An Affordable Country Dream Home Just Scooped RIBA’s House of the Year
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An Affordable Country Dream Home Just Scooped RIBA’s House of the Year

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By Duncan Nielsen
Belfast-based architects McGonigle McGrath designed House Lessans with a nod to rural vernacular—and they made every dollar count.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) recently unveiled its 2019 House of the Year—and the streamlined, $180-per-square-foot home is a breath of fresh air in a world overgrown with excessive, tall, poppy design.

"[House Lessans] has an elegant simplicity achieved within a remarkably low budget without excesses," says RIBA chair member John Pardey, who selected the home alongside a panel of peers. "It represents a paradigm in creating relevant contemporary architecture that truly reflects its local context, vernacular, and culture."

The home is built primarily of inexpensive materials. Its sits on concrete plinths, and the walls are made of concrete blocks. The pitched, corrugated zinc roofs follow the regional vernacular. 

Gabled forms in modest gray sit atop white concrete walls that frame the home.

A gate opens to the entryway. The existing barn to the left informed the material palette of House Lessans. 

At approximately $433,000, the home consists of an updated barn, a front yard, a separate three-bedroom suite with its own courtyard, and a main structure with a kitchen and adjacent, roomy living spaces. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide views out onto the infinite rolling drumlins of County Down.

To stretch the budget without compromising quality, McGonigle McGrath implemented pitched roofs made of corrugated zinc—typical of local agricultural buildings—and they opted for walls made of inexpensive stacked concrete blocks. Huge sliding glass doors—instead of costly bifold doors—provide ample daylight and sweeping views.

Concrete blocks form the walls inside and out. Here, in a hallway leading to one of the living areas, they echo the gray color of the zinc roofing.

Large glass doors provide plenty of natural light and unobstructed views of the rolling, green hills beyond.

Light wood flooring is paired with gray masonry and white walls in the bright interiors.

The monochromatic kitchen features a dark gray island and windows positioned for views of the landscape. 

The home reflects the rural vernacular found in and around County Down in Northern Ireland.

McGonigle McGrath was previously shortlisted for the RIBA award in 2015 for House at Maghera, which also reinterprets traditional building forms in a rural setting. With their latest project, it appears that the firm hit the sweet spot between simplicity, beauty, and affordability.

"McGonigle McGrath have used simple and cheap materials to create a truly bespoke home that resonates with its owners and its context," says RIBA president Alan Jones. "Even with the tightest of budgets, House Lessans shows that a dream home, designed by a talented architect, can be a reality."

Related Reading:

An Eco-Friendly Affordable Housing Project Just Won the RIBA Stirling Prize 

This Is What the Best New Houses in London Look Like 

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