Design

An imaginative reno turns dated cottage into quirky bird’s nest with outstanding vistas

When Gordon McMillan bought his cottage on the Gatineau River in 2010, he could see its potential, but he was deliberately slow to act, getting to know his summer home for five years before undertaking the bulk of the changes that have turned it into a bird’s nest in the trees with incomparable views over the sparkling river below.

A view of the cottage exterior taken from the banks of the Gatineau River shows  the eccentric angles and varied finishes. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde
A view of the cottage exterior taken from the banks of the Gatineau River shows the eccentric angles and varied finishes. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde
Owner Gordon McMillan with Marie-Claude Faubert, whose company, Faubert Interiors, oversaw the renovation. One of the designer’s recommendations was adding floor-to-ceiling windows in rooms with spectacular views of the river. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde
Owner Gordon McMillan with Marie-Claude Faubert, whose company, Faubert Interiors, oversaw the renovation. One of the designer’s recommendations was adding floor-to-ceiling windows in rooms with spectacular views of the river. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde

It wasn’t until Marie-Claude Faubert and her company, Faubert Interiors, got involved in 2015 that the makeover was completed. The collaboration between Marie-Claude, her colleague Sonia Desforges, and Gordon, who is the founder of McMillan advertising agency in the ByWard Market, has resulted in a supremely comfortable space, one that is contemporary but also remains very rooted in its attachment to the landscape. “When it comes to the possibilities, Gordon is very imaginative,” says Marie-Claude as she walks through the house, indicating an expanse of glass with river vistas where once there were small windows.

Facing page   A view from the deck attached to the master bedroom. Glass railings ensure unimpeded sightlines across and along the river — stunning on a sunny autumn day. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde
A view from the deck attached to the master bedroom. Glass railings ensure unimpeded sightlines across and along the river — stunning on a sunny autumn day. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde

Designed by Urban Keios in 1995, the house can best be described as quirky, with three distinct sections, each with different exterior finishes and set at odd angles to one another. “The Escher-inspired concrete tiles at the entrance provide a great example of how the eccentricity of angles in this house shapes pretty much everything. Nothing is at right angles,” explains Gordon. When they went to lay the tiles, which continue through the hallway and into the kitchen, Gordon and Marie-Claude were momentarily stumped. Should they be laid in the classic way, perpendicular to the angled walls, or skewed to match the angles? A debate ensued, and Gordon won the day. “Angles! Angles! Angles!” he said. 

The front hallway is all shapes and angles, with a quirky arrangement of windows allowing light to flood in, illuminating the Escher-inspired tiles. The owner and the designer spent much time discussing whether the tiles should be laid angled or straight. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde
The front hallway is all shapes and angles, with a quirky arrangement of windows allowing light to flood in, illuminating the Escher-inspired tiles. The owner and the designer spent much time discussing whether the tiles should be laid angled or straight. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde

That tree-house feeling is enhanced by the reverse layout of the house, which boasts an 80-foot drop from the front door, located at the top of the home, to the water’s edge at the bottom. “It’s not for everybody, this house,” explains Gordon. “The layout is definitely eccentric. But I thought about it for a year before I bought it and decided that this country life might have some appeal!” 

White and bright, the revamped kitchen boasts clean lines and plentiful light, as well as incomparable views down the Gatineau River. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde
White and bright, the revamped kitchen boasts clean lines and plentiful light, as well as incomparable views down the Gatineau River. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde
The screened-in porch on the lower level opens directly to a path leading to the river. The room has a resolutely cottage-like atmosphere — the perfect spot to take a nap or read, free from mosquitoes. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde
The screened-in porch on the lower level opens directly to a path leading to the river. The room has a resolutely cottage-like atmosphere — the perfect spot to take a nap or read, free from mosquitoes. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde
A view of the living room looking out towards the river, where  the glass “wall” frames a vast expanse of trees and water. The pair of 1950s walnut Grasshopper chairs from Belgium are one of Gordon’s favourite furniture finds. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde
A view of the living room looking out towards the river, where the glass “wall” frames a vast expanse of trees and water. The pair of 1950s walnut Grasshopper chairs from Belgium are one of Gordon’s favourite furniture finds. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde
The colourful autumn leaves are reflected in the pressed-resin floor tiles. Clean-lined and simple walnut cabinets make a quiet contemporary statement. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde
The colourful autumn leaves are reflected in the pressed-resin floor tiles. Clean-lined and simple walnut cabinets make a quiet contemporary statement. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde
Open to the dining room and kitchen, the living room has lots of wall space on the non-river side for Gordon to showcase artwork and collectibles. The distinctive mid-century-modern chair, reupholstered in a rainbow of colours, was discovered in Montreal. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde
Open to the dining room and kitchen, the living room has lots of wall space on the non-river side for Gordon to showcase artwork and collectibles. The distinctive mid-century-modern chair, reupholstered in a rainbow of colours, was discovered in Montreal. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde

The final piece of the renovation puzzle of this house is the exterior landscaping. A patchwork of stone retaining walls and huge fieldstones, planted with creeping thyme, successfully anchors all the contemporary angles firmly in this landscape, one carved from water, forests, and stone. It’s a rare thing to find a house that artfully combines contemporary comfort and elements of a rustic cottage: plenty of beautiful objets d’art and a strong sense of being at one with nature. “What I like best about my house is that it is eccentric,” says Gordon. “It’s nice to live in a space that mirrors the owner!”

A detail shot in the master bedroom frames the classic Eames lounge chair and ottoman, carefully located in the perfect reading spot. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde
A detail shot in the master bedroom frames the classic Eames lounge chair and ottoman, carefully located in the perfect reading spot. Photography PhotoluxStudio.com — Christian Lalonde