At One with Nature
At One with Nature
The four wings of this home embrace the surrounding landscape
By Connie Adair. Photos by Alexander Rothe
Perfect building harmony was created when the homeowner, architect and landscape architect created this serene and peaceful home that is at one with the nature.
Homeowner Michael Pearson says he, the architect Christopher Simmonds of Ottawa and landscape architect Juergen Partridge of Terra Cotta, Ontario were a perfect fit because they had similar ideas about this home and had also collaborated on major projects before.
“The home has four wings to integrate it into the landscape in a holistic way,” Pearson says. “The landscaping makes extensive use of very large, naturally weathered dolomite rocks. They formed benches of garden strips in which ribbons of shrubs and plants could be planted into the contours. It’s a challenge to build something into the landscape that appears to have grown out of it.”
Pearson and spouse Angela Gourlay bought their three-acre lot in November 2000, one day after seeing it.
The subdivision of 20 estate lots had previously been used for hay farming and had a back section on a steep slope leading to a flood plain that will remain undeveloped. “What attracted me to the lot, when it was still a large open field, were the very steep slopes from the lot highpoint with a 13-foot fall in elevation to the front and a 40-foot fall in elevation to the rear. The lot was perfect for building a bungalow with the main floor and entrance above grade on the west side and the entire lower level with high ceilings and walkout access to about five feet above the natural grade on the east side.
The south border of the property is screened by many tall old-growth trees. At the east border, the home overlooks thick conservation forest lands.”
A driveway leads to a long beautiful covered porch that leads to the front door. Guests step into a sunny vestibule before moving into the main foyer. The clean modern lines set the tone for the rest of the living space.
Pearson says a key design objective was to give a sense that nothing stands between you and the outdoors. Extensive use of floor-to-ceiling windows, soaring ceilings, a screened-in porch and unobstructed panoramic views produce a very soothing, tranquil setting throughout the home.
Everything is Zen-influenced however the architect has artistically softened what is sometimes a cold impression of modern or contemporary design by the subtle use of soaring ceilings, frameless corner windows, curved walls, a curved step and niches for displaying blown glass ornaments.”
The main floor living space is essentially one room, but is sectionalized, with cabinets creating a degree of division.
The sunken living room has walls of glass that meet in the corner seamlessly. There are no vertical posts to impede the view. Transom windows are used throughout most of the main floor.
The dining room has a door to a path leading to the loggia. On closer inspection, visitors will notice that the horizontal slats are spaced differently. They are closer together on one side to act as a screen from the sun and wider apart on the other sides so people can enjoy the view.
The roughly 15×15-foot kitchen is fairly compact given the size of the house (3,100 square feet on the main level, plus more than 2,000 square feet on the lower level). A cabinet separates the dining room from the kitchen. It’s high enough so kitchen mess is hidden from dining guests, but low enough to allow the cook a view of the guests and grounds beyond.
Pearson says his favourite room is the tranquil master bedroom, which has floor-to-ceiling glass. “There are blinds on all bedroom windows but we never close them. At night, the silhouettes of big trees against sky create a sense of peaceful tranquility.”
The master wing has a six-piece ensuite bathroom, his and hers closets and a bedroom that has a fireplace and a walkout to a meditation balcony.
The intention of the design was to meld indoors and out, so the house features extensive copper clad glazing throughout. Roof support structures are above ceiling height and soffits are aligned with the ceiling so there is no interference of view, he says. Wide soffits also serve another function – they keep sunlight from entering and overheating rooms.
“Large opening windows in the living areas create a strong cross-flow of fresh air and air conditioning is not used except for a few hours during the latter part of exceptionally hot, humid days.”
An open staircase is beside a wall of glass that extends from the lower-level floor to the main-floor ceiling.
The lower-level multi-use family and recreation rooms have accommodated 50 or more dinner guests with ease, Pearson says. It also has three bedrooms, a play room, two bathrooms and a laundry room that make this level ideal for kids.
Mechanical rooms house two ground source heat pumps. Total energy costs for 2015 were less than $6,000, mostly for heating.
“Most of the external walls use bricks and stone blocks to echo the sedimentary rock strata. Panels of cedar siding and copper cladding give the exterior an earthy tone and break up the monotony of large expanses of brick and stone,” Pearson says.
Simmonds and Partridge had massive input in the design arrangement and detail, Pearson says. The house has won numerous awards, including the Ontario Home Builders’ Association 2006 award for most outstanding custom house for mid-range sizes.
Central Control Room
From the foyer, Pearson’s home office is two steps up from the rest of the main floor. It has a parapet wall so when seated, Pearson enjoys a 270-degree view of the changing natural environment and living spaces.
Pearson is a mechanical engineer who provides consulting services for the design and operation of turbines and steam generators for large-capacity power plants. Given his line of work, Pearson says the architect “describes my office as my central control room.”
Architect Simmonds designed a cabinet system that has slits cleverly integrated into it so Pearson can see the front door and the mud room from his office.