Period House Types
Domestic architecture is an intrinsic part of our built heritage, forming the backdrop to our everyday lives. Very few residential buildings survive in Ireland from prior to 1700, as it was from this period of political and economic stability that houses in towns and cities began to be built in large numbers, and predominantly in masonry which ensured they lasted longer than older, timber-framed houses,
This section gives a brief insight into the evolution of Irish domestic architecture from the classical ideal of the 18th century to the more functional forms of modern times.
'Dutch Billy' House
Large parts of Dublin orignally consisted of gabled streetscapes, similar to many continental cities. This style of architecture, with curvilinear, stepped and pedimented gables, emerged from the vernacular triangular gabled house format of the 1600s. The popularity and refinement of the style flourished with the influx of tradespeople from the southwest of England who settled in Dublin during the 17th century, bringing with them the established building practices of that area.
This tradition was further evolved, whether tacitly or overtly, by supporters of King William III who popularised the curvilinear style in the years after 1690, hence the popular title ‘Dutch Billy’. The gabled house type remained fashionable right up until the 1750s, at which point the flat Georgian parapet became standard and most gables were built up or demolished over the following century to conform to the classical fashion.
Many of these early houses still survive in Dublin and elsewhere, cloaked behind modified Georgian façades. Dutch Billies can be found on Capel Street, Thomas Street, Molesworth Street, South Frederick Street, Aungier Street, Temple Bar and many other districts in the city. Wander to the rear of these buildings and the original gabled profile and distinctive projecting closet return can often still be seen. Timber panelled walls, corner fireplaces and low barley sugar balustraded staircases are typical interior features of these charming houses.
Pictured to the left is an example of an intact gabled house on Cuffe Street, photographed pior to its demolition in the mid-20th century. This was a relatively grand house of the middle size, with platbands to the facade and an attractive pedimented gable. It is likely the pediment matched that of the original entrance doorcase at ground floor level, which had been altered by the time the photograph was taken. The adjacent house to the right, which was likely to have been built as a matching pair with the left-hand house, was also originally gabled. It is shown with its facade built up in an effort to make it appear more classically 'Georgian', however the pitch of the original cruciform roof can still be seen to the rear. This building-up practice was characteristic of the modification of gabled houses right across Dublin in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Thus, within a relatively short space of time, streetscapes in matured fashionable areas changed utterly from idiosyncratic gabled skylines to classically informed, flat-parapet street architecture of a more sober expression.
Georgian Town House
Spanning over a century, the Georgian period refers to the four successive reigns of King Georges of the House of Hanover, from the accession of George I to the throne in 1714 to the death of George IV in 1830. In architectural terms, Dublin's buildings changed relatively little in style compared to the evolution of architecture in Britain over the same period. This is particularly true of the Regency era which generally refers to the period 1810-1830, when great stylistic change occurred in Britain. Dublin's style became more refined, but remained persistently muted and restrained in expression.
Dublin Georgian town houses are typically terraced, often forming a square or impressive cliff-like streetscape. The house facade, including the spacing and shape of windows, is designed in accordance with classical rules of proportion. Servants quarters and kitchens were housed in the basement, while the principal living space was at first floor level or ‘piano nobile’, hence the large windows on this floor, with bedrooms on upper levels. Dublin houses are typically faced in soft handmade red brick, with yellow brick becoming fashionable in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Principal brick facades were nearly always tuck pointed or ‘wigged’ using a type of fine pointing that gave the impression of expensive guaged brickwork.
Aside from the doorcase, where great individuality was often displayed, Dublin Georgian houses rarely feature stone adornments and are relatively plain to the exterior. This is compensated for by the riotous plaster decoration famously employed to the interiors of many Dublin houses in the 18th century, with sumptuously adorned walls and ceilings. These houses also feature handsome marble chimneypieces and often have high quality joinery in doors and staircases.
Regency/Late Georgian House
Aside from the completion of the great Georgian city estates, relatively little housing was built in Dublin immediately following the Act of Union of 1801, when parliament returned to Westminster and property prices collapsed. Development began again in earnest in the 1830s following a major recession in the 1820s, this time catering for the emerging middle classes.
Distinctive to Dublin from this period is the one-storey over basement cottage house, where reception rooms were placed on the top floor with bedroom and kitchen space below. These stood apart from more modest homes of the time dur to their grander design and scale, classical proportions and level of detailing.
A similar house type was two storeys above a concealed basement, as pictured opposite, on Lennox Street. These houses were considered ideal retreats from the city for professional and clerical workers and can be found in areas such as Portobello and parts of the north inner city. They mark the emerging suburbanisation of Dublin that would later spread beyond the canals into new, independent townships. Trademark features of early 19th-century Dublin houses include yellow brick facades, robust granite gressings, wrought-iron railings dressed cast-iron decoration, and handsome doorcases with brackets and 'pinched' arched fanlights.
