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Serenity Now: A Minimalist Family Compound in the Quebec Countryside

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Serenity Now: A Minimalist Family Compound in the Quebec Countryside

February 10, 2020

Lucy Riddell and Katherine Nikidis weren’t in the market for land. But on a visit to see Lucy’s mother in the Quebec countryside, the two went on a just-for-fun look-see—and not only succumbed to a secluded property but almost instantly had a vision for it.  Now that their two kids were in their twenties, they wanted to create a modernist family gathering place composed of mine, yours, and ours structures, a space for mediation included.

“Both of us have strong ideas about design,” says Lucy, who has her own clothing line, Five Faces; Kathy is the head of a girls’ school in Montreal, where they live, and the two were in the fortunate position of being able to pull-off their pipe dream. And so they made sketches and began to approach architects. They hadn’t gotten beyond the second candidate when they took the first by surprise and signed him on. François Abbott, a talented friend of their 26-year-old son’s, had just graduated from the Dalhousie School of Architecture in Halifax when Lucy and Kathy came calling. “François was completely aligned with our thinking and understood what we wanted,”says Lucy.

Since this was his first commission, Abbott, in turn, asked Montreal firm Pelletier de Fontenay, where he had  previously interned, to collaborate with him: “At the time, I had never built on my own,” he told us. ” I already had a relationship with Pelletier de Fontenay, so we agreed to split the project 50-50. I would do the bulk of the work in terms of hours spent, and they could keep doing their other projects and also apply their experience to this one. It was a win-win.” Can three-plus heads be better than one? All of the parties in this case think so. Come see.

Photography by James Brittain, courtesy of Pelletier de Fontenay and François Abbott.

the house rises from a plateau in the eastern townships hamlet of hatley, an ho 9
Above: The house rises from a plateau in the Eastern Townships hamlet of Hatley, an hour-and-a-half south of Montreal near the Vermont border. It’s composed of three peaked volumes that are abstracted versions of the barns and other farm buildings in the area,”structures that are integral to the language of the place,” says Abbott. He spent six months of his architectural training working in Bezau, Austria, for one of his favorite firms, Innauer-Matt, whose use of slatted-wood exteriors inspired him to apply a lattice finish here.
the three structures—each identically shaped but varying in size and orientat 10
Above: The three structures—each identically shaped but varying in size and orientation—are connected by interior passageways without ever intersecting. The glass door in the middle is the entry to the main living space; it’s flanked by a master wing and a combination kids’ and guest wing, 300 square meters (3,229 square feet) in total.

The house is surrounded by 25 acres of rolling farmland—Lucy’s sister-in-law grazes her cows here (“they’re our lawn mowers”). The existing farmhouse on the property, long vacant, was so mold-damaged that it couldn’t be salvaged; the local fire department used it as a control-burn training opportunity, and a falling-down cow barn was salvaged for wood.

together the three structures &#8\2\20;form an uncommon yet coherent ensemb 11
Above: Together the three structures “form an uncommon yet coherent ensemble,” writes Pelletier de Fontenay. The toboggans leaning against the wall are put to frequent use: the couple build their own runs and spent New Year’s eve sledding with 13 friends.

The wrap-around timber latticing unifies the volumes as does the standing-seam metal used on the roofs. We wanted zinc but it was too expensive, so we went with galvanized steel,” says Lucy. “It was a budgetary choice between zinc and the wood cladding, and we chose the cladding.”

“We needed thick walls so that the edge of the roof at the outside was at exactly the same height as the edge of the corresponding ceiling inside,” adds Abbott. “So why not use extra insulation? The walls are two 2-by-6 constructions thick, both insulated. So we have about two times the standard insulation.”

the interior is composed of minimalist double height spaces with polished concr 12
Above: The interior is composed of minimalist double-height spaces with polished concrete floors, white walls, skylights, and wooden accents. The entry leads to the combined kitchen, dining, living area. The ceiling here rises for 23 feet.
the kitchen cabinets were custom built and finished with red oak veneer lacquer 13
Above: The kitchen cabinets were custom built and finished with red oak veneer lacquered a deep navy that allows the wood grain to faintly shows through (they’re the work of Gaston Chouinard). The 13-foot-long countertop is composed local pine. Lucy and Kathy assembled the hanging wire lights from parts they found on Canal Street during a trip to New York.
the large square windows, supplied by reynaers, frame expansive views of a vall 14
Above: The large square windows, supplied by Reynaers, frame expansive views of a valley (neighboring houses are far enough away that only their lights are visible). “It feels like being inside a snow globe,” says Kathy. The 13-foot-long dining table is composed of old boards from the derelict barn, and surrounded by hand-me-down chairs: “we wanted to balance the clean lines with warmer lines,” says Lucy. The pendant light is the Waldorf Triple by Lambert & Fils of Montreal.
the house has subfloor heating (and a heat recovery ventilator (hrv) that captu 15
Above: The house has subfloor heating (and a heat-recovery ventilator (HRV) that captures hot air from the exhaust for added efficiency). There’s also a heated concrete bench that runs the length of the living area windows, and a Stûv 16-H stove. The furnishings were selected with indestructibility in mind: “we want this to be a place that’s welcoming to friends, kids, and animals,” says Kathy.
a single step down leads to the kids&#8\2\17;/guest wing where a wide passa 16
Above: A single step down leads to the kids’/guest wing where a wide passageway doubles as the library. Note the baseboard-free “floating walls.”
&#8\2\20;the most exciting aspect for us is how the house comes together as 17
Above: “The most exciting aspect for us is how the house comes together as one,” says Yves de Fontenay of Pelletier de Fontenay. “From the inside, it just feels like a single house,” says Kathy. The paintings are by Quebec artists Sara Peck Colby and Edith Dora Rey.
the master wing has a bathroom with a \19.6 foot tall ceiling and a long washst 18
Above: The master wing has a bathroom with a 19.6-foot-tall ceiling and a long washstand made from an old dining table. The sink is by Porcelanosa.
positioned in front of the bath, the intimately scaled master bedroom has an ou 19
Above: Positioned in front of the bath, the intimately scaled master bedroom has an outsized view of the Vermont mountains. The painting is by Louise Belcourt. The Quebec rush chair is from a set that came from Lucy’s childhood kitchen.
narrow stairs behind the master bed lead to the birch plywood lined meditation  20
Above: Narrow stairs behind the master bed lead to the birch-plywood-lined meditation room, “the quietest place in the house,” notes Abbott. Of their practice, Kathy says, “Kashmir Shaivism is the root philosophy behind what we do. It’s akin to Tibetan Buddhism. We keep this as a sacred space and only use it for meditation and yoga.”
back in the kids&#8\2\17;/guest wing, steep birch ply stairs lead to a seco 21
Above: Back in the kids’/guest wing, steep birch ply stairs lead to a second mezzanine.
patterned by plywood squares, the room is used as a work and play space. there  22
Above: Patterned by plywood squares, the room is used as a work and play space. There are also two bedrooms and a bath in this wing.
the high pitched gables are the first thing that&#8\2\17;s visible from the 23
Above: The high-pitched gables are the first thing that’s visible from the approach to the house.
hatley house floor plan pelletier de fontenay and francois abbott design
Above: The floor plan details the three wings: the living quarters in the center, the master wing behind it, and the kids’/guest wing, which has its own enterance. Three terraces form a square around the house; in the summer, Lucy can be found tending several gardens.

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