GREAT SPACE: Luskville couple builds dream home out of shipping containers

This article was first published in the Interiors 2015 issue of Ottawa Magazine.

An imaginative couple turns a series of shipping containers into a home that’s at once industrial and inviting, envisioning it as a welcoming space for family, friends, and anybody looking to get away from it all

By MELANIE SCOTT
Photos by CHRISTIAN LALONDE – PHOTOLUXSTUDIO.COM

Natalie Fraser and Kirk Finken stroll the grounds behind their house. Photo by Christian Lalonde

Natalie Fraser and Kirk Finken stroll the grounds behind their house. Photo by Christian Lalonde

The vista from the road leading to Kirk Finken and Natalie Fraser’s Luskville-area house is one of those breathtaking scenes that could have been painted by famed British landscape artist J.M.W. Turner — the countryside, rich with green, set against a moody, uncertain sky that threatens to burst. Without much warning, a farmhouse, which has seen better days, appears on the right. But it’s not the farmhouse that Kirk and Natalie occupy: they live in the building a bit further back from the road.

The lofty dining is open to the second storey. Photo by Christian Lalonde

The lofty dining is open to the second storey. Photo by Christian Lalonde

Created from four shipping containers (once used to transport produce from the Bahamas) that the couple purchased from the Port of Montreal, the 2,300-square-foot structure doesn’t appear, at first glance, to be much different from many custom-designed houses. Once inside, though, the skeleton of the house quickly becomes apparent: some of the ceilings — the floors of containers flipped upside down — are hardwood, while a wall inside one closet has serial numbers stuck to its surface.

Though Kirk purchased the property in 2007, they did not start building until 2013. In the interim, Kirk did some designing, using 3-D software, and the couple created a maquette. They played around with foam shapes and made numerous drawings, sketching ideas as they came to them. What eventually emerged was a concept that would make intelligent use of the strength and shape of the rectangular steel boxes that occupy shipping ports the world over.

The upper components of the house are connected by a catwalk of the kind that might be found on an ocean-going vessel. Photo by Christian Lalonde

The upper components of the house are connected by a catwalk of the kind that might be found on an ocean-going vessel. Photo by Christian Lalonde

 

Theirs is a blended family (both Kirk and Natalie have children from previous relationships), so they also kept in mind that they were creating a unique space where their kids could come and go in an environment that overlooks that Turneresque landscape. “I’m obsessed with the idea that a space affects your ideas and your mind,” says Kirk. “Our houses are an extension of our souls.”

Before tackling the actual construction, Kirk and Natalie needed a mortgage, as well as a building permit. And the concept of a house made with steel containers isn’t everyone’s idea of a good investment. “We had a contractor who had some courage,” says Kirk, “and the municipality had courage, and the bank that approved us had courage.” Adds Natalie: “We went to seven branches of the same bank and found one that would make this happen.”

The living area is flooded with light from floor-to-ceiling windows. Photo by Christian Lalonde

The living area is flooded with light from floor-to-ceiling windows. Photo by Christian Lalonde

Having already built a straw bale house in Aylmer, Kirk was no stranger to the concept of using alternative materials. Plenty of builders are jumping onto the “green building” bandwagon, but he isn’t much interested in the current buzz that’s feeding the dialogue. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he says. “I just want to do it.” That ability to get on with it is evident in the progress the couple has made since the concrete slab on which the house sits was poured in 2013.

They used the nearby farmhouse as a temporary home from which to supervise the construction process. Once the containers were delivered, they were joined together with the help of local contractors, including one with a background in welding. The building began to take shape. Individual rooms emerged — some are the exact size and shape of the containers, while others were created by slicing through the steel walls. The overall result is a house with an atrium at its centre — a staircase leads to a kind of catwalk that overlooks the open living area below.

Off this are five bedrooms, including an idyllic private space for Kirk and Natalie that, like much of the house, looks over the natural beauty outside. Lighting casts shadows through the steel-and-wire banister onto a massive white wall. The effect is one of being in a city at night. This was intentional, says Natalie, and you would almost think you were looking at a painting.

A nod to luxury:  A massive soaker tub in the master bedroom boasts gorgeous views, while glass doors lead onto a private balcony. Photo by Christian Lalonde

A nod to luxury:
A massive soaker tub in the master bedroom boasts gorgeous views, while glass doors lead onto a private balcony. Photo by Christian Lalonde

The containers aren’t the only previously owned components that went into the building. Aged wooden walls that form a pantry off the kitchen were rescued from another house, while the pantry door came from a nearby farmhouse. A re-enamelled claw-foot tub in the main bathroom was removed from “some guy’s basement in the Glebe,” says Kirk, adding that scouring garage sales resulted in plenty of finds. The kitchen, especially, is an eye-catcher: it came from a Zellers’ luncheonette and was purchased at a barn sale in Aylmer. The temptation is to sit down at the counter and order a burger and fries.

Everything in this house spells efficiency. Being somewhat restricted by the dimensions of the containers encourages inventive use of space. Washbasins in the bathrooms are designed for small spaces (although accommodation has been made for a giant soaker tub in the master bathroom), and closets are minimal, reflecting the couple’s notion that accumulation leads to clutter.

 

The exterior of the house, meanwhile, reflects a penchant for simplicity — it’s faced with pine board and batten, and the couple will allow the surface to age with the seasons. Under this is sprayed foam insulation; the roof is finished with polyresin membrane to fend off the elements.

There’s still much to accomplish: Kirk and Natalie intend to build separate structures on the property in order to offer all kinds of activities to visitors. They plan to set up a recording studio and provide acting and singing lessons (Natalie is a voice teacher as well as a yoga instructor; she is already hosting yoga classes in the house). This will mean investing in more containers and refashioning them into multi-use spaces and studios. Also in the works is a plan to go off-grid — eventually wind and solar power will keep things humming. The farmhouse will be removed, but its foundation will be repurposed into a “living pool,” as Kirk describes it, rife with aquatic flora and fauna.

