San Elmo Lodge

An architectural gem

tucked into the Dalkey coastline

The house, around which we have created the garden, is a special one architecturally having been designed and created by Tom de Paor whom the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) described in 2017, when he was awarded a fellowship, as the ‘leading Irish architect of his generation’. Nearly 17 years since its construction, this impressive work of art continues to stand tall, and continues to refuse to look dated in any way. Described by the judges as, ‘a beautiful building that renders itself like a magic lantern’. Other descriptions of the house include that of ‘iconic’ and of architectural significance’ as quoted by the Irish Times in 2020.

The location of the property along the Killiney Way Walking route offers privacy, yet, panoramic sea views from the upper stories of the house through the mature pine tree canopy of the adjoining property. Views framed by large rectangular windows, set at angles, both refracting and reflecting the light to which there seems to be always an abundance. The exterior continues to showcase strong lines and angles.

The challenge with the property was to provide it with more context as the architect had decided to set the structure in to the hillside with a simple lawn surround only using the nearby trees and established vegetation from other adjoining properties to create the setting. Whilst the presence of the large granite perimeter wall to the east was important for privacy, it appeared quite domineering from within the grounds.

The brief for the garden entailed creating connections from the different useable areas of the house to each other, such as from the parking area at the top of the property down towards the lower patio and the rear of the house at the lower levels. Additional elements included a shed designed to a high level and which was to act as a counterpoint to the house with its more natural timber appearance but set against the boundary, so as not to dominate the views around the garden. A bin storage area tucks neatly away to one side of it, out of sight.

The role of planting would provide more scale and soften the build without taking away from the architecture. The planting would also take into consideration the views from within the house looking outwards. There was also some overlooking from the neighbours, despite the wall and so the placement of trees would be carefully thought about to address that without taking away too much light.

The combination of the strong design features of the house set into the steep slope would require careful design thought on how best to approach and address the creation of subtle level changes achieving the desire for connectivity with an overall path circumnavigating the house. The overall design would also need to mirror and reflect these strong design features whilst providing pocket opportunities of desired planting and individual garden features of interest.

The owners had decided to repair and extend slightly, the existing triangular patio. On our advice, the steps in the rear middle of the house would be upgraded as well as creating the terraces along the lower levels. These would become a key design element.

The overlapping concrete steps were added as an additional interesting and complementary feature to allow access down the side of the garden at a gentler pace in contrast to its much steeper gradient. These steps, constructed on site, give the appearance of ‘floating’ on the grass.  From different viewpoints the geometric lines of the steps stand out from amongst the soft presence of planting tying in the different areas of the garden together. Further connectivity was created round the rear of the house with the simple insertion of a hoggin path extending from the concrete steps across new terraces.

The newly created terraces at the lower levels of the house allowed for a direct stepping out on to the hoggin pathway , which runs along the perimeter and connects with a second stairs up the back of the house, giving the complete walk around the house. The lowest level of terraces is also a supplemental buffer of planting to offset and contrast with the existing vegetation at the boundary.   Each terrace level is retained by a wall finished in natural stone complementing local Dalkey granite stone.

Layers of planting were inserted into the terraces to further soften and contrast the existing hard landscaping and presence of the house. These also added levels of interest along the house margins that when viewed from within the house would create the feeling of more depth in the garden.

We retained an extensive open area of grass that connects the upper and lower parts of the house and gives exercise space to the  family dogs.

Key elements of planting were repeated throughout the property, using sumptuous  Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ and other shade loving ferns and perennials such as Heuchera and Alchemilla mollis , which were balanced with a mixture of ornamental grasses working in tandem continuing to soften and enhance the overall design. To punch through and create a variety of focal points, the insertion of striking specimen trees included an Acer palmatum, Cornus kousa ‘Variegata’ and some Magnolias adding further character and seasonal flourishes to the overall completed design.

To read about the more technical aspects of the construction of steps, please click on the following link. Have a tricky sloping site that you are ensure of how to approach, do get in touch through our website or social media pages.

Client Reference:

“Tim turns simple garden ideas into botanical dreams. Our barren uninspired slopey garden is now full of colour, life, and interest. Where before we had large amounts of no-go areas, we now have steps, terraces, a hoggin path, and every inch of the space is enjoyable. It’s like we claimed back a huge expanse of our garden, which was a burden to maintain before.

His infectious passion for plants and trees can be seen manifested in the intricate details on display in our new garden in Dalkey. He not only delivers precision in landscape architecture, but he’s easy going, dedicated, and a pleasure to work with. We have our fingers crossed that we can find another large garden for him to work his magic on again in the future. Our hats are off to him. Thanks Tim, we are in awe of our new garden.” 2023


Tim’s Response:

‘Dear Anna and Michael, it has been a great pleasure to work with you on your garden, I have really enjoyed our journey together through the design, selecting the plants, especially the Maple, and then seeing it evolve in the garden, as Tom’s team from Foxcover expertly constructed it.
I am looking forward to seeing your garden develop and hope that you and the dogs will get value out of it as it matures. I would be most pleased to work with you on your next venture. for sure.

For now, I hope you find time to sit back, enjoy your new garden and watch the flowers grow!
Thank you so much for your most kind review.’ 2023

architectural design, concept garden, design, Dublin, exterior living, garden design, garden path, Garden views, house and garden, large garden, low maintenance planting, Planting design, Spacious lawn, Steps and levels, trees