Made for Music and More

Made for Music and More

A grand and gracious home was built to double as event space for concerts and entertaining large groups

By Connie Adair. Photos by Wayne Baguley



J.C. Pennie knew exactly what he wanted, so he sat down at his computer and designed the home of his dreams himself. Designing homes, he says, is his hobby.

His design philosophy was to create a structure in the shape of a cross with an open intersection of exposed rafters. The “architectural ribs” would be the focus of a spectacular 74-foot-long great hall that would be used for receptions and dining. After cocktails or dinner, guests would be ushered upstairs via an open staircase or elevator to a 1,200-square-foot music hall that would seat 100 people for concerts or 60 people for dinners beside a massive stone fireplace.

Great acoustics was top priority for the music hall, where his wife and concert pianist Marilyn Field would entertain guests. Needless to say, the 32 x 40-foot music hall is Field’s favourite room.

The home, named Chateau Windrush after Pennie’s wind power company Windrush Energy, was built in 2003. However Pennie says his plan was “very earthy and needed a woman’s touch to make it livable.”

“My husband has strong opinions and strong abilities. It’s always interesting to go along with ideas and finesse them to make them your own. The project has been, and still is, a work in progress,” says Field. “John has very strong and bold concepts. I take a more subtle and refined approach.”

She says blending their styles at the start of the project would have been difficult, so they went with “strength first, refinement second.” Pennie created the plan and Field refined it.

An example is the staircase railings. “Originally I went to Home Depot and got patio railings with glass. They were functionally good, but they didn’t look right. Marilyn wanted to change them to make the space more elegant.”

“The railings had dark frames, and it took on its own character. I wanted to get rid of the frames and have a more see-through railing so the eye wants to focus on the structure,” she says.

“We also struggled with paint colours,” she says. After painting several times, they decided on a light creamy butter colour. “It blends with the floor and the wood of the ceiling, so you’re not looking at the paint but rather at the structure as a whole.”

British Columbia Douglas fir beams were used for exposed structural beams for aesthetic purposes, Pennie says.

Together they created a grand and gracious living space that doubles as event space. Guests enter a stone portico from the oval driveway and step into the great hall, which is dramatically open to the ceiling 35 feet above.

A staircase with glass railings (Field’s refined version) leads to a bridge that connects the second-floor’s two halves. This design allows for extra high ceilings along the great hall’s length.

Main floor rooms extend off the 16-foot-wide great hall, which includes a dining hall and a solarium at the far end. A dining table for 14 people was custom made from an ash tree from their previous property.

The solarium has two-storey windows on three sides to take advantage of solar heating and to create a place where they can sit and feel as if they are outdoors. Windows throughout the home are a minimum of four by 10 feet, installed stacked and side-by-side to make walls of windows.

The kitchen has floor-to-ceiling windows and walkouts on two sides, and a spectacular U-shaped granite-topped island that’s an event space unto itself. The couple occasionally hires a chef and their guests sit around the island to watch their meal being prepared by a professional.

Pennie didn’t like the idea of upper cabinetry, which would visually weigh the room down, so he didn’t include any in his kitchen plan. Instead, storage space is hidden away in the pantry, connected to the kitchen by a pass through.

A guest bedroom, an elevator and a three-piece bathroom are also on the main floor. “I didn’t want a tiny powder room crammed under the stairs. I wanted something more friendly and spacious,” he says.

Separating the guest bedroom and master suite is a 26-foot-long master closet. The 680-square-foot master bedroom was designed like a studio apartment. It has a couch, flat screen TV and a fireplace. It’s a place to go when you want to get away, or if you’re sick and want to have all of the comforts nearby, he says.

The three-bedroom, six-bathroom home has two offices, one for Pennie and the other for Field, who founded the Darearts Foundation for Children in Toronto.

A chess room on the second floor has a hidden staircase that leads to an 880-square-foot third-floor loft, a superb retreat space to read, paint or sculpt.

Every room is hard-wired with CAT-5 cabling. The house has high-speed Internet, central air, two propane furnaces plus a boiler for the pool. It also has 400 amp electrical service and a 16,000 watt automatic standby propane generator.

A 2,000-foot long driveway leads on to the property, making a turn and going up a hill to the house, which was built with the front door facing into the property. That means the back of the house faces the road.

By municipal standards, that made the backyard the front yard, Pennie says. When it came time to build a pool in the backyard, they were told they were not allowed to have a pool in the front yard.

Although frustrated at first, they turned negative into positive by building the pool at the side. A three-level stone patio, built-in barbecue and California fire pit were also built.

“We’ve had receptions for 100 people out there,” Pennie says. The pool is a beautiful feature for the approach to the house.

Creating this outdoor space was not without its challenges. The property dropped away 80 feet on that side and columns had to be built to hold the heavy pool and stone patios in place.

Outdoor Fun

Planning fun outdoor activities were also top of mind. In the summer, guests can enjoy the all-sports court, where they can play tennis or basketball. In winter, the sports court is flooded and becomes an open-air skating rink. The property also has a miniature railway in the ravine beside the driveway. The railway has a Victorian-style station for eight trains and a 60-foot bridge that spans the ravine.