Most creatives yearn to build their own home, experimenting with materials, styles and ideals. Type “self build” into Google and up will pop homes ranging from the singular to the outlandish. Triangular houses squeezed into tight urban spots, round houses perched on stilts like landlocked moons – the vacant plot is your blank canvas.
Garvan de Bruir’s home in Kildare, Ireland, is a case in point. A designer-craftsman best known for his leather bags and accessories, de Bruir drew on the history of aviation to build his unusual, timber-framed dwelling. “The technical term is a monocoque, which refers to the cocooning shape of an aircraft’s fuselage. It’s thin, but by virtue of its curved profile – like a shell – it’s also very strong.” It is also eco-friendly. “You use the minimum amount of materials for maximum effect.”
The result is hard to miss. The Aviator Haus is a gleaming, hoop-shaped structure rising from flat green fields, where a low stone wall is all that remains of a former abbey. Previously a scrap yard, the site later became an industrial zone. “Because I built my workshop here I was allowed to add a home as well,” says de Bruir who built the two-bedroom, prefabricated structure himself. Its pre-insulated components were digitally cut and assembled in sections, as neatly as Lego, over the course of a few weeks.
The ideas behind his home grew out of his fascination with wood and its architectural potential. He studied furniture making at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University in High Wycombe, the former furniture making hub of the UK. “During the Second World War, local factories also made parts for aircraft. A shortage of metal led to a return to timber. They used plywood, heavily engineered for strength. I began thinking about how I could apply those techniques to architecture.”
His “melting pot of ideas” home was executed on a tight “self-builders’ budget. It was about materials and economy.” The curving outer shell is covered in a powder-coated corrugated iron, riveted like a fuselage. “It is what they use for local farm buildings, but unfortunately the planners wouldn’t allow me to use the classic agricultural red oxide colour.” For the exterior, he used cedar cladding with inexpensive PVC framed windows.
Measuring a lean 5m wide by 10m long, there is an open-plan living area downstairs with two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, where light spills in through windows at either end. “It’s your classic terrace house,” smiles de Bruir, industrious in his leather apron.
Of course, it is not really. “In a traditional house the ceiling corners of the top floor rooms are dead space. By eliminating them you cut down on the energy needed to heat the space,” he explains. “A typical house requires thick walls to support a heavy roof; the curved profile does away with that, reducing the materials needed.”
With its gently sloping walls and wood panelling, the interior feels as cosy as a woodland cabin mixed with the economical elegance of a ship’s cabin. “The different woods add texture and warmth,” he says, pointing out the floors, made from a budget-engineered wood (OSB) produced in Waterford. The staircase which twirls gracefully upstairs is made from offcuts. The walls are clad in plywood also used to make the kitchen with its ingeniously curved doors and shelves full of cheerful pottery.
There is leather in unusual details, like the handles or hinges, inspired by vintage luggage design. “Leather as a building material has been overtaken by plastic or metal. But its strength and flexibility makes it so versatile.”
Other experiments include the leather tables and chairs perching on animated, curving legs. He uses whole sections of leather for his designs, unlike mass-produced pieces, which are generally made from smaller cuts stitched together. “Wrapping a bag in one piece of leather makes it much more durable. Fewer joins mean it’s structurally far stronger,” he says.“Typically there would be four panels of leather stitched together to create the bucket shape. However my design is moulded as a single piece. It’s a medieval process called ‘cuir bouilli’ which craftsmen used to make armour by boiling and moulding leather to the shape of a torso.”
De Bruir built his “singleform” house as a prototype. Ideally he would like to roll it out commercially as home or studio solutions. “I am still working out the costs, but it would be very economical.” The interior’s snugness and tactility, he says, have also made it a delight to live in. The modular structure will make it easy to produce different versions with more windows, rooms and a deeper footprint. Picture a row of his Aviator Hauses set in their own green plots, glinting softly against blue skies. It could be fun – and different.