Dream home on a budget – UK’s best new house revealed

House Lessans, an exquisitely simple home in County Down designed by McGonigle McGrath, has been named RIBA House of the Year 2019. The prestigious annual award is given by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) to the UK’s best new architect-designed house.

Built on the site of a former farmstead, House Lessans completes a small compound of agricultural buildings. Its crisp, white rendered concrete walls capped with zinc pitched roofs echo the adjacent corrugated barn and root the family home within the landscape.

House Lessans is formed of two perpendicular blocks – a dramatic double-height living space, and a suite of three bedrooms overlooking a tranquil sheltered courtyard garden. While all rooms are minimal and paired back, they vary dramatically in volume and feel. The breath-taking open plan kitchen and snug take advantage of the views with huge expanses of glass, while the three, equally-sized bedrooms are restrained, private and more familiar in scale.

House Lessans cost just £1,425 per square metre (£335,000) – a remarkable achievement for a newly built home of this scale. Through the application of basic building materials, cost-saving hacks and the simple arrangement of rooms and spaces, McGonigle McGrath have managed to design a home of outstanding quality on a budget. Walls made of cheap concrete blocks have been carefully laid, rendered outside and painted inside with flush mortar joins to ensure a perfect finish. The huge windows are also fixed throughout – with openings for ventilation – a far cheaper alternative to bifold doors. Every penny of the client’s budget has been carefully and well spent.

RIBA President, Alan Jones, said:

“House Lessans demonstrates that life enhancing architecture does not have to cost the earth.”

“Executed with incredible clarity and restraint, McGonigle McGrath have used simple and cheap materials to create a truly bespoke home that resonates with its owners and its context. Even with the tightest of budgets, House Lessans shows that a dream home, designed by a talented architect, can be a reality.”

Architect Kieran McGonigle (McGonigle McGrath) said:

“It has been both a delight and a challenge to work on this project; a delight in the beautiful location in this archetypically Ulster landscape and in the simple brief, and a challenge in designing and delivering a precisely detailed and high quality building within a modest budget. The outcome, a small collection of forms in the landscape, contributes to this place and, we hope, extends our understanding of how to make buildings in our countryside.”

“Our thanks go to our insightful and trusting clients, and to the contractor’s team and craftspeople who had the patience and skills to bring our designs to reality. We are thrilled with the outcome.”

Sylvia and Michael, the owners of House Lessans said:

“Like most non-architects about to build a home we had a clear idea about what we’d like in terms of rooms but no idea about how these rooms might be arranged or what the house might look like. The magic a gifted architect can work was evident from the moment we saw the initial plans and that appreciation deepened as the project progressed. We feel that the house respects and indeed enhances the landscape. It is a joy to live in – from seeing the soaring bedroom ceiling on wakening, being surrounded by the gentle landscape in the kitchen during the day, to enjoying the sunset in the top room.

We’re delighted to be a part of the RIBA celebration of the life enhancing potential of architecture.”

Chair of the 2019 RIBA House of the Year jury, architect John Pardey, said:

“House Lessans in the rolling countryside of County Down was chosen as the winner as it represents a paradigm in creating relevant contemporary architecture that truly reflects its local context, vernacular and culture. It has an elegant simplicity achieved within a remarkably low budget without excesses, creating delight in the subtly changing volumes as well as its relationship between the inside and outside. The house takes the daily business of life and with the architects’ skills in making a house from simple materials, carefully detailed and with precise alignments, succeeds in becoming not just a house, but more importantly, a home.”

House Lessans was revealed as the winner in the final episode of a special Channel 4 series Grand Designs: House of the Year.

Also announced this evening was the seventh and final home shortlisted for the RIBA House of the Year: The Green House by David Sheppard Architects.

The full shortlist for the RIBA House of the Year 2019 was:

  • Nithurst Farm by Adam Richards Architects
  • Pocket House by Tikari Works
  • A Restorative Rural Retreat for Sartfell by Foster Lomas
  • Black House by Dualchas Architects
  • House Lessans by McGonigle McGrath
  • Secular Retreat by Atelier Peter Zumthor with Mole Architects
  • The Green House by David Sheppard Architects