An island fabricated from repurposed wood offers visitors a spot to sit and chat. The kitchen components were, in a previous life, part of a Zellers’ luncheonette. Photo by Christian Lalonde

An island fabricated from repurposed wood offers visitors a spot to sit and chat. The kitchen components were, in a previous life, part of a Zellers’ luncheonette. Photo by Christian Lalonde

Behind the house is a mountain that plays backdrop to a horse pasture. Walking trails go for miles; Kirk and Natalie hike there often and realize that the outdoor space can also contribute to a get-away-from-it-all experience when it comes time to start welcoming visitors.

The discussion turns to the fact that how we live and work is changing dramatically: technology offers us the freedom to break free from the confines of the nine-to-five tradition, but it also shackles us. We’re losing the ability to communicate one-on-one, in person, and are tied to our electronic gadgets. “We want to be part of building a community,” says Natalie, who sees her home as being a place of tranquility. “It will be the perfect place for healing.”

GREAT SPACE: Stunning vistas, unconventional design create unique Cantley retreat

This article was first published in the Interiors 2015 issue of Ottawa Magazine.

An artist designs a hilltop retreat that takes advantage of grand vistas across the Gatineau Hills and intimate views into the woods

BY DANIEL DROLET
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DOUBLESPACE PHOTOGRAPHY

 

The main living area of the house faces south/southwest and offers a stunning vista, with the Gatineau River in the foreground and Ottawa's skyline off in the distance. The view is all the more commanding because the house is so high up above the river. Photo by Doublespace Photography

The main living area of the house faces south/southwest and offers a stunning vista, with the Gatineau River in the foreground and Ottawa’s skyline off in the distance. The view is all the more commanding because the house is so high up above the river. Photo by Doublespace Photography

Because of the home's location on the crest of a hill, yard space is limited. But who needs a yard when you have a spacious wrap-around deck offering unobstructed views? The deck is also designed to take advantage of the sun. Photo by Doublespace Photography

Because of the home’s location on the crest of a hill, yard space is limited. But who needs a yard when you have a spacious wrap-around deck offering unobstructed views? The deck is also designed to take advantage of the sun. Photo by Doublespace Photography

Every city has its scenic gems in the form of spectacular vistas or little-known places of beauty. In Toronto, a visitor might come across a quiet wooded ravine hidden from the bustle of downtown. In Montreal, there are parks, complete with lakes, that are islands of wilderness in a sea of houses and highways. In the national capital, the Champlain Lookout is one such delight: it is impossible to tire of the view that awaits at the very top of the winding Champlain Parkway.

I felt that same sense of amazement when I first arrived at the Cantley home of artist Diane Lacaille and her husband, Pierre Charles Généreux. Suddenly, as I reached the top of the ridge where the house sits, a vista opened up before me. In one sweep, I was able to take in the Gatineau Hills, a wide swath of the Gatineau River, and the skyline of downtown Ottawa in the distance. It was both unexpected and stunning.

“It’s all about the view,” says Diane, who designed the house without the help of an architect. Every room in this airy, open home was conceived to take advantage of the tremendous views and to let light flood in. Indeed, the house is so open that it’s sometimes difficult to know where inside ends and outside begins.

The second-floor guest bedroom and the master bathroom (visible from the guest suite) are both situated to take advantage of spectacular views over the river. Photo by Doublespace Photography

The second-floor guest bedroom and the master bathroom (visible from the guest suite) are both situated to take advantage of spectacular views over the river. Photo by Doublespace Photography

An artist's home must contain art, and the owners have strategically placed favourite pieces to show them off. But nowhere does the art overwhelm. Because the colour scheme is so neutral, the art can shine. Photo by Doublespace Photography

An artist’s home must contain art, and the owners have strategically placed favourite pieces to show them off. But nowhere does the art overwhelm. Because the colour scheme is so neutral, the art can shine. Photo by Doublespace Photography

Diane and Pierre Charles moved in last spring, about three years after they first laid eyes on the plot of land on which their house now sits. They had been living in a large, comfortable home in a suburban neighbourhood. And though Pierre Charles, a professional who grew up in the suburbs, was happy with the arrangement, Diane was restive. She had grown up in the wilder surroundings of the country and longed to live in a place where there were no neighbours in sight. When a contractor told her about the land — a farmer was selling off some property — Diane went to take a look and was immediately smitten. She returned with Pierre Charles, who also fell in love with the spot.

For two years, Diane set aside her usual creative work to focus on the design and construction of their house. To get it built, she put together her own team of four key professionals: Anne René de Cotret, an architectural technologist with ARConstruction, drew up the plans; Nathan Kyle, a designer with Astro Design Centre, was instrumental in helping with layouts and finishings (“We had an excellent collaboration,” she says); local contractor Claude Prud’homme of Rénovations Prud’homme in Cantley was in charge of construction; and Diane’s son-in-law, Winnipeg contractor Cameron Dobie of Dobie Properties Ltd., helped at all levels. “I had an extraordinary contractor,” she says of Prud’homme. “There’s nothing that we did that didn’t work. We even came in under budget — and that’s rare!”

The kitchen island combines prep area with seating and informal dining space to allow socializing and food prep to happen simultaneously. A glass door leads to the pantry behind the kitchen and allows the bright red painting in the pantry to be visible. Photo by Doublespace Photography

The kitchen island combines prep area with seating and informal dining space to allow socializing and food prep to happen simultaneously. A glass door leads to the pantry behind the kitchen and allows the bright red painting in the pantry to be visible. Photo by Doublespace Photography

When asked about the stresses of designing a house and managing a construction project of this magnitude, Diane says it wasn’t as difficult as she had expected. Her background as an artist helped. For example, she used her knowledge of composition and proportion to guide her choices. She points proudly to the open staircase up to the bedroom level as just one example of a design that worked. The main support for the stairs does not sit in the middle of each step; instead, it is positioned off-centre in the more pleasing proportion of one-third, two-thirds. Diane says she was very disciplined throughout the project, spending a lot of time researching, shopping, and comparing prices, all of which helped keep costs in check.