During the 19th century, a different style of house to the Georgian terraces developed in the outlying suburbs. These were built for the now established middle classes in townships such as Rathmines, Pembroke and Clontarf, which were districts independent of the city of Dublin that operated their own form of municipal local government.
Technological advances made by the Industrial Revolution greatly influenced the appearance of Victorian houses: built of red and sometimes polychromatic machine-made brick, often with moulded components, expansive sheet glass windows and elaborate cast-iron railings. Unlike in the Georgian city, the basements of these houses were often fully exposed above ground level with a large flight of steps leading up to the front door. This was done to improve the living conditions of staff who were working in ever closer proximity to their employers, as well as to better embrace the rear garden for kitchen use. Such prominent basements also expressed to the world that families were able to afford live-in service and made houses grander and more imposing on the streetscape.
As the 19th century progressed, developers began to turn their attention to lower paid middle class workers, erecting entire new streets and estates of smaller terraced houses in places such as Phibsborough and Drumcondra. These were typically erected 'on the flat', without basements' with the anciallary quarters moved to the rear of the house in the form of a projecting 'return'. This feature became synonymous with Victorian and Edwardian houses, persisting until the 1930s.
The Edwardian period represented a gradual change in domestic architecture that was already underway in the closing decades of the 19th century. Indeed, ‘Edwardian’ in architectural parlance often refers to the wider period of 1890 until 1930, when the heavily embellished Victorian aesthetic gave way to the lighter style of the Arts and Crafts movement and the more streamlined approach of the classical revival.
The expansion of the civil service and the professions in Dublin in the opening decades of the 20th century fuelled the market for modest suburban housing. Much of this was built in the picturesque Arts and Crafts style, a design movement that developed in reaction to the mass industrialisation and often eclectic adoption of historical styles during the Victorian era.
These houses attempted a more ‘authentic’ style, romantically delving back to medieval precedents, typically making use of coloured tiled roofs, timber porches and casement windows with leaded lights. While the best examples of these houses are usually individual commissions, the basic design principles of the movement were also used by large developers in new roads and estates, and can be commonly seen in the Drumcondra, Clontarf and Mount Merrion areas of the city.
Dublin Corporation House
Large tracts of suburban housing were built by Dublin Corporation in the 1920s and 1930s as part of its programme of slum clearance and re-housing taking place in the city centre. These well-planned, outlying estates of terraced and semi-detached houses were laid out around green areas, often in the shape of a crescent or oval, with distinctive corner houses addressing street junctions.
Three model house types were developed: Mk 1, a two-bedroom mid-terrace house, Mk 2, a three-bedroom mid-terrace house, and Mk 3, an end-of-terrace house which usually had three bedrooms. These handsome concrete-built houses, with rough-cast wall finish, unifying platband between ground and first floor levels, standard paint colours and well-detailed doorcases and windows, made for coherent and attractive streetscapes.
Sadly, much of this unified design concept has since been eroded through the application of stone cladding and porches and the removal of original windows and doors. Where original features survive, they should be retained and restored.
An expansion in house building occurred in Dublin in the 1930s as growing numbers of middle class families moved out of the city and from rural areas into the capital’s expanding suburbs. The houses of this period are characterised by a transitional style, moving away from Edwardian brick and decorative detailing to the more spare treatment of an emerging modernisim. They often feature pebbledash finishes and double-height rounded bays with timber or steel casement windows.
This form of suburban development was encouraged by the emergence of the motor car, where middle class families had, for the first time, access to their own private transport. New avenues and estates of traditional-styled houses were erected by private developers and housing associations, attracting prospective new owners with the comfort of familiar architecture with all modern conveniences, from bathrooms to electricity to private garages.
Many of these houses, such as those of Griffth Avenue, Drumcondra, feature elegant interiors with square hallways, quality decorative joinery and plasterwork.
Modern Movement House
Relatively few Modern Movement houses were built in Dublin, and there are fewer still that survive in their original condition today. These houses emerged in line with the ‘International Style’ of the 1920s and 1930s, a design movement based on the principles of form following function, the eschewing of rigid symmetry in favour of carefully balanced forms, and the exclusion of unnecessary ornament.
In Dublin, such houses were generally built by enterprising small developers, or individual clients wishing to commission a distinctive building that challenged conceptions of what a house should look like. These houses, with their elegant, slender steel windows, flat roofs and smooth rendered walls are nearly all to be found in the Mount Merrion area of south Dublin, but also in Crumlin, Raheny and Clontarf.
The modern aesthetic was not for everyone, however - so much so that some developers in Britain hastily added pitched roofs to their housing developments to make them palatable to reluctant housebuyers.