Waterfront Warmth

This award-winning R-2000 home was designed to complement the other homes in a tightly knit waterfront community. Now the neighbours say the house looks like it has always been there.

By Judy Leibner

Art and Colleen Church designed their home in Grand Bend, Ontario to capture spectacular views across Lake Huron. Situated on a rise, the home faces west and overlooks a sandy beach framed by old poplar and pine trees. “I can sit anywhere and have a view – it’s serene here,” says Colleen Church. “The first night I slept here, there was a clear sky and when I looked out the window from my bed I could see the Big Dipper. I thought, ‘This is perfect.’ That’s exactly what I wanted to see.”

Enormous windows were a priority for the couple, whose home base is in Burlington. Even the front foyer is oriented in a way that allows visitors to see the lake through a picture window as soon as they enter the home.

The two-storey R-2000 home was completed in the fall of 2003. It was designed by Nadia Kuhni, a registered interior designer and principal with Design Matrix in London, and built by Paul Rawlings of Rawlings Homes, also in London.

The home’s exterior walls were constructed with insulated concrete forms (ICF) to maximize energy efficiency and withstand the strong winds off Lake Huron. In 2003, the 3,000-square-foot home won an R-2000 EnerQuality Award.

Before construction could begin, the couple had an existing cottage demolished – a controversial decision in the tightly knit community of about 20 homeowners. They worked closely with Kuhni to design an Arts and Crafts-style home that would complement the other cottages in their neighbourhood.

Kuhni incorporated many older architectural elements, including a gable roof, mansard-style dormers and double-hung windows. White concrete siding with a wood-grain finish and shake-look closely resembles the frame construction of neighbouring homes.

Colleen took Kuhni’s preliminary sketches to a meeting of her community association to ensure other owners approved of the design.

“They were really appreciative,” she says. “I’ve had people who stopped to talk to me and say, ‘It just looks like it’s always been here – maybe remodelled, but it looks as if it’s always been here.’ ”

The home’s exterior features a covered front porch with white posts anchored by stone piers. Inside, the home’s beach house feeling is accentuated by white wainscoting treatments, pastel accent colours and a subtle nautical motif. Nine-foot ceilings and cherry hardwood flooring enhance the sense of spaciousness.

The front of the home is balanced by a comfortable sitting room with a window seat and tongue and groove, board and batten finished ceiling (affectionately called the ‘morning room’) on one side and, on the other, by a laundry room and a powder room with a hand-painted vanity in a nautical finish. The main hallway leads past a pantry to the kitchen, which boasts a white beadboard ceiling, white cabinets and a grey Corian counter that resembles stone. Tavern grade flooring adds to the authenticity of the look.

A breakfast bar separates the kitchen from a casual dining area that overlooks the lake. Entertaining played a major role in the home’s design and resulted in a floorplan in which the dining area is aligned with the family room, on the right, and a home office on the left. That design allows the Churches to expand their dining space into those two rooms when they need extra seating, particularly during their annual week-long family reunion.

The couple also planned the cottage for a time when they may no longer be able to climb the stairs.  A wall that currently separates the home office from a bedroom with a small en suite bathroom was built to be removed as a way of opening up the space.

Doors that close the area off from the kitchen create the effect of a private suite.

A winding staircase leads to a bright reading area that runs the length of the second floor. A balcony with tempered glass railings is accessible through a terrace door at the back of the home. The hallway is also home to Art’s piano – a location that allows him an unobstructed view of the lake while he plays.

Off the hallway, a spacious home office strikes a masculine note with rustic cherry flooring and trim. A sloped ceiling and a leafy view through banks of double-hung windows enhance the room’s feeling of seclusion.

Down the hall, pocket doors lead to a guest suite with its own bathroom. On the opposite side are the master bedroom and a luxurious en suite bathroom with a pronounced nautical flavour.

Colleen’s ties to Grand Bend date back 50 years, when her grandparents purchased a small cottage in the village. She and Art have maintained their connection to the area, which makes their enjoyment of their current home all the more poignant.

“Grand Bend is my constant. It’s always been in my life,” Colleen says.

She advises other owners of lakeside properties to build a solid home that will muffle the sound of the wind off the water. She says she’s glad she and Art chose an ICF home since it’s warm in winter and cool in summer. Radiant in-floor heat keeps the finished lower level toasty.

Her advice to other owners of lakeside properties is simple: “Make sure you use it and love it.”