Artist and homeowner Diane Lacaille at work in the spacious, light-filled studio that is an integral part of the house. Photo by Doublespace Photography

Artist and homeowner Diane Lacaille at work in the spacious, light-filled studio that is an integral part of the house. Photo by Doublespace Photography

Given that Diane is an artist, there is surprisingly little colour within the house. The home’s few walls are painted a warm off-white, and the fittings, fixtures, and furniture are almost all neutral in tone, with a pop of red — Diane’s favourite accent colour — here and there. There is nothing jarring, nothing that demands attention or detracts from the view. “I don’t like colour on walls,” she explains. “I work with colour all day; maybe that’s why. I like the Scandinavian look — you know, simple lines.”

The house sits at the end of a long, steep driveway atop a wooded ridge not much wider than the house itself. Beyond the house and its decks, the ridge drops away sharply. Visitors don’t really have time to notice the home’s exterior, because the moment they reach the front door, their gaze is drawn to the view, which looks south and southwest toward Ottawa. To take advantage of the enviable sightlines, Diane designed the space not as the more usual rectangle but as a series of one-room wings off a central corridor. That means many of the rooms have three exterior walls with windows that stretch from floor to ceiling.

 

The owner was not content to take a standard approach to design. She used her knowledge of form and proportion to create unique architectural statements like the staircase leading up to the second level. The customized staircase was made according to her design. Photo by Doublespace Photography

The owner was not content to take a standard approach to design. She used her knowledge of form and proportion to create unique architectural statements like the staircase leading up to the second level. The customized staircase was made according to her design. Photo by Doublespace Photography

 

The house sits on two levels. Upstairs, there are two bedrooms. In the large, airy master bedroom, the bed is oriented so that the couple can enjoy views through windows to the front, left, and right, with the Ottawa skyline dead centre. The bed in the second-floor guest bedroom is also oriented toward a view, in this case of the forest and — in winter, when the trees are bare — of the Gatineau River far below. The ground floor covers much more surface area. In addition to the main living space (a combination kitchen/living room/dining room), there’s a large open foyer, an office, a second guest suite, a sizable exercise room, and Diane’s 800-square-foot art studio.

Throughout, Diane very consciously took the concept of open plan and ran with it. In addition to the expansive central living space that faces the main view toward the city, Diane came up with the idea of installing glass walls and glass doors in several “interior” rooms. Together, the large windows and the interior glass walls open up the space in such a way that even someone deep inside the house can enjoy the vistas. And even on the cloudiest of days, light floods in.

Every morning, Diane turns her red leather easy chair toward the view and drinks it in with her morning coffee. And each evening, she and Pierre Charles watch the setting sun reflect off the downtown buildings. “It’s magical,” she says. “My husband and I just look at each other, and say, ‘Can you believe it?’ ”

The bed faces the view through a bank of windows devoid of curtains. That view - forest, sky, river, and city skyline - is never compromised. Photo by Doublespace Photography

The bed faces the view through a bank of windows devoid of curtains. That view – forest, sky, river, and city skyline – is never compromised. Photo by Doublespace Photography

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Inside the HQ of the Communications Security Establishment Canada

By DAYANTI KARUNARATNE

The view from Ogilvie Road

The view from Ogilvie Road

Last week, we were approached by Toronto’s WZMH Architects with an alluring proposal: would we like to share images of CSEC‘s new east-end headquarters?

Yes, please! This is the closest most civilians like us will ever get to seeing the 775,000-sqaure-foot complex, which was built with a public-private partnership for $867 million. Built to achieve LEED Gold certification, the modern facility is said to be of substantial economic benefit to the community and is expected to generate approximately 4000 employment opportunities. 

The preamble of the pre-approved text that was supplied with the below images notes that the government is “Fully committed to the safety and security of its people” and describes the services provided by CSEC as “acquiring foreign signals intelligence in support of defence and foreign policy; protecting electronic information and communication of importance to the Government of Canada; and, providing technical and operational assistance to federal law enforcement agencies.”

A view of the south facade of the CSEC headquarters in Ottawa.

A view of the south facade of the CSEC headquarters in Ottawa.

The design of this facility incorporates a number of creative features — and takes into account the data-heavy nature of cryptology work. 

Read the rest of this story »

GREAT SPACE: A cozy, sunny home designed for a growing Westboro family

On the footprint of a former worker’s cottage in Westboro, a young family has carved out a cozy, sunny home

BY BARBARA SIBBALD
PHOTOGRAPHY BY LORNE BLYTHE

The triptych of alcoves backing onto the central core was prophetic. Jackson likes to sit and read in one; now with the arrival of the twins, Amelia and Penelope, in November, there is an alcove for each child.

The triptych of alcoves backing onto the central core was prophetic. Jackson likes to sit and read in one; now with the arrival of the twins, Amelia and Penelope, in November, there is an alcove for each child. Photo by Lorne Blythe

Economical urban design may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s the zeitgeist behind architect Jay Lim’s new home and office in a burgeoning corner of Westboro. Designed in tandem with his wife, Lucy Hargreaves, the 1,400-square-foot house mimics the luxury feel of most modern houses, with its open concept, high-end fixtures, built-ins, and metal siding. But looks can be deceiving. Jay called on his architectural knowledge and previous work experience to complete this comfortable family home on a tight budget. Inspiration came from the three houses he had previously designed for Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization that mobilizes volunteers and the community to build affordable homes for people who otherwise could not afford them. With donated materials and labour, the Habitat houses clocked in at only $67 a square foot. “It taught me what things are worth spending money on versus where to economize,” says Jay.

 

Jay and Lucy paid homage to the original cottage by preserving its footprint, which is clad in vertical white. The new part is in black. Photo by Lorne Blythe

Jay and Lucy paid homage to the original cottage by preserving its footprint, which is clad in vertical white. The new part is in black. Photo by Lorne Blythe

In his own house, he mixed and matched high- and low-end fixtures and built some furniture from construction leftovers and materials scavenged from the trash. He chose a lower grade of reclaimed wood flooring. And he bundled the utilities into a central core to save money. Plus, he wrapped the whole building in inexpensive metal siding — the kind seen on barn roofs. All this netted substantial savings, with costs well below the usual $200 per square foot charged by many developers.

