In recent years when Sam Stephenson’s former mews house at No. 31 Leeson Close has made its occasional appearances in various tucked-away corners of the national media, descriptions have rarely varied far from barely coherent giggling about how it’s supposedly some sort of 1970s time capsule. It’s a staggeringly reductive manner of thinking about one of Dublin’s small architectural treasure chests.
Stephenson bought the disused stables in 1957 and completed work on it in 1958, not a noticeably groovy time anywhere in the world, especially Ireland. He scraped the needed thousand punts together in a time when the architecture game was dormant and bank managers had short arms, tight fingers and bishopric status.
As such, and contrary to how it is lazily portrayed, it is not an extravagant building. It’s certainly not, to use the English language’s most stupid neologic portmanteau, ‘shagadelic’. There’s a fundamental economy of space in its design, because there was little site and less money to work with. In a recent interview, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey recently set out the maxim/cliché ‘Constraint inspires creativity’ [an emaciated twenty-eight characters, how appropriate] as his credo, and if it’s not immediately evident here, that’s because it is the invisible framing device that structures the design. There’s a discipline and sense of hierarchy to the spaces that make up the mews – and how they’re illuminated from the one available aspect that gave untrammeled natural light – that tell of an inventive mind brought to bay by a sense of proportion and order.
Yeah, there’s a conversation pit. Because there’s not a 42” flatscreen and an overstuffed couch, it’s stuck in the ‘70s? What’s wrong with talking to people?
Stephenson may have been a fiesty and borderline unscrupulous self-publicist and a man who made enemies as easily as friends, but his former home serves a check hook to those who would doubt his abilities as an architect based only on his larger, more well-known and endlessly more controversial works.
Check out No.31 at number31.ie
Words: Hugo Lamont