Natural Beauty

This Nova Scotia homestead was meant to replicate a lobster fisherman’s wharf

By Dennis McCloskey
Photos by Robert McKee

The mighty Atlantic Ocean is a huge part of who Nova Scotians are because they make their living from it. They eat the fish and shellfish that comes out of it, they play in it and they build their homes and cottages by it.

Bob and Ginger McKee are not ‘Bluenosers,’ (an affectionate name for Nova Scotians) but the American couple from Charlottesville, Virginia, were drawn to the majestic Canadian seacoast near Liverpool, on the province’s south shore, and bought four acres of ocean-front property on their very first visit to the Maritimes in 2005.

The couple owns a 124-acre farm only 30 minutes from their city home in the U.S. but when they decided to buy property on the water, they looked at nearby Chesapeake Bay which is the largest estuary in the U.S. and lies off the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by Maryland and Virginia.

“We couldn’t find anything suitable and everything was very expensive,” says Bob, a civil engineer who is a principal of McKee Carson, a firm with over 30 years of experience in land planning and design and civil and environmental engineering. “Nova Scotia had long been in the back of our minds but we had never been there.”

Once there, they were smitten. Liverpool is a town of 3,000 on the Lighthouse Route, a scenic drive from Halifax to Yarmouth, and the McKees found exactly what they were looking for on a plot of land not far away at Hunts Point. It had lots of privacy and huge white boulders that provided a natural seawall.

When they started building a four-season recreation home in 2007, the McKees were determined to build an eco-friendly home that would disturb the surrounding environment as little as possible. “A distinctive ecosystem was already in place so we did not want to disrupt the land any more than we had to,” says Bob. “We did not remove any boulders, we did no planting, and we did not cut trees for trails.

We used the wildlife trails already in place.”
The couple has two married daughters, Molly and Sarah, four grandchildren, and a family dog, Mosa (named after the first two letters of their daughters’ names.) The McKees did not want to build a large, imposing structure and since the property drops off into wetlands and includes a freshwater pond, they built on the only place they could: a knoll that is flanked by a natural bowl that dips down into the property.

But they didn’t build one big home. They built three modest ones to resemble a local lobster fishing village. The simple structures include a 1,166-square-foot main building that is flanked on one side by a 686-square-foot guesthouse and on the other by a 668-square-foot master bedroom cottage.

Constructed from stone, red and Eastern white cedar and stained pine, the majority of the building materials were locally sourced and built to fit into — and complement — the surrounding rocky terrain and forest landscape. The pine was harvested several miles from the property.

The builder they chose was Deborah Herman-Spartinelli, owner of Trunnels & Tenons Construction, located in Queens County. The well-established builder is known for using traditional building methods and for her quality workmanship.

Herman-Spartinelli, her crew, and the local tradespeople were well aware of the owners’ desire not to disrupt the natural surroundings and they worked accordingly – from the outside, in. Stonework is a major feature and attraction of the property – which was completed in 2009 – from an interior and an exterior fireplace, to granite countertops.

Rock from the property was blasted to make the dry laid fireplaces (dry stacked with no visible mortar joints) and the countertop also came from site blasting. A huge 7X4-foot boulder was taken on a truck to Windsor N.S. to a monument manufacturing company where a slab was cut, measured, polished, and installed as a light-coloured granite countertop in the kitchen.

The certified stonework contractor was Tobias Lange, of LRF Masonry in Bridgewater, N.S. who is known for his quality bricklaying and natural stone workmanship. Some of the rock used in the building process came from a nearby quarry. Flagstone came from Halifax, and the walkways, steps, and a terrace that overlooks the ocean were built and laid by Randy Wolfe of T&R Landscaping in nearby Port Mouton.

Inside the main building is a great room with 19-foot ceilings and walls painted yellow. The room features the stone fireplace on engineered cherry flooring. The open concept room includes a kitchen of blue walls and bleached maple cabinets created by Karl DeCoste of DeCoste Kitchens who designs and manufactures all-wood, custom cabinetry in Kingston, N.S. in the Annapolis Valley.

Also in the main building is a half bath, mud room and laundry – all with views of the ocean.

Not a lot of furniture occupies this home which adds to the simple and homogeneous feel of the place. In fact, much of what is considered outdoor furniture is indoors, such as a picnic table and Adirondack chairs that were made and purchased in Liverpool for $65 each.

Next door is the master bedroom cottage/retreat with windows offering a magnificent view of the ‘loppy’ water, (Nova Scotia slang for rough, windy waves). Cherry cabinets were built in a study area and there’s a small fridge, microwave and a spacious bath with air tub and walk-in shower. Two large closets and dressing area complete the main floor, with an unfinished storage space on the lower level.

The third in the trio of small buildings that are meant to replicate a nearby lobster fisherman’s wharf, includes two bedrooms with separate entrances and en suite bathroom.

Loewen windows provide maximum exposure to the water where all sizes of boats pass by, from yawls (two-masted sailing vessels) to dorys (flat-bottomed boats with flaring sides and a high-pointed bow and stern) as well as schooners and skiffs, although the owners haven’t yet spotted the famed Bluenose.

When asked what she likes most about the Hunts Point seaside home, Ginger says it’s the peace and quiet and the sound of the ocean waves pounding on the rocks. “I also enjoy the colours of nature and the native plants and trees,” she says. Her husband is most proud of the simplicity of the structure of the three buildings and how they blend in with the surrounding environment. “And this is a solid house,” he says, “We are 40-feet above the ocean and we’ve been here in hurricanes with no problems.”