Jay recalls how it was on those earlier Habitat for Humanity projects where he first used leftover wood to make low-cost furniture for a family that had none. That sort of green experiment wasn’t part of the commission, but it is part of his company’s mandate. The moniker 25:8 Research + Design comes from the 24:7 cliché: the three partners wanted to cram more into their busy days, so “we decided to make some more time,” says Jay. Their designs are mostly residential, while their research delves into water, urban conditions, or whatever interests them. Jay met his two business partners in the urban design and architecture graduate program at Columbia University in New York City. The other two still call New York home, while he and Lucy, both Toronto natives, relocated to Ottawa in 2009 when she started a job with the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada as senior program manager. Jay continues to design residences from his home office while also teaching design studio and building technology at Carleton University’s Azrieli School of Architecture. Not surprisingly, given his interests, he’s a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accredited professional. Their new house reflects his passions and talent, as well as the couple’s desire to create a space that suits their family’s life.

Light reflects off the walls and white-washed floors in a space that manages to be at once compact and surprisingly spacious. It’s a good thing, given that the family of three became a family of five following the birth of twins in November. There’s an open-concept living space and office on the main floor, while the second level includes two bathrooms and three bedrooms. Generous nooks showcase artwork and objets d’art, and the cut-outs edged with bright orange afford expanded views to the outdoors or hidden interiors. Here, every facet of design has been carefully considered.

Jay_Lim_Kitchen-resize

The ingenious “bite” out of the stairwell provides the five-foot-four-inch cook with a view of a favourite painting. The appliances aren’t the highest end, but they work well and blend in with the white Ikea cabinets. “It’s Scandinavian designed,” jokes Jay. Plexiglas covers the risers in the stairs to make them baby-safe. Photo by Lorne Blythe

 

The discovery of this house, tucked away on quiet Winona Street, was a fortunate happenstance. When they moved to Ottawa in June of 2009, Jay and Lucy immediately began exploring neighbourhoods close to downtown for a property they could renovate or tear down. They had been searching unsuccessfully for a few months when, one fall afternoon, Jay missed the Parkdale turnoff to home while cycling along the Ottawa River bike path. He cut south at Westboro Beach and spotted a For Sale sign on a tiny bungalow on Winona Street. The lot was a fair size; the location was perfect. The couple set up an appointment and toured the property that same night.

The house features three decks. While the back deck is primarily for entertaining, the rooftop is a private family area, completely enclosed so that two-year-old Jackson can run around. Thriving on the northeast side is a rooftop vegetable garden, a there's a hammock for napping. The third deck, off the master bedroom, is ideal for a before-bed glass of wine.

The house features three decks. While the back deck is primarily for entertaining, the rooftop is a private family area, completely enclosed so that two-year-old Jackson can run around. Thriving on the northeast side is a rooftop vegetable garden, and there’s a hammock for napping. The third deck, off the master bedroom, is ideal for a before-bed glass of wine. Photo by Lorne Blythe

The bungalow was originally a worker’s cottage, one of several still standing on adjacent streets that were built for workers at Skead’s Mills, a circa 1871 sawmill at Kitchissippi Lookout. The 800-square-foot cinder-block building was cramped and in very poor condition, but the lot was 46 by 90 feet — big enough for an addition — and it was close to the beach, bike paths, stores, cafés, and transit. Jay knew immediately: “This is the house we’re going to buy.”

The couple lived there for 2½ years before renovating. Living in situ gave them a chance to truly understand the space and develop a plan based on the existing house and lot. (“I respected this house for what it was — one of the original cottages in this neighbourhood,” explains Jay.) Though the covered back porch was in terrible condition, they loved that it allowed them to eat outside, rain or shine. “The way we were using the space consolidated the idea for us of having a kitchen that opened up to the backyard,” says Lucy. “We use this space a lot as a family.” Jay began drawing up plans — all told, he would end up doing 25 renderings before settling on a final design.

The process was collaborative. “It worked well because our aesthetic is pretty similar,” says Lucy.

“She’s the best wife ever,” adds Jay. “She trusted me.”

“Make sure you quote that,” she quips.

When Lucy became pregnant with Jackson early in 2012, the couple pushed forward with building. But there was a glitch. They had planned on adding to the existing house, but after a bit of preliminary digging, they discovered that the walls weren’t holding up well and the slab foundation couldn’t support the house. “We realized then that there was no point in spending the money to do all these acrobatics to keep the original house,” says Jay.

Jay and Lucy love to wake up in a bright room, so the master bedroom was deliberately positioned to take advantage of the morning sun which flows in from the balcony doors and slit windows. There's also a small built-in desk for Lucy and an ample walk-in closet. Photo by Lorne Blythe

Jay and Lucy love to wake up in a bright room, so the master bedroom was deliberately positioned to take advantage of the morning sun which flows in from the balcony doors and slit windows. There’s also a small built-in desk for Lucy and an ample walk-in closet. Photo by Lorne Blythe

They made the difficult decision to demolish. On the plus side, this allowed them to put in a basement, which they plan to finish soon. But Jay and Lucy regretted losing the cottage, so they determined to pay homage to it by preserving its footprint. On the new house, the portion clad in vertical white siding is an “echo” of the original footprint, while horizontal black siding demarcates the addition.

“Architecturally, it makes the black elements look like they are ‘inserted’ into the white box,” says Jay.

The bungalow came down in spring 2012, and for the next 10 months, Jay, Lucy and, as of August of that year, Jackson, lived in short-term rentals downtown. Lucy took seven months parental leave, then Jay took five. “When Jackson was sleeping, I’d go for a run with him in his orange stroller to the site,” says Jay. The workers were glad to see them because it meant one of them could take a break and walk the baby while Jay did a site inspection. “They’d do paper-rock-scissors to see who got to walk the baby,” he says, laughing.

