Blog 1 - Life of an Architect

Published: Monday, 19 November 2012 06:32

Hi readers, for those of you who don’t know me my name is Breege Galbraith and I am a registered RIAI architect based in Buncrana, Co. Donegal, Ireland, running the family architectural practice - Michael Galbraith Associates. My father, Michael, established the practice 27 years ago and with a very heavy heart I note of his passing last July. Dad was also a registered RIAI architect and I am one of the lucky ones to have been trained from an early age in all things design, construction and architectural. As a child, I took an interest in his office at home, acting as his ‘secretary’ and watching the master at work, drawing what true architects did back then…hand drawings! Hand drawings are masterpieces in their own right and really must be honoured for us modern designers as we are spoilt with technology today. He also brought us on many family holidays, which always consisted of visiting famous architecture all over the world from old gothic churches to modern contemporary buildings. I took an interest and here I am!!


Obviously, my role in the practice has changed significantly since dad’s passing over the past 11 months. He was my mentor and boss and I’m sure I’m not the only one out there that thinks their dad knows everything…so if it wasn’t work related in my eyes he would still know the answer! I miss not having my sidekick to guide me anymore but it has also brought new life to my professional career. I now must make decisions on my own and be a leader within the practice. To be honest deep down I know he had me trained and ready for this role, I just didn’t think I could manage it until I had to. It has strengthened my belief that no matter where you are in life we can all do anything if we put our mind and determination to it.


So, you must be wondering “where is this girl going with this piece?” but it all starts with building my own house…an architect’s dream! I thought why not jump on the blog-wagon and write my own personal experiences of the design to completion stage of our own house and hopefully it will help my clients and others along the way with their process. There are so many aspects to a project that people are unaware of so if I can use my professional background and experience to help others with theirs then it will be a job well done. I will blog as the process goes along so please feel free to contact me with any questions or if you would like a certain topic covered. I hope you’ll enjoy reading my pieces as we build what I’ve dreamed about doing since I was a little girl. Dreams do come true!


Blog 2 - An Architects Dream

Published: Monday, 19 November 2012 06:32

It has been a dream of mine to design and build my own home from a very early age. Living in such a beautiful scenic seaside town of Buncrana and growing up with amazing views of Lough Swilly I’ve been blessed with these natural portraits that framed my childhood home. When I got married 6 years ago I first experienced designing an extension and redesigning the internal layout of what would be our first marital home…an end terrace, 3 bed dwelling in what was once a Council housing estate in the heart of Buncrana. The site was small and the design options were very restrictive but we created a well-designed, very functional home for the limited space we had. My husband is a joiner by trade and was very handy at creating storage spaces in the tiniest of spots throughout the house. However, this house was always intended to be our starter home and it was our dream to build when the time was right.


So, 6 years on and 2 beautiful daughters later, our little hidden gem in the heart of the town had become a clutter zone of all things pink and cuddly. I take a lot of pride in my home and love having things in their place in neat and tidy spaces but since the arrival of our daughters this aspect of my personality started to deteriorate bit my bit and I started to ‘live’ with the pink clutter. It was during the pregnancy of our second daughter that we started to put the wheels in motion to build our dream home.


At work, I love designing houses. I enjoy having the first consultation with my clients discussing their lifestyles and vision of their dream homes. No one client is the same and it gives me great satisfaction to provide the first draft scheme and hear the excitement of the clients wishes coming to life. However, this was not the experience I had for myself! I could safely say it was the hardest house I’ve ever designed! There was so much psychology associated with it…I worried what others would think because I’m an architect…I wanted to design something that people would look at and say “Wow who lives there?”…I wanted a practical well-functioning house within our budget…and I wanted my husband and children to love living in it too. Not your usual wish list but it was mine.


I can’t stress enough how important it is to use a registered architect to design the home you will live in for the rest of your life…or any project for that matter. I studied architecture at college for 9 years before I could legally call myself an ‘Architect’. Throughout the years, more so in the past, I found that clients were pricing around looking for the most competitive price and did not consider the qualification of the person designing their home or the education associated with the title ‘architect’ which is a person who understands all aspects of design and construction to create the best possible spaces for your needs. I know for sure I wouldn’t go to the dentist and allow a non-qualified person to pull out my tooth! As much controversy comes with shows like ‘Room to Improve’ I do believe that registered ‘starchitect’ Dermot Bannon has shown the importance in his role in the projects he designs (weither you like him or not)!


