Modern marvel in historic wooded setting

On a sodden day in early summer, the foliage on the trees – ash, sycamore, Scots pine, beech and oak – surrounding Aisling House in Bishopscourt, near Straffan in Co Kildare, is mesmerising, a beautiful Irish cliche in 40 shades of green.

From inside the house there are views of trees through every window, close-ups of bark and lofty vistas of the leaf canopy, with a rolling agricultural backdrop of yet more vivid green. When the sun shines, the leaves make shimmering patterns on the internal walls. Visiting children find it enchanting, say Paul and Carole Davis, whose home this is.

Estate agents are fond of the term ‘sylvan setting’ – for once, it’s wholly justified.

Architect Grainne Hassett, a partner in Hassett Ducatez and head of the school of architecture at the University of Limerick, has achieved something quite special and unexpected here in the midst of Kildare’s commuter belt. The house she designed for the Davises just over a decade ago respects the integrity of the woodland site it occupies – home to deer, foxes, rabbits and pheasant – yet at the same time is filled with natural light.

In recognition of the success of her design, Hassett received an Irish Architecture Award in 2011 and Aisling House has featured in several magazines, including Image Interiors. Celebrity architect Dermot Bannon showcased the kitchen as an example of excellent design in RTE’s Room to Improve.

“I grew up in the house next door,” says Paul, who works with Carole in their events business, putting on events for tech companies and local authorities. “I remember everyone called the field behind the house the airfield, and the story was that the Kennedy family, who lived at Bishopscourt House, were so keen on planes that they used it as an airstrip.”

Bishopscourt is a large classical house built in the late 18th century by Sir Richard Morrison for John Ponsonby, speaker of the Irish House of Commons. Much earlier, the Bishopscourt estate was held by the bishops of Kildare, and passed through various hands including Butlers, Alens and Margetsons before being sold to Edward Kennedy in 1914. Kennedy was the breeder of The Tetrarch, one of the most successful stallions of all time, who stood at Bishopscourt for much of his illustrious career. Bishopscourt is also famous for being the location of a duel Daniel O’Connell is said to have fought with John d’Esterre in 1815.

Aisling House stands within the bounds of the original Bishopscourt demesne and the remains of four old gates to the estate are still visible in the vicinity. There are glimpses of the big house from the patio area to the side of its modern neighbour, with cattle and sheep grazing on the intervening farmland.

The colour of ‘the airfield’ changes according to which crop is being grown, vivid yellow when oilseed rape is in flower, green and gold when it’s corn or barley.

Inside, the proportions of Aisling House are generous and high-ceilinged, with an open-plan layout and polished terrazzo floors at entrance level.

“We thought that going open-plan might be a challenge,” say Paul and Carole, who live at Aisling House with their young daughter, “but the polished terrazzo floors feel soft rather than hard and the house is very liveable.”

The entrance hall is fitted with a custom-made coat rack and book case in iroko, and leads to the nine-metre living area, which has an open fire, built-in cinema screen and huge windows with views out over the countryside. A smaller room immediately off the hall is currently used as a piano room, but could be a fourth bedroom. The downstairs bathroom is adjacent.

The kitchen runs along one wall, fitted with low-level solid walnut units, a range cooker and two Belfast sinks. Kitchen appliances and storage cupboards, including a handy pantry unit, are tucked away around the corner from the dining area, as is a guest lavatory.

At the top of the stairs is an over-sized window overlooking the garden. There are three double bedrooms and a family bathroom. The main bedroom has fitted wardrobes in walnut, an en-suite shower room and access to its own roof terrace, covered in artificial grass. Carole practises yoga here.

Outside in the garden, there is an attractive playhouse on stilts and a couple of sheds, one for storage and another housing the boiler and bins.

The local national school is in Ardclough, which also has a GAA club, church and shop, while Straffan and Kill are also close by. For supermarket shopping it’s Naas or CityWest, while the new Aimsir restaurant at Cliff at Lyons is already a destination for gourmands, having been open only a few weeks. It’s tipped for recognition when the new Michelin stars are awarded later this year.

3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms

Era: 2007/8

Size: 209sqm

Agent: Coonan Property (01) 628 6128

Viewing: By appointment

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