 

Jay Lim, Lucy Hargreaves, and their son Jackson hang out in the hub of the house: the kitchen and dining area. Orange accents throughout the house are a tribute to Syracuse University, where Jay did his undergrad. "If you use it in small areas, it can brighten up the space," he says. Photo by Lorne Blythe

Jay Lim, Lucy Hargreaves, and their son Jackson hang out in the hub of the house: the kitchen and dining area. Orange accents throughout the house are a tribute to Syracuse University, where Jay did his undergrad. “If you use it in small areas, it can brighten up the space,” he says. Photo by Lorne Blythe

The family moved into their new home in July 2013, but the original house is never far from their thoughts. “I still sometimes sit in the living room and think, Oh, this was where our bed used to be,” says Lucy. They also integrated a few mementoes from the old bungalow: a small square of the back-door screen now covers a peephole in the guard rail on the back deck that allows Lucy to see through to the back garden when she’s in the kitchen. And prominently on display in the living room is the original coal-chute door, as well as a small brown bottle, once containing Egyptian liniment, dug up during the excavation.

Like the cottage it replaced, this house is very practical. All but two rooms have two or more windows, so there’s cross ventilation and no need for air conditioning. The house is super-insulated with spray foam and boasts higher-end windows and a high-efficiency forced-air gas furnace. But the biggest economy is the inner core — the “tree trunk,” as Jay calls it — occupying the centre of the house. Painted grey, to contrast with the all-white interior, this core houses all the utilities: plumbing, heating, and electricity. That means only one wall contains plumbing, and ductwork is limited. “It saved us a ton of money,” explains Jay. Their frugality and eco-consciousness also extended to leftover wood. As part of their research, they reused framing material for built-in benches and the rooftop deck and furnishings. Plywood was repurposed for tables and desks.

Would they do it again? “In a second,” says Jay. “I think everyone should design their own house. It’s the most expensive thing you’ll ever buy, yet we usually conform ourselves to developers’ ideas. What’s great about this house is that it cost less than a developer’s house because of the way we built it, and it also exactly fits our lifestyle. It’s exactly what we need and want.”

The gleaming kitchen opens up onto a welcoming covered outdoor deck in the same location as the original cottage's covered deck. Jay and Lucy use it, rain or shine, and guests naturally spill out onto it. Photo by Lorne Blythe

The gleaming kitchen opens up onto a welcoming covered outdoor deck in the same location as the original cottage’s covered deck. Jay and Lucy use it, rain or shine, and guests naturally spill out onto it. Photo by Lorne Blythe

FEATURED HOME: Classic mid-century house tailor-made to suit natural setting

This article was first published in the Interiors 2015 issue of Ottawa Magazine.

BY JANINE DEBANNE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Marc Fowler/Metropolis Studio

Commissioned by the owners, this classic mid-century modern house was tailor-made to suit their lifestyle and its natural setting

The main living areas are on the second floor, which makes for beautiful views. The heart of the house is the living room, where the large windows connect the Lipsetts to the tree-filled backyard. Photo by Marc Fowler

The main living areas are on the second floor, which makes for beautiful views. The heart of the house is the living room, where the large windows connect the Lipsetts to the tree-filled backyard. Photo by Marc Fowler

The staircase - a steel structure with floating oak treads - makes a bold statement as visitors enter the house and climb toward the luminous upper floor. In more than five decades, no one has ever tripped on them, says Fred. Photo by Marc Fowler

The staircase – a steel structure with floating oak treads – makes a bold statement as visitors enter the house and climb toward the luminous upper floor. In more than five decades, no one has ever tripped on them, says Fred. Photo by Marc Fowler

In the age of the speculative house designed for a buyer yet unknown, it’s rare to meet people who have lived in the same home for 50 years. Fred and Elizabeth Lipsett still reside in the abundantly windowed cedar-clad box they commissioned in 1958 and moved into in 1959. To this day, they continue to open their doors to friends and neighbours and, with some helpers, to tend the garden in summer, the leaves in fall, and the snow in winter. Exuding practical elegance in every way — size, scale, materials, layout — the Lipsett House stands as an exemplar of mid-century modernist residential architecture in Ottawa. Flat roofed and devoid of the accoutrements of particular styles, the house possesses a sort of timeless quietude, deferring to the trees and grounds that surround it.

This is a family home that has served only one family: the one that thought of it and built it. The Lipsetts have made a few discreet alterations to the original house in the years since it was built, including turning a screened porch into a three-season room, adding a deck along the back in 1970, and building a small addition beneath the house four years later. They also replaced a fireplace (that smoked) with a two-sided bookcase to hold a collection of fine pottery and baskets from around the world.

When they hired architect Paul Schoeler (1929–2013) to design their house, Fred and Elizabeth brought together complementary sensibilities. Fred was from Vancouver, Elizabeth, from Johannesburg, South Africa. They had met in London, where Fred was completing his PhD in physics at the Imperial College and Elizabeth was visiting the places she had studied while completing her fine arts degree, hitchhiking through England and the continent. They went to concerts together and, with a group of friends, watched Queen Elizabeth’s coronation procession on a crowded London street. After Fred returned to Canada, he wrote to Elizabeth (who had returned to South Africa), asking her to marry him and move to Canada. He greeted her boat, a cargo ship, when it arrived in New York from Cape Town. They married in 1957 and moved into an apartment in Sandy Hill. Soon after that, they purchased a lot in Rothwell Heights, not far from the National Research Council on Blair Road, where Fred worked.

Elizabeth had been initiated into modernist architecture in Johannesburg by her friend, architect and architectural photographer Wim Swann. When the time came to build her family home, she sought out an architect engaged in the modernist idiom and versed in designing for the Canadian climate. Elizabeth was told about a young architect named Paul Schoeler, a McGill graduate who had fought in World War II, by another of his clients, Mr. Torontow, who ran a modern furniture store located in what used to be known as the Hardy Arcade. Fred was receptive to modernism, and when they began meetings with the architect, he was easily brought to Schoeler’s vision. The young architect was still establishing his practice when the Lipsetts met him. “He got very busy after that,” explains Elizabeth. The firm of Schoeler and Heaton would go on to produce numerous modernist houses and some of Ottawa’s institutional landmarks, including the elliptical Public Service Alliance building at the corner of Metcalfe and Gilmour and the boldly experimental Charlebois High School (now St. Patrick’s High School) in Alta Vista.