I always advise clients to spend as much time as possible at this initial design period as it is so much easier (and a whole lot cheaper) to edit a drawing from a computer screen than make changes on site that will be costly and can cause delays due to amendments to the granted planning permission drawings. So, I advise any of you who are at this stage to scrutinise the drawings, imagine yourself living in the rooms, where will your TV go? Where will your sink/cooker/etc be? Etc. Keep in mind your budget as every metre/squared comes at an extra €1,000+ cost. Also, be mindful of room sizes…take out a measuring tape and measure rooms you like the size of and ask family and friends is there anything different they would do if they were building. You’d be surprised at the feedback you’d receive and would never have thought on. This is a big step in your life and you want to be 100% confident and happy with the final product.


So back to my own design process…


Our site is located just below my childhood home along the main road coming into Buncrana and to say the views are outstanding is an understatement! Our site was restricted in that it is only 15 metres wide and up to 70 metres long. The narrower section of 15m is also the area that occupies all the amazing scenic views of Lough Swilly so this automatically determined the location of our main living spaces and master bedroom so we could enjoy our magnificent landscape every day. We were also lucky in the fact that the setting sun also faced the scenic Swilly views and all our main living spaces can capture the sun path throughout the day.



















I wanted a house that took traditional Irish architecture into play such as flush gable roofs and white dash render but I also wanted our house to have a modern twist with a lot of glazing to frame the scenic views and the introduction of zinc cladding. I knew a standard 2 storey dwelling would be much more financially viable to construct but I loved the look of the 1¾ storey dwellings with small roofs on the first-floor windows that added character to the scheme. I also loved how split-level within a house can create significant charm to a room so we introduced a split-level living space to our kitchen/dining area and in the entrance hall. For room sizes, I wanted them to be practical and cosy rather than being too large and spacious. We had many discussions and debates on ensuite bedrooms and we came to the conclusion that our daughter’s bedroom would be right next to the main bathroom and the extra 2 bedrooms upstairs would have wardrobes that are large enough to convert to ensuites if required in the future. Problem solved….for now that is!!

So, after many weeks of designing and redesigning (whilst feeding and changing our new baby girl Carrie) we finally arrived at the most practical house that fitted our needs. It was now time to lodge the planning application.

Blog 3 - Planning Stage

Published: Monday, 19 November 2012 06:32

So you’ve completed the much thought over scheme design stage and designed the most perfect house but the next question will be…will your local County Council agree to the design and location on site? If your site is in a rural area there can be many house type restrictions but a well experienced registered architect can guide you through the right design process, however, there may be issues that can arise and will be unforeseen until a planning application is lodged.


A very common question I receive is “How long will the planning process take?”…The planning stage usually takes about 3 months for a smooth sailing application, however, sometimes the Planning Authority may look for additional information or changes that may slow up the process.

Once a Planning Notice is advertised in the local newspaper your architect has 2 weeks to lodge the application with the local County Council. A Site Notice must then be erected on site and must remain visible for 5 weeks from the date the planning application is lodged with the Council.

Generally, the Planning Authority will not assess an application to approx. week 6, as the first 5 weeks allow for any observations or submissions to be made on the submitted application. It is usually around week 8-12 that the Planning Authority will issue the architect their decision, which will either be a request for ‘Further Information’, a ‘Notification of Decision to Grant’ or a ‘Notification of Decision to Refuse’. The ‘Notification of Decision’ is merely a notification and does not hold any legal standing until the ‘Final Decision to Grant / Refuse’ is issued 4 weeks later. This 4 week timeframe allows for any applicants (usually in the case of a refusal) or objectors (usually in the case of a grant) to appeal the Council’s decision to An Bord Pleanala who are the planning regulatory body for Ireland.

It is also possible to hire in a planning consultant to act on your behalf and with your architect if decisions start to get complicated with your planning application. Planning consultants have a full understanding of planning policies and planning acts and may know a solution to what may have been a problem. It is highly recommended to use a consultant that has planning education and experience behind them as there is usually only one chance to make appeals and you want to ensure they will provide you with the best possible chance to achieve the outcome you desire.

The planning stage can be a worry and stress for clients and can sometimes take up to one year, especially if appeals are made to An Bord Plenala, but if this is your house for life it is important to allow time for all these aspects that may arise, foreseen or unforeseen, to ensure you have taken all the necessary steps in achieving the best possible solution.

So with our own fully approved ‘Decision to Grant’ it’s now on to the not so fun bit….Building Control!

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