See Inside This Converted Irish Church

A FATHER AND SON project leads to the repurposing of an old CHURCH with a JAPENESE INFLUENCE

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When Jimmy Armstrong came across Tattykeeran Church of Ireland in Co Fermanagh in 1996 it was in a state of considerable disrepair, having been built in 1841 and been out of use since 1984. “My roots are in nearby Lisbellaw and my niece asked me to look at the property for her. I bought it when she decided not to,” says Jimmy. His aim was “to preserve this strong piece of built heritage – unusual in such an off-the-beaten-track location” and to repurpose the space as a studio home with several bedrooms. Fortunately, he was able to work closely with the architect on the design concept, the latter being his son Nathan Armstrong, who wanted to utilise the dramatic space without perpetuating the church feel. Father and son liaised over the structural design, with Jimmy specifying the choice of materials utilised, such as Irish oak for internal panelling.

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Nathan’s idea was to house the bedrooms in a new wing, leaving the spacious church volume to accommodate the living spaces and a mezzanine studio. “I like to think of it as a tidy swallow’s nest with its apparent suspension from the internal roof soffit,” says Nathan. The mezzanine is accessed by a bespoke spiral staircase, while the entrance hall is an interesting mix of glass, steel and oak. Inside, light floods the living area, while outside Nathan sought to meld the two structures sensitively. The sleeping wing resembles a contemporary barn with a steep zinc-clad roof, uninterrupted cedar cladding and slit windows, with the church building retaining its original outward appearance.

There is a distinct eastern aesthetic in the sleeping wing with a change in materials from hard to soft and the addition of a reading niche with Tatami mat and a Japanese garden in the foreground. This is explained by Nathan, whose career includes twelve years’ experience in a number of large and small architectural and interior firms in Tokyo.

Nathan elaborates, “My wife is Japanese and we have three bilingual children. Those years were an adventure, spent getting to know my wife’s background, allowing our children to begin life and spend their primary school years there. They are all now growing up and thriving in rural Ireland. Where they will settle when they leave home I can’t imagine.” As for the eastern aesthetic inherent in his work, Nathan explains: “Attention to detail in both design and construction is applied with sensitivity and rigour in Japan and that ethic is something which resonates with me and influences my work. This, and the correct choice of materials, both inside and outside, makes the end product look and feel right in its context.”

Photography by Darren McLoughlin, www.darrenmcloughlin.com.

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