MMost creatives aspire to build their own home, experimenting with materials, styles, and ideals. Type “self-build” into Google and you’ll see homes ranging from the quirky to the extravagant. Triangular houses squeezed into tight urban spaces, round houses perched on stilts like landlocked moons – the vacant lot is your blank canvas.
A good example is Garvan de Bruir’s house in Kildare, Ireland. Craftsman-designer best known for his leather bags and accessories, de Bruir draws on the history of aviation to build his atypical half-timbered home. “The technical term is a monocoque, which refers to the cocooning shape of an aircraft’s fuselage. It’s slim, but thanks to its curved profile – like a clamshell – it’s also very strong. It is also eco-friendly. “You use the minimum of materials for maximum effect.”
The result is hard to miss. The Aviator Haus is a gleaming hoop-like structure rising over flat, green fields, where a low stone wall is all that remains of an ancient abbey. Previously a scrap yard, the site later became an industrial area. “Because I built my workshop here, I was also allowed to add a house,” says de Bruir, who built the two-bedroom prefab structure himself. Its pre-insulated components were digitally cut and assembled into sections, as cleanly as Lego, in a matter of weeks.
The ideas behind his house were born from his fascination with wood and its architectural potential. He studied furniture making at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University in High Wycombe, the ancient center of furniture making in the UK. “During World War II, local factories also made parts for airplanes. A shortage of metal led to a return to wood. They used plywood, heavily designed for strength. I started thinking about how I could apply these techniques to architecture.
His “crucible of ideas” house was executed on a tight “self-builder” budget. It was a matter of materials and economy. The curved outer shell is covered with a powder coated corrugated sheet, riveted like a fuselage. “It’s what they use for local farm buildings, but unfortunately the planners didn’t allow me to use the classic farm red oxide color.” For the exterior, he used cedar siding with inexpensive PVC framed windows.
Measuring a lean-to 5m wide by 10m long, there is an open-plan living space downstairs with two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, where light streams in through windows to each end. “It’s your classic terrace house,” smiles de Bruir, industrious in his leather apron.
Of course, that’s not really the case. “In a traditional house, the ceiling corners of the rooms on the top floor are dead spaces. By eliminating them, you reduce the energy needed to heat the space,” he explains. “A typical house requires thick walls to support a heavy roof; the curved profile eliminates this, reducing the materials needed.
With its gently sloping walls and wood paneling, the interior is as cozy as a log cabin mixed with the economical elegance of a ship’s cabin. “The different woods add texture and warmth,” he says, pointing to the floors, which are made from an economical engineered wood (OSB) produced in Waterford. The staircase which twirls gracefully upstairs is made of falls. The walls are clad in plywood also used to craft the kitchen with its ingeniously curved doors and shelves filled with cheerful pottery.
There’s leather in unusual details, like handles or hinges, inspired by vintage luggage design. “Leather as a construction material has been overtaken by plastic or metal. But its strength and flexibility make it so versatile.
Other experiences include the leather tables and chairs perched on lively, curved legs. He uses entire sections of leather for his designs, unlike mass-produced pieces, which are usually made from small cuts sewn together. “Wrapping a bag in a single piece of leather makes it much more durable. Fewer joints means it’s structurally much stronger,” he says. “Typically there would be four leather panels sewn together to create the shape of the bucket. However, my design is molded in one piece. It’s a medieval process called “boiled leather” that craftsmen used to make armor by boiling and molding the leather into a torso shape.
De Bruir built his “one-size-fits-all” house as a prototype. Ideally, he would like to deploy it commercially as home or studio solutions. “I’m still calculating the costs, but it would be very economical.” The comfort and tactility of the interior, he says, also made it a pleasure to live in. The modular structure will facilitate the production of different versions with more windows, parts and a deeper footprint. Imagine a row of his Aviator Hauses in their own green plots, shimmering softly against the blue sky. It could be fun – and different.