Homes

Great Space: Stunning vistas, unconventional design create unique Cantley retreat

This article was first published in the Interiors 2015 issue of Ottawa Magazine.

An artist designs a hilltop retreat that takes advantage of grand vistas across the Gatineau Hills and intimate views into the woods

BY DANIEL DROLET
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DOUBLESPACE PHOTOGRAPHY

 

The main living area of the house faces south/southwest and offers a stunning vista, with the Gatineau River in the foreground and Ottawa's skyline off in the distance. The view is all the more commanding because the house is so high up above the river. Photo by Doublespace Photography
The main living area of the house faces south/southwest and offers a stunning vista, with the Gatineau River in the foreground and Ottawa’s skyline off in the distance. The view is all the more commanding because the house is so high up above the river. Photo by Doublespace Photography
Because of the home’s location on the crest of a hill, yard space is limited. But who needs a yard when you have a spacious wrap-around deck offering unobstructed views? The deck is also designed to take advantage of the sun. Photo by Doublespace Photography

Every city has its scenic gems in the form of spectacular vistas or little-known places of beauty. In Toronto, a visitor might come across a quiet wooded ravine hidden from the bustle of downtown. In Montreal, there are parks, complete with lakes, that are islands of wilderness in a sea of houses and highways. In the national capital, the Champlain Lookout is one such delight: it is impossible to tire of the view that awaits at the very top of the winding Champlain Parkway.

I felt that same sense of amazement when I first arrived at the Cantley home of artist Diane Lacaille and her husband, Pierre Charles Généreux. Suddenly, as I reached the top of the ridge where the house sits, a vista opened up before me. In one sweep, I was able to take in the Gatineau Hills, a wide swath of the Gatineau River, and the skyline of downtown Ottawa in the distance. It was both unexpected and stunning.

“It’s all about the view,” says Diane, who designed the house without the help of an architect. Every room in this airy, open home was conceived to take advantage of the tremendous views and to let light flood in. Indeed, the house is so open that it’s sometimes difficult to know where inside ends and outside begins.

The second-floor guest bedroom and the master bathroom (visible from the guest suite) are both situated to take advantage of spectacular views over the river. Photo by Doublespace Photography
The second-floor guest bedroom and the master bathroom (visible from the guest suite) are both situated to take advantage of spectacular views over the river. Photo by Doublespace Photography
An artist’s home must contain art, and the owners have strategically placed favourite pieces to show them off. But nowhere does the art overwhelm. Because the colour scheme is so neutral, the art can shine. Photo by Doublespace Photography

Diane and Pierre Charles moved in last spring, about three years after they first laid eyes on the plot of land on which their house now sits. They had been living in a large, comfortable home in a suburban neighbourhood. And though Pierre Charles, a professional who grew up in the suburbs, was happy with the arrangement, Diane was restive. She had grown up in the wilder surroundings of the country and longed to live in a place where there were no neighbours in sight. When a contractor told her about the land — a farmer was selling off some property — Diane went to take a look and was immediately smitten. She returned with Pierre Charles, who also fell in love with the spot.

For two years, Diane set aside her usual creative work to focus on the design and construction of their house. To get it built, she put together her own team of four key professionals: Anne René de Cotret, an architectural technologist with ARConstruction, drew up the plans; Nathan Kyle, a designer with Astro Design Centre, was instrumental in helping with layouts and finishings (“We had an excellent collaboration,” she says); local contractor Claude Prud’homme of Rénovations Prud’homme in Cantley was in charge of construction; and Diane’s son-in-law, Winnipeg contractor Cameron Dobie of Dobie Properties Ltd., helped at all levels. “I had an extraordinary contractor,” she says of Prud’homme. “There’s nothing that we did that didn’t work. We even came in under budget — and that’s rare!”

The kitchen island combines prep area with seating and informal dining space to allow socializing and food prep to happen simultaneously. A glass door leads to the pantry behind the kitchen and allows the bright red painting in the pantry to be visible. Photo by Doublespace Photography
The kitchen island combines prep area with seating and informal dining space to allow socializing and food prep to happen simultaneously. A glass door leads to the pantry behind the kitchen and allows the bright red painting in the pantry to be visible. Photo by Doublespace Photography

When asked about the stresses of designing a house and managing a construction project of this magnitude, Diane says it wasn’t as difficult as she had expected. Her background as an artist helped. For example, she used her knowledge of composition and proportion to guide her choices. She points proudly to the open staircase up to the bedroom level as just one example of a design that worked. The main support for the stairs does not sit in the middle of each step; instead, it is positioned off-centre in the more pleasing proportion of one-third, two-thirds. Diane says she was very disciplined throughout the project, spending a lot of time researching, shopping, and comparing prices, all of which helped keep costs in check.

Artist and homeowner Diane Lacaille at work in the spacious, light-filled studio that is an integral part of the house. Photo by Doublespace Photography

Given that Diane is an artist, there is surprisingly little colour within the house. The home’s few walls are painted a warm off-white, and the fittings, fixtures, and furniture are almost all neutral in tone, with a pop of red — Diane’s favourite accent colour — here and there. There is nothing jarring, nothing that demands attention or detracts from the view. “I don’t like colour on walls,” she explains. “I work with colour all day; maybe that’s why. I like the Scandinavian look — you know, simple lines.”

The house sits at the end of a long, steep driveway atop a wooded ridge not much wider than the house itself. Beyond the house and its decks, the ridge drops away sharply. Visitors don’t really have time to notice the home’s exterior, because the moment they reach the front door, their gaze is drawn to the view, which looks south and southwest toward Ottawa. To take advantage of the enviable sightlines, Diane designed the space not as the more usual rectangle but as a series of one-room wings off a central corridor. That means many of the rooms have three exterior walls with windows that stretch from floor to ceiling.

 

The owner was not content to take a standard approach to design. She used her knowledge of form and proