A SIMPLE BUNGALOW in the DONEGAL COUNTRYSIDE has been transformed into a smart retreat. MARY DOWEY stayed overnight …
As in all the best B&Bs, tea is offered within seconds of arrival. At Breac.House which opened recently on Horn Head near Dunfanaghy, it is served in little grey goblets of Inishowen clay commissioned from a local pottery. “We wanted a particular shade of grey,” owners Niall Campbell and Cathrine Burke explain, “with a slight purple hue. The colour of Muckish.” They nod through vast windows to the inky mountains of north Donegal.
It’s just a detail in a house where attention to detail has been taken to magnificent extremes. A Pantone reference given conversational depth by two Dublin accountants who realised ten years ago that their careers were at odds with an impulse towards creativity and a growing interest in design. But it points to two fundamental principles underpinning their project. The first is that Breac.House celebrates Irish craftsmanship, with a particularly strong emphasis on local products and produce. The second is that, with its simple lines and muted tones, this understated building of stone, timber and glass directs full attention to a theatrical sweep of landscape stretching all the way from Carrigart’s beaches to the Bloody Foreland, with the shimmering arc of Sheephaven Bay, Muckish, Errigal, sheep, stone walls and sap-green fields in between.
The site is so exceptional (not least because it is south-facing – a rarity for Donegal sea views) that, as soon as the dormer bungalow previously occupying it came up for sale three years ago, the couple pounced. “I’d been coming to this area since childhood and began to bring Cathrine soon after I met her,” says Campbell, “so we knew the house. We knew every blade of grass around here.”
A few false starts with other properties had allowed them time to think about exactly the kind of place they wanted to create. Work trips with overnight stays in bland corporate hotels had made them seek out more individualistic, sensitively planned accommodation on holiday. When the Horn Head deal was struck, they had already earmarked MacGabhann Architects, the award-winning Letterkenny-based practice, to design what they term a “modern retreat”.
Clad in black-stained larch, the long, low exterior deliberately disappears into a rocky hillside. The interior, by contrast, infuses a dramatic interplay of space and light with so much serenity that you may never feel the need to unroll the yoga mat in your wardrobe. “You should feel your shoulders dropping as you walk in,” observes Burke. In all three generously-proportioned bedrooms, each with a private terrace, the bed faces that mesmerising view. For further unwinding, seaweed baths are offered in a tub big enough for two.
Tactile, aesthetically pleasing materials were a prime consideration from the start: oak for floors and furniture, hand-cut Ardara stone for terraces and walkways, granite for fireplaces and counter tops, Donegal tweed for cosiness and an occasional splash of colour. Sustainability, another key issue, prompted the installation of low-energy air source heating as well as a WC-directed rainwater harvesting system.
The result of this considered approach is a strikingly beautiful contemporary house stitched flawlessly into its surroundings. But, aware that architectural wizardry isn’t enough to guarantee a glorious guest experience, Burke and Campbell have built many thoughtful and pleasurable elements into their offering, including picnic backpacks, binoculars and bikes to encourage exploration of some of Ireland’s most ravishing, least visited scenery.
Your sleep is likely to be deep, whether thanks to pure Donegal air or pure cotton sheets you will never know. In the morning a breakfast tray slides noiselessly through a hatch. It
is a feast of homemade yoghurt and granola; homemade breads, pâtisserie and home-churned butter; honey and eggs from neighbours; succulent salmon from a local smokehouse. “People always say it’s too much,” says Burke, ‘but of course they end up eating it all.’
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