Flat roofed and devoid of the accoutrements of particular styles, the house possesses a sort of timeless quietude, deferring to the trees and grounds that surround it. Photo by Marc Fowler

Flat roofed and devoid of the accoutrements of particular styles, the house possesses a sort of timeless quietude, deferring to the trees and grounds that surround it. Photo by Marc Fowler

The two-storey house has the living floor on the upper level, which means that, in effect, it must be entered twice. Schoeler solved this problem masterfully by creating two contrasting entrances. At grade, one arrives at a foyer with a terra cotta tile floor, commanded by a staircase to the living floor. This space has an earthy quality, and its linear proportions set the circulation pattern for that floor. The staircase — a steel structure with floating oak treads — rises toward the luminous upper floor and a second entry realm. The ground level is a service floor for the house above, containing a guest bedroom, a workshop, a room originally labelled “recreation” that became Elizabeth’s pottery studio, and a utility room. Fred, a physicist, music lover, and violist, claimed space down there for his drafting board, computers, and equipment to record his favourite BBC programs.

Elizabeth had been initiated into modernist architecture in Johannesburg by her friend, architect and architectural photographer Wim Swann. When she and Fred designed and furnished their own home, they did so with a discerning eye, choosing furnishings that have stood the test of time. Photo by Marc Fowler

Elizabeth had been initiated into modernist architecture in Johannesburg by her friend, architect and architectural photographer Wim Swann. When she and Fred designed and furnished their own home, they did so with a discerning eye, choosing furnishings that have stood the test of time. Photo by Marc Fowler

The upper foyer has the great advantage of being entirely dry since the business of taking off coats and boots occurs below. It is fitted with a wall of shallow closets stacked directly above the deep coat closets of the ground-level foyer. These cabinets store ironing board and linens, Fred’s audio tapes, Elizabeth’s photography equipment and travel slides and, at one time, children’s toys. But beyond its usefulness for storage, this hinge space (and the railing around the stair opening — a “marvellous” drying rack for sheets and tablecloths) performs a crucial role in the house plan. On Schoeler’s drawings, it is labelled “kitchen — utility — play,” and it connects three different realms of the house: the living room, the private sleeping wing, and the laundry and kitchen area.

The floor finishes — wood in the living room and dining area and colourful cork linoleum elsewhere (a vivid blue for the kitchen and foyer, a light terra cotta in the bedrooms) — reiterate the simple and clear architectural idea contained in the plans, which is that the entire house is a sort of journey to the living room overlooking the hill. Every other space is designed to play a supporting role for the heart of the house.

Schoeler was aware that the escarpment backing the Lipsetts’ lot might overpower the house and decided that the living room — the entire living floor, in fact — needed to be raised. “This was his best idea,” recalls Fred. The resulting living room gains a profound relationship with the hill that rises beyond its wall of windows. It is a room of moving beauty. With proportions that strike a balance between generosity and intimacy, the room functions well for either small or large gatherings. Fred recalls with special fondness the room’s use for casual concerts with his chamber musician friends.

The Lipsetts have made a few discreet alterations to the original house in the years since it was built, including adding windows to turn their screened porch into a three-season room. The outdoorsy space has a cottagey feel to it, all wood and glass and tree-filled views. Photo by Marc Fowler

The Lipsetts have made a few discreet alterations to the original house in the years since it was built, including adding windows to turn their screened porch into a three-season room. The outdoorsy space has a cottagey feel to it, all wood and glass and tree-filled views. Photo by Marc Fowler

While the house is devoid of ostentation, it is nonetheless superbly well built. The original building specifications for the house noted: “all workmanship to be first class, incorporating best recognized practice.” Clean and deliberate detailing, such as floor-to-ceiling mahogany doors and narrow pine baseboards, provide the interior with a refined and serene appearance. In the living room, slender window frames fitted with streamlined hardware seem to recede, making the outside environment feel all the more present inside the house. And this is quite important, because the interior of the Lipsett House cannot be accurately described except as a dialogue of house and landscape, interior and exterior.

This pretty tableau hints at the two key motifs so apparent throughout this house - the owners' love of mid-century modern design and furnishings and their appreciation for fine arts and crafts. Photo by Marc Fowler

This pretty tableau hints at the two key motifs so apparent throughout this house – the owners’ love of mid-century modern design and furnishings and their appreciation for fine arts and crafts. Photo by Marc Fowler

Schoeler conceived every room of the house with precision, fitting each one with closets and windows that were both generous in size and positioned with clear intention as to how the room would be used and what views could be enjoyed. Yet it is fair to say that the Lipsett House challenges the very meaning of “house interior” by not really making the interiors a strong focus. The house is much more concerned with establishing connections and weaving relationships with community and landscape than it is with finishes in and of themselves. Significantly, parts of the house remain unfinished, such as some rooms in the lower level. The material palette also plays on unfinished-ness: unpainted cedar, exposed cinderblock, and cement panels remain in the “finished” house. Schoeler’s pared-down idea about materials gives his houses a compelling and unencumbered immediacy.

The couple credits the integration of the house and its landscape with making owning a cottage unnecessary. They talk about how much they have enjoyed living in their house. “We have wonderful neighbours,” they always add. And the fact that the Lipsetts have never felt the need to do wide-ranging renovations is a testament to the quality of the architecture. This is also to the benefit of architectural heritage and building memory: today the Lipsett House is a showcase of exemplary detailing, building techniques, and products dating from the late 1950s. With its thoughtful dimensions, considered layout, and excellent craftsmanship, this house is remarkable, and yet, unlike many of the houses now being built, it seems to disappear on its lot. Though it has changed very little since it was built, it has been many different houses through the years — and always the right house for its occupants. In this sense, the Lipsett House is much more than a house. It is a statement of architecture’s potential for making a life complete.

Over the years, the couple has made a few discreet alterations to the original house, including adding a deck along the back of the house in 1970. Photo by Marc Fowler

Over the years, the couple has made a few discreet alterations to the original house, including adding a deck along the back of the house in 1970. Photo by Marc Fowler

 

PHOTO ESSAY: Five Ottawa photographers document everyday beauty

BY DOROTHY STERN, a professor of interior design at Algonquin College 

The following photo essay was originally published in the Interiors 2015 issue of Ottawa Magazine

This time, it’s personal. We asked five photographers to choose and photograph the dwelling of someone whose home – and the arrangement of the belongings within – truly captures the spirit of the owner.

