18 Mar 2024

At Home: Aoife + Rob

Inspired by the beauty of nature and the wealth of benefits that outdoor living brings, garden designers Aoife and Rob (Connolly Design) firmly believe that gardens and the buildings they surround should be one.  Their own home completely embodies this ethos.  We had a chat to them to learn more about their holistic approach to creating their beautiful family home.


Can you tell us about your home and who lives there?

Just over 8 years ago we built a contemporary house just outside Holywood, Co. Down where we live with our two sons and Heidi, our Jack Russell x Daschund.  Creating a home surrounded by quiet, rolling farm-land and nature has turned out to be a lovely balance to the busy family space where we both work.

After living in London for several years, we decided to move home when we found a site which we just fell in love with - fabulous panoramic views over Belfast Lough, to Scotland and the Copeland Islands, we knew that it offered something quite unique where we could build a really special home. After purchasing the site, we knocked down a large 1940s bungalow that had been converted into a recording studio. From there, we set about building a home that connected the surroundings with the way we wanted to live.

Rob studied architecture so building our own home has always been part of our plan together. Finding the right site and having the chance to work with a close architect friend, we got to designing the detail of the space and undertook the build with MG Construction, who are fantastic and really worked in partnership with us.

Light, views and connection are at the heart of our design. The home is built around sight lines that bring us through the building and into nature. We also integrated large floor to ceiling picture windows to make the most of the views, to maximise light and again, to connect interior living with exterior life. 

We’ve used a lot of York Handmade Brick in the build, it brings a unique warmth and we loved that it was the same brick used to build the footings of The Shard in London. It felt appropriate that we could bring a piece of our London story back to Northern Ireland with us.

How has the house changed since you moved in?

Since we moved in the build has evolved from a house to a home. We have slowly added furniture, art and soft furnishings. Some pieces are new and some are old, like the grand piano that came from Aoife’s family home. We firmly believe in William Morris’ principle “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. We designed a generous hall with a dining table rather than a separate dining room that we felt that we would rarely use.  Our dining table by Ilse Crawford is one of our favourite purchases.

Over the years, the biggest change has been in the garden. On completion of the build the two-acre garden was largely grass. While we view it always ever evolving, the garden has taken shape, connecting us from house to nature and vice versa. Bringing the outside into our home and enjoying the outside space as a family has been one of our real joys.

Where do you get your ideas and inspiration for your home?

Architects Joeb Moore and McClean Quinlan were inspirational when it came to the build. In terms of interiors, we enjoy browsing designer shops and adding pieces we feel will fit with our space. We also love to travel, finding beautiful objects that we bring home with us. Attaching a story or a memory with something we have collected adds so much meaning when we look around the room.

As well as having incredible views, your garden is stunning, can you please tell us all about it?

Thank you so much. Perhaps a quirk of our job but for us, the garden will always be a work in progress. It’s impossible to imagine ‘finishing’ an outside space, seasons change and there is always something to reconsider or edit as we move through the months. Conceptually, we designed the space as a garden of multiple rooms, a layout that whatever the weather there is always a part of the garden that we can use. Our site is very exposed so we have spent a lot of time creating shelter, a walled garden, a large planted area that is surrounded by windbreak hedging, and a greenhouse that we use for raising plants, seeds and cuttings as well as outdoor lunches on wetter days.

The garden isn’t typical of the gardens that we design in that it quite eclectic with a mix of different planting styles. Ultimately, it is a test garden for us as garden designers and plant lovers and we love having the space to integrate new ideas and play around with designs.

How have you made the garden become an extension of the home?

Connecting homes with the gardens in which they sit is the underpinning of our design process and we have very much designed our own garden with inside-outside living in mind. As a family, we love to be outside whenever we can, so in an effort to enjoy the outdoor areas as much as possible, we focused on shelter and designed a number of different spaces that ensure there is always a place to sit whatever the weather.  These different entertaining spaces include large overhangs, an outdoor fire, sunken areas and a beautiful greenhouse. 

We used a simple palate of materials to connect the interior and exterior using complimentary tiling, York Handmade Brick, and iroko wood both inside and out.  When we are indoors, the large windows allow the light to stream in and we can enjoy the garden which has been planned to provide year-round interest.  Sight lines are key for us - wherever you turn in our home,  there is a picture window framing the view.

If money was no object, what would you buy for your home.

Perhaps predictably, we would invest in another garden project and build a natural swimming pond.  We’ve fallen in love with cold water swimming and as well as being fantastic for wildlife, well-designed swimming ponds are very beautiful and add to the landscape.

Have you got plans for any more projects at home?

Hmm… we’ll keep an outdoor swimming pond on the agenda for now!  Our boys are growing up quickly, so we also plan to make some changes inside the home, updating the playroom to make it more of a grown up ‘den’ space for them to enjoy. 

How would you spend a perfect weekend?

Our ideal weekend would always involve being outside as much as possible. On a sunny spring or summer day, you’d find us out for an early morning walk in the fields or along the coast with the boys and Heidi, or maybe Rob might sneak out for a cycle. The day would pass with the boys having friends round while we potter around in the garden. We love cooking and entertaining, so we always enjoy shopping locally for some beautiful ingredients (finding a few in our veg patch too!) and then spending the evening watching the sunset and enjoying a barbecue with friends. Perfect!



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