New Build

The Star of the County Down

John Lavery talks about a magnificent house

Story Highlights
  • “It’s REALLY NICE project.”
  • “We’ve GOT a LOT of great feedback.”

S ited in the shadow of Scrabo Tower, Newtownards. This house enjoys stunning views over arable farmland towards Strangford Lough and the Ards Peninsula beyond. The idea of creating a courtyard arrangement ‘or clachan,’ in the open countryside is nothing new, the grouping of a series of different scale buildings for different uses can be seen dotted across our countryside.

This house which was designed by John Lavery of BGA Architects completed in 2016, is a restrained collection of pitched roof buildings, each form is finished in a contrasting material to articulate the design intention of reflecting a contemporary clachan in the countryside. BGA Architects are an RIBA Award Winning architectural practice based in Newtownards, County Down. The practice was established in 1984 by Brian Grahame and is now led by Managing Director, John Lavery.

John and the team have considerable experience in designing various building types however most of our workload is in the residential sector. They strive to provide a professional and friendly service from inception to completion. Chartered with the RIBA and registered with ARB, they are currently designing projects throughout Northern Ireland. “We’re local to the site and we’ve got a strong hold on local design; the clients are familiar with our work and they approached us to design their family home and we were only too happy to oblige.

It’s an absolutely stunning site and I was really keen to design something that the practice would be very proud of,’’ said John Lavery.

“My first visit to the site made me realise how exposed to the weather the house is and to create shelter was a key thing as the house is sited in the direction of Strangford Lough.

The views from the house are fantastic; most of the landscape around the house is arable land so that changes from season to season so it’s actually a patchwork of greens, browns and yellows and beyond that you have the blue of the sea from Strangford Lough which makes it an amazing rolling countryside,’’ added Mr Lavery.

This property is split up in to three buildings that are arranged to create a sense of arrival, to provide much needed shelter on this exposed site and to respond to the sun path whilst making the most of the views. The steeply sloping topography encouraged part of the design to be built into the side of the hill. A two-storey sleeping block runs along the site contours addressing the change in level.

Two other single storey blocks are positioned perpendicular to this timber clad block to create a fragmented U-shape layout. The living block is finished with fibre cement slate cladding on the walls and roof and has large glazed openings.

Internally this block is a single open plan living/dining/kitchen space with a vaulted ceiling. A glazed entrance links these two elements.

The third block is a home spa, it is almost entirely wrapped in standing seam zinc with one fully glazed wall opening out to an enclosed zen space, this space is completely private from the road, sheltered from the prevailing winds yet also enjoys lough views back through the dual glazed living space.

The top half of the sleeping block has vertical boarded timber cladding which sits on top of a storey high rendered plinth which is visually anchored into the site. The buildings are detailed without any overhangs or projections and the various rain screen cladding options carefully conceal the rainwater goods and external lighting resulting in an almost abstract built form.

BGA were commissioned in November 2013, planning permission was granted in September 2014, construction began in 2015 and the project was completed in March 2016. “The project went very smoothly but the two issues that caused some delay were the provision of electrical supply and the other delay was as there is so much glass in the house there were only a limited number of suppliers that we could go to for the glass so there was some delay associated with the windows,” he enthused.

“It took 14 months to build the house and it was a good result to get it finished in such time. As it is a split level site, you go downstairs to the bedrooms and the living spaces are on the first floor. The key thing with this house was the view and it meant having the living spaces upstairs to maximise the views. There is also access to the site from the higher level rather than the lower level,’’ imparted John.


“It took 14 months to build the house and it was a good result to get it finished in such time. As it is a split level site, you go downstairs to the bedrooms and the living spaces are on the first floor. The key thing with this house was the view and it meant having the living spaces upstairs to maximise the views. There is also access to the site from the higher level rather than the lower level,’’ imparted John.


When viewed from the adjacent public road the house has a degree of intrigue with a predominantly blank and solid façade. The house keeps you guessing as you move along the sweeping driveway, slowly revealing itself the closer you get to the enclosed courtyard. It is only when you enter the open plan living space that the design can fully be understood and enjoyed.

In terms of the efficiency of the house?

“We have designed all of the aspects of the house to passive house standard and it has values of .15 but it is not a certified passive house. The test of how well it works is not in theory but in practice so the stove has only been lit twice; once when the house was commissioned and once when the house was photographed. The home owners use very little energy and for the size of the house it works very well. The house is so well insulated and airtight that it doesn’t need to use excessive amounts of fossil fuels,’’ he revealed.

As to what the home owners make of their gorgeous home?

“They love their house! One time they told me that they were looking forward to seeing their house when they came back from holidays so as an Architect it is lovely to be able to affect people’s lives like that and it is really satisfying from my point of view. I pass the house regularly and it something that we are quite satisfied with. We’ve got a lot of great feedback about the house and it’s been very well received; more and more so as the site matures,’’ revealed John.

As to Mr Lavery’s final thoughts on this project?

“It’s a really nice project; there is lovely detail to this house,’’ concluded John Lavery.


    John Lavery,
    BGA Architects LTD,
    50 Regent Street, Newtownards, BT23 4LP, United Kingdom 0044-2891815736
    www.bga-ni.com office@bga-ni.com

    Scrabo Roofing,
    3 Ash Grove, Newtownards, BT23 4HA, United Kingdom 0044-2891816787

    39 Montgomery Road, Castlereagh, Belfast,
    BT6 9HL, United Kingdom 0044-2890709360

    Beggs & Partners,
    Great Patrick Street,
    Belfast, BT1 2NX,
    United Kingdom

    Shellard Tiles,
    4 Sans Souci Gardens, Lisburn, BT28 3AF, United Kingdom 0044-2892675119

    The Stove Yard,
    Unit 6 Kiltonga Industrial Estate, Belfast Road, Newtownards, BT23 4TJ, United Kingdom 0044-2891814443

    Warden Brothers,
    45-47 High Street, Newtownards, BT23 7HS, United Kingdom 0044-2891812147
    www.wardenbros.com enquiries@wardenbros.com

    19 Greengraves Road, Dundonald, Belfast,
    BT16 1UZ, United Kingdom 0044-2891813237
    www.orchardhilllandscapes.com info@orchardhilllandscapes.com

    Oceanic Saunas,

    Words: Emer Kelly Pics: Christopher Hill Photographic

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