This five-part series documents everyday beauty – through their lens.

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In the home of Dodie Lewis and Neville Smith, a table made by Smith highlights collectibles – and the couple’s artistic natures. Photo by Whitney Lewis-Smith

Photo by Remi Theriault

Function over form creates beauty in the garage of Isaiah Aspeck. Photo by Remi Theriault

At first glance, it might seem unexpected to include a story about everyday beauty in a magazine devoted to the best and most innovative interiors in the Ottawa region. Then again, maybe it is not so strange. Perhaps many of the spaces that we consider ordinary are not at all what they seem. In fact, upon a closer look, I believe that many unassuming spaces represent just the opposite — interiors that are filled with profound meaning. As author James Agee so movingly wrote in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men — a book about American sharecroppers in the 1930s — “Even the simplest room has the profound grace of human life and everyday aspiration.”

 

 

 

 

Dave Draves in Little Bullhorn Studio, a colourful space crammed with recording equipment and music-inspired memorabilia. Photo by Jamie Kronick

Dave Draves in Little Bullhorn Studio. Photo by Jamie Kronick

So if my impression is correct, how and why are seemingly ordinary spaces significant? What is so special about interior spaces that are filled with the habits and routines of daily life? Why are we so attached to the carefully placed tchotchkes, chairs, tables, and family photographs to which we lovingly show daily indifference? As scholar Ben Highmore noted in Ordinary Lives: Studies in the Everyday: “The everyday is the accumulation of ‘small things’ that constitute a more expansive but hard to register ‘big thing’. Everything can become everyday, everything can become ordinary: it is our greatest blessing, our most human accomplishment, our greatest handicap, our most despicable complacency.” Similarly, contemplating the “daily grind” as an “aesthetic-free zone” when it needn’t be, Globe and Mail journalist John Allemang has noted that “household objects and everyday experiences are capable of offering a heightened pleasure normally associated with the more grandiose claims of great beauty and art.”

Photo by Maggie Knaus

For An Chi Wong, beauty is in the joining of two worlds. Photo by Maggie Knaus

Everyday design reveals something about who we are. It is outside the boundaries and scrutiny of official beauty and design. Perhaps it is precisely because of this off–the-record status that it is so powerful. It is authentic, visceral, humble, symbolic, self-expressive, unconscious design that, in its banal and routine nature, profoundly shapes the places we all call home.

Do we need anything more?

Up first, the home of Dodie Lewis and Neville Smith, photographed by Whitney Lewis-Smith. Click to the next page to experience the beauty of this family home.

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Dodie Lewis in her handmade lean-to. Photo by Whitney Lewis-Smith

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GREAT SPACE: Rideau River views inspire refurbished family home in Old Ottawa South

This article was a feature story for the Interiors 2015 issue of Ottawa Magazine.

By SARAH BROWN

Photography by MARC FOWLER – metropolisstudio.com

A chance convergence of circumstances leads a young family to pull up stakes and move to a new neighbourhood, building a delightful home oriented to take in sunny views over the Rideau River

While the front door faces west, the house is oriented toward the south, with three levels of floor-to-ceiling glass designed to make the most of the southern exposure and views of the Rideau River

While the front door faces west, the house is oriented toward the south, with three levels of floor-to-ceiling glass designed to make the most of the southern exposure and views of the Rideau River. Photo by Marc Fowler

This is a house that almost didn’t get built. It took a whole series of connected happenings — some fortunate and some not — to create the conditions that culminated in the decision to build this light-filled family home just off the Rideau River. The sequence of events took place over five years, beginning in 2005. At the time, Michaela and Sean* were living in Alta Vista with their three small children. Though they loved their community, they were feeling cramped in their tiny bungalow. They began exploring the idea of renovating but were put off by the costs of reconfiguring and expanding an older house. “Believe it or not, it was never our dream to build a house,” says Michaela with a laugh, as she relaxes on a burgundy couch in the second-floor family area, sunlight streaming in on two sides through floor-to-ceiling windows. This is where the kids get together to hang out and play, surrounded by colourful furniture, custom bookshelves filled with children’s fare, and a striking piece of hanging wall art that looks for all the world like an overhead view of a hot-air-balloon convention. (Michaela chose the fun fabric and created the piece by stretching it over a frame — voilà, art that’s easy to replace if the kids get bored with it.)

On the second floor, the three children’s bedrooms are arrayed around an open gathering area that encourages interaction. There are no desks in the kids’ rooms; instead, they are encouraged to do homework and projects together at the large communal table

On the second floor, the three children’s bedrooms are arrayed around an open gathering area that encourages interaction. There are no desks in the kids’ rooms; instead, they are encouraged to do homework and projects together at the large communal table. Photo by Marc Fowler

In contrast to most single houses, which are typically wood framed, this one is built of concrete and steel. Nothing creaks. “The solidity of the house was something we noticed about many homes in the south of Germany, where Michaela is from,” notes Sean. “We knew we wanted to emulate this.”

In contrast to most single houses, which are typically wood framed, this one is built of concrete and steel. Nothing creaks. “The solidity of the house was something we noticed about many homes in the south of Germany, where Michaela is from,” notes Sean. “We knew we wanted to emulate this.” Photo by Marc Fowler

The story goes like this: While Michaela and Sean were debating the pros and cons of renovating or moving within Alta Vista, Sean’s father got some unwelcome news about a development property he had bought in Old Ottawa South, just steps from the Rideau River. He had hoped to replace the small cottage-type house on the site with a duplex, but the city denied his application. And so the house sat empty, the property in limbo. In 2007, he offered to sell it to his son, but the couple hesitated, still committed to finding a place in Alta Vista to call home. And then circumstances forced Michaela and Sean to act. Even as they debated what to do next, they discovered that they would have to commit to a major renovation before they could even think of selling their bungalow. “Basically, we got news that the floors were sinking!” says Michaela with a shake of her head. While the construction teams got to work on their house, the young family made a temporary move into the little white cottage in Old Ottawa South. And that’s how a life-changing decision came to pass. “When we actually got to live here, we realized just how special and beautiful the property was,” says Michaela.

