls and a roof, a great big commercial shed with several large tanks of sea urchins and a lab area and office and bare concrete walls,” Caroline says.

Because of its past, it had its “fair share of rough industrial edges”.

“But size-wise it was a big building (237 sq m/2551 sq ft) and we knew we’d have a good bit of scope.

And then you had the stunning coastal setting. Petrina and Seamus immediately made an offer to purchase it.” The sale went through in August 2017.

The property has a view of Sheep's Head Peninsula.
The property has a view of Sheep’s Head Peninsula.

They approached the local authority to see about a change of use from commercial to residential — and “got the nod in principle” Caroline says. Herself and the team at Barc Architects got going on the design.

“It didn’t have the elegant proportions of an old cottage and anyway we didn’t want to make it look like it was a house because of its commercial past,” Caroline says.

Instead, they went about designing a property that would sit in harmony with its surroundings, and that would reflect its heritage, but also with an eye to contemporary design.

The Hatchery had once been used to breed sea urchins.
The Hatchery had once been used to breed sea urchins.

Caroline says that after “careful consideration” Barc opted to clad the building in corrugated metal.

“Not only did the sheet metal pay homage to The Hatchery’s commercial heritage, but the consensus was that darker materials would fit more sensitively within the landscape.

“When viewed from a distance, the building effectively disappears into the native heathers and the greenery that surrounds it,” Caroline says.

Another advantage to the unconventional material is that it adds another layer of protection from what can be harsh environmental conditions on Cork’s wild west coast.

As it’s particularly exposed, Caroline says a robust exterior was needed to weather the elements and to futureproof the building.

The team applied for planning in February 2018 and by August 2018 — after supplying additional information to planners — they were granted permission to rezone the property for residential use. Building work started in earned from February 2019.

The Hatchery is nestled into the coastline on the northern side of Mizen.
The Hatchery is nestled into the coastline on the northern side of Mizen.

They hired local man Brian O’Sullivan, based in Goleen.

“He really understood the conditions and what was achievable or not,” Caroline says.

The build was supposed to take a year but was interrupted by the pandemic, adding an extra five months.

Caroline says much of The Hatchery’s transformation is contained within its walls, with strong nods to its industrial past, for instance, Barc opted to keep the original roof height (vaulted, double-height) in the main, fabulous, living and kitchen space, removing the exposed rafters and replacing them with tie rod trusses.

Of the interior, the owners say they 'didn't want to make it look like it was a house because of its commercial past'.
Of the interior, the owners say they ‘didn’t want to make it look like it was a house because of its commercial past’.

The views from this room are magnificent, through floor-to-ceiling seaward-facing windows, with well-placed skylights letting in even more natural light.

“The view is north so the challenge was to get the light in,” Caroline says.

Some of the best panoramas are through the picture window of the impressive main bedroom on the west side of the house upstairs “where you can sit and watch the sunset,” Caroline says.

A bedroom in The Hatchery.
A bedroom in The Hatchery.

Moreover, as her sister is an artist, it was important that she could benefit from the unique coastal light and a designated studio space was created upstairs “to provide her with the perfect spot from which to soak up the surrounding nature”.

Petrina says her favorite place in the house is “lying in bed looking at that view”.

“I’ve become really influenced by the local landscape in my artwork,” she says.

“I can stand in the studio and draw rocks and waves. I have become a real wildlife enthusiast and my husband is obsessed with bird watching.” As the building settles into place, plans have already been drawn up to create a further studio space elsewhere on the grounds.

The grounds also contain blue limestone patio areas. To the east, on the sheltered side, is the main outdoor area, while on the seaward side is a thermally-heated hot tub, set in timber decking with exquisite mountain views. It’s not the only timber visible.

Pure gold: The location of The Hatchery.
Pure gold: The location of The Hatchery.

Softwood — cedar — was used on the building’s exterior to highlight entrances and to break up the mass of dark cladding.

Caroline says care was taken “not to overuse wooden accents to remain sympathetic to the building’s environment”. The garden has been deliberately left wild, with lots of wild-flower seeds planted.

Back indoors, floors are a mix of timber and polished concrete. Steps lead from the entrance to one of three beautifully furnished bedrooms, complete with ensuites. Those guest rooms were put to good use last summer, with regular visitors from Dublin.

Everything about the Hatchery says “quality”.

The hallway.
The hallway.

Caroline says that alongside its high design spec, it boasts some impressive environmental credentials.

“It was important to Seamus and Petrina that their house would have a low carbon footprint.

“To sustainably heat both the house and onsite hot tub, Barc introduced a new ground source heat pump system. Vertical boreholes tunnel 75-meters beneath the property to tap into the natural resources below.” Walls are well-insulated too, she says.

The upshot of creating such a beautiful dwelling, and with more flexible working options available to them, is that Petrina and Seamus have decided to make The Hatchery their permanent home.

The couple say the house “exceeded all our expectations”.

“It looks worth a lot more than what we spent on it (the build cost €350,000),” Petrina says.

“We worked really hard to get the look Petrina and Seamus wanted, without blowing the budget, and I think we’ve done really well,” Caroline adds.

Sourcebook

  • Builder: Brian O’Sullivan Construction, Goleen, Co. Cork
  • Planning consultant and project management: Leon Whelton Planning & Design Consultant, Goleen, Co. Cork
  • Kitchen, boot area, bathroom cabinets: Logan Fitted Furniture, Schull, Co. Cork
  • Polished concrete floor: Martin Cremin at Cutsue Ltd, Banteer, Co. Ltd. Cork
  • Windows and doors: 2020 Glazing, Ballincollig, Co. Cork

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