About the Architect - Sam Stephenson

The Architect Muses

The Sunday Tribune, 2nd May 1999

Architect Sam Stephenson learned a number of hard lessons when he found his first home in Leeson Close in the late 1950s.

There was the mortgage of £700 he had to scrape for from the Irish Permanent. There was the protracted planning permission row. There was also the small problem of coming up with the other £300 that was required to buy the converted mews at the back of 31 Fitzwilliam Place.

"I had more time than clients, so I decided to do the conversion work myself. I had studied carpentry and bricklaying in college but the demolition work was killing me."

Stephenson employed the services of two "iron men" labourers that he knew from his first job in a display firm. "One of them had fought in the Spanish Civil War and they were great workers. They'd burst through the work and then I'd have to bring them to O'Brien's pub for their pay. They'd always insist that I come along and I'd have to try in vain to keep up with them as they'd demolish pint after pint of Guinness.

"It was my first real introduction to serious pint drinking and since those sessions, I've developed a serious distaste for Guinness," he said. The conversion work took Stephenson the whole of 1958 to complete. "The place was in fairly bad shape when I found it. It had been used for horses up until I bought it and the first time I saw it the layers of dust were inches thick. At the back of the mews I came across a newspaper from 1933 and realised that no one had even set foot in the place for 25 years. The owners were a firm of accountants who had paid £4,000 for No 31 Fitzwilliam Place and the adjoining mews. They reckoned that they were pulling a fast one making £1,000 for the mews."

"On the day I arrived home from my honeymoon, all we had in the flat was a cooker, bed, and a round table and chairs that I had built myself. At the time Brendan Behan was living upstairs. He barged in one morning to use the phone; he wanted to ring the pawn shop to see how much he'd get for his typewriter and when he saw the state of the place he gave my young bride some typical Behan advice - 'don't worry, he told her, 'all you need is a bed, a table and a corkscrew anyway'.

"When the mews was eventually ready, we piled everything into a cart and moved down. It wasn't very fashionable to live down a lane and the interior was unusual for the time - a double height livingroom with lots of timber and exposed stonework. When my mother-in-law saw it, she told us that we'd have awful trouble getting the wallpaper up."

A few years later, the interior was photographed for the New York Times magazine as an example of modern interior design.
"The firm of accountants I bought it off finally realised that 1,000 was a bargain because of the development potential of the mews. Whenever I meet any of them, they tell me that selling the mews was the greatest mistake they ever made."

— The Sunday Tribune, 2nd May 1999

Designer Ireland Column - No. 151

The Sunday Times - September 29th, 2002 -

Author - Lisa Godson

Despite it's association with poverty and insularity, the 1950s represented something of a golden age of modern design in Ireland, and included Michael Scott's superb Busaras, the innovative Aer Lingus posters and what is still probably Dublin's coolest interior, 31 Leeson Close. Originally designed as a domestic residence, it is now a guest house.

Situated down a lane off Lower Leeson Street, this former mews building was converted in 1958. The small entrance hall is conventional enough, but just beyond is the house's most spectacular feature - the downstairs living room, which looks like it belongs more in an Austin Powers film than in a 1950s Irish interior.

In layout, use of materials and furnishings, the room is both slinkily relaxed and bracingly modern. This modernity is set up by geometry: spatially by a central rectangular sunken area and graphically by the flooring, which is covered with white mosaic tiles that set up a strongly ordered grid.

The sunken area has a large fireplace at on end and is fitted with continuous leather seating around the other three sides. The dedication of the majority of the space in the room to an area that seems devoted to lounging indicates a living room as a place to relax, an idea not really designed into conventional Irish homes until the 1970s. Behind this lounging pit is a small bar, decorated in mirrored mosaic tiles that lighten up the room. The walls are of painted rough stone, again providing a bit of textural relief.

"When the mews was eventually ready, we piled everything into a cart and moved down. It wasn't very fashionable to live down a lane and the interior was unusual for the time - a double height livingroom with lots of timber and exposed stonework. When my mother-in-law saw it, she told us that we'd have awful trouble getting the wallpaper up."

The overall scheme communicates confidence in a chic urban lifestyle, firmly situated in a modern age.

Sam Stephenson, now better known for his desecration of Wood Quay, designed 31 Leeson Close as his home. If the blank brutality of his civic offices gave public modern architecture a bad name, the interior of 31 Leeson Close shows that in private he was capable of creating a generous version of modernism.

— The Sunday Times - September 29th, 2002

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