Just about everyone loves to see how others live, but it's not often you get to look inside a stranger's home without sneakily peering through their windows.
As well as granting entry to some of the city's most famous buildings such as Leinster House, the Abbey Theatre and the Department of Finance, next weekend's Open House is offering visitors the chance to properly snoop around some of Dublin's coolest private residential homes. Among them are those owned by architects.
For homeowners planning to opt out of the property market and instead stay put and renovate by either knocking down walls, digging out basements or raising the roof, it's the perfect opportunity to see how others have pulled it off, and even ask the experts for a few tips.
The star of this year's crop of private homes is undoubtedly the 'Concrete House' at 1 Nun's Lane in Killester, Dublin 5. It's home to architect Donal Hickey, his interior designer wife Fionnuala and their two children. It's also an office for Hickey's architectural practice, Arcus, which he runs with fellow architect Gavin Buggy.
A gleaming white-painted box-fresh vision of a house entirely constructed of cast in-situ concrete, it's been described as a very bold piece of modern architecture, particularly given its surroundings, nestled among some rather modest-looking terraces.
Surprisingly, Hickey says getting planning permission for it was relatively straightforward. "Provided you obey the rules and stick within the guidelines, you can interpret them whatever way you want. I think the planners even said in their report that it was a very clever design."
What is probably even more clever though is how Hickey came to build on the site, which is effectively the rear garden of a property built for the soliders' and sailors' land trust.
"We knew we wanted to live in Killester, so we got out an ordinance survey map and highlighted the areas we thought we could build on, which were mainly garden sites. Then we knocked on doors and wrote to people asking if we could buy their land," says Hickey.
The house, which was "highly recommended" in the recent RIAI Awards and which appeared on RTE's About The House programme with Duncan Stewart, is no stranger to the limelight, though Hickey does admit to being a little bit nervous about opening it up to the public.
How people will react to the use of so much concrete will be interesting, especially as many of the internal walls have been left exposed, in their natural raw concrete state.
"Concrete has awful connotations. It's perceived as being cold and austere, but it's very easy to work with and actually quite warm. We haven't had the heating on since March," says Hickey.
The biggest surprise to visitors will be how Hickey has used the space. Where others might have been tempted to add floors and extra rooms, he's designed the living/dining area as one huge open-plan, double-height space. The walls are partially clad in gorgeously luxurious Iroko timber with the doors cleverly concealed within the wood, so you feel you're cocooned in one very large, but very stylish, box. The focal point is a massive chimney made from Kilkenny limestone that soars 15ft up to the ceiling.
Off this space is the kitchen, a surprisingly small, and well, rather pokey galley, that's "perfectly practical and functional" according to Hickey, who loves to cook, while upstairs there's just one room – a bathroom, made almost entirely from terrazzo.
"In Ireland we've a huge preoccupation with the whole property industry. Houses are seen as more valuable if they have more rooms, but actually creating good spaces is more important," says Hickey, whose practical approach to design has seen him go to extraordinary lengths, or rather depths, for said good spaces.
By digging down, he's cleverly added an extra level to the house, creating what is essentially a three-storey house on a two-storey site, and opened up the space around it so rooms don't feel dark or claustrophobic.
In the basement he's put three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a utility.
"Basements are a really effective way of creating extra space. The technology has been there for decades; the Georgians and Victorians built basements and most commercial buildings in the city all have basements, yet they're perceived as something new. Only in recent years has the traditional idea of a house come to be two-up, two-down," says Hickey.
What's most striking about this house is the sense of calmness and general feel-good vibe. Nothing screams too much for your attention, or demands to be noticed. "It's like an analogue watch with hands; it does the job without the fancy bells and whistles," says Hickey.
It's also incredibly bright. South-facing walls are punctuated with huge expanses of glazing to take advantage of solar gain, while north-facing walls have small windows, ceilings have clever light wells and other walls have windows simply for viewing. "I love this house for what it is," say Hickey, matter of factly. "There's nothing about the design I regret doing or not doing, but that's not to say that if I was to build it again it would look entirely the same. Houses built in the present should be of the present and should reflect what you like and how you feel at the time."
Open House runs from 17 to 19 October. No 1 Nun's Lane is open to the public on the Sunday. All events are free of charge but some require booking. Further information from www.architecturefoundation.ie; 01-670 8621.
Arcus Architects: www.arcusarchitects.com;