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GREAT SPACE: Luxe Brockville condo offers nautical style and downtown living

This article was the cover story in the Interiors 2015 issue of Ottawa Magazine.

By HATTIE KLOTZ
Photography by CHRISTIAN LALONDE – Photoluxstudio.com

After making a major shift — moving from a horse farm on the outskirts of Ottawa to a condo just steps from the bistros and shops of downtown Brockville — Bettina and Walter Griesseier say they couldn’t be happier

The elegant formal living room seating area boasts oversized windows on three sides and offers spectacular northerly and westerly vistas. The space seems to shimmer in tones of silver, grey, and cream. Photo by Christian Lalonde

In the living room, the afternoon and evening light streams through floor-to-ceiling windows, while elegant cream sofas and cowhide tub chairs offer tempting spots in which to curl up with a good book or magazine. Photo by Christian Lalonde

Moving from a 300-acre horse farm to the penthouse of a 21-floor condo overlooking the sparkling waters of the St. Lawrence River has been quite a change of lifestyle for owners Bettina and Walter Griesseier. Where once American Saddlebred horses grazed in the fields around the house, now the view is of giant tankers slicing their way through water that stretches to the horizon. Green islands dot the river like emeralds on dark velvet; soft breezes caress the balcony on a summer’s day.

“I liked the whole idea of being at the marina, within walking distance of restaurants,” says Walter. “I love the view from our bedroom window — waking to the sunrise — and the view from the kitchen, with the sunset. I just feel relaxed.”

The master bathroom offers a deep soaker tub, a large glass-walled shower, and a luxe ambience courtesy of the rich honed limestone floors and walls. Photo by Christian Lalonde

The master bathroom offers a deep soaker tub, a large glass-walled shower, and a luxe ambience courtesy of the rich honed limestone floors and walls. Photo by Christian Lalonde

The elegant formal living room seating area boasts oversized windows on three sides and offers spectacular northerly and westerly vistas. The space seems to shimmer in tones of silver, grey, and cream. Photo by Christian Lalonde.

The elegant formal living room seating area boasts oversized windows on three sides and offers spectacular northerly and westerly vistas. The space seems to shimmer in tones of silver, grey, and cream. Photo by Christian Lalonde.

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RANDOM DESIRES: What we love, where to find it, and sometimes why

Canada-5

By Derriere Les Bois

BY SARAH BROWN
Originally published in Interiors 2015 issue of Ottawa Magazine

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James Bartleman Archives and Library Materials Centre. Photo: Doublespace Photography

Written History
Excerpts from the diary of John Burrows, a surveyor who worked on the Rideau Canal in the summer of 1827, are immortalized on glass surfaces throughout the city archives, a.k.a. the James Bartleman Archives and Library Materials Centre. It’s a fitting way to observe the power of words in a building built to protect our city’s history. A sample line: “The Entrance into the lake is indescribably beautiful, its surface as smooth as a Mirror, the banks delightfully dispersed with opening buds of spring reflected on the surface of the river.” Gets one thinking about how private reflections might be incorporated into a personal dwelling.

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Maple Set knives by The Federal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cutting-Edge Kitchenware
Every chef knows the importance of a good knife. It’s even better if this utilitarian tool doubles as a work of art. Ian Murchison and Rohan Thakar, co-founders of industrial design firm The Federal Inc., have combined functionality and good looks in Maple Set, which sees the slender cutting steel edge paired with the warmth of maple wood. Prototypes were overwhelmingly well received, and the designers are optimistic that their knives will hit store shelves soon.

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Plywood shelving units designed by architect John Donkin. Photo: Urszula Muntean Photography

 

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Plywood shelving units designed by architect John Donkin. Photo: Urszula Muntean Photography

Stylin’ Plywood
Getting from floor to floor becomes an artistic adventure courtesy of these cleverly designed plywood shelving units by architect John Donkin. The material may not be fancy, but these bookshelves and display shelves are truly beautiful — functional art capable of storing both keepsakes and all those magazines you just can’t bear to part with.

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Artwork by Rafael Lazano-Hemmer at Canada Council Art Bank. Photo: Remi Theriault

Interactive Art
Now that’s lobby art! Known as Performance Court, the new office building at 150 Elgin St. boasts the Canada Council Art Bank as one of its major tenants. With that being the case, the massive screen in the lobby is regularly used to showcase various video installations. The first, by artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, shocked passersby when their eyes begin to “smoke” if they stared at the screen long enough. Stop in to see what’s there now — and for a visit to the adjoining ground-floor art gallery, which exhibits selections from the 17,000 contemporary works owned by the art bank.

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By Derriere Les Bois

 

Scrap Art
Some verge on the kitsch; some are crazy-cool. We love the idea that wood hobbyist cousins Stephen Washer and Marco Facciola of Derrière Les Bois are recycling their scraps into fun animal and landscape silhouettes that would look totally at home in a kid’s room (the bunny) or a cottage (the bear). The reclaimed wood has an evocative patina, the various hues, grains, and shades of paint coming together in a cohesive whole.

GREAT SPACE: Spartan beauty instills Old Ottawa South’s kitchen and bath with true warmth

This article first appeared in the Interiors 2015 issue of Ottawa Magazine.

For more photos of this project visit our Facebook page.

By SARAH BROWN

kitchen

Photo: Gordon King

It’s a delicate balance, walking that fine line between modern and inviting. When a professional couple with two children approached architect Jason Flynn to design a house to replace a tear-down in Old Ottawa South, they knew they wanted a crisp and clean look but were also determined that their new house would be welcoming.

After choosing a classic white kitchen, they spent hours poring over wood samples before settling on a rich walnut, with its strong grain. “The room might have been too stark without the walnut,” explains Flynn. “But the wood and the little pop of colour from the pendant lights keep things warm.”

That warmth is echoed in the walnut-clad feature wall that partially separates the dining room from the main hallway. It creates an intimate space within the larger open-concept main floor that, with its 10-foot ceilings, might otherwise seem almost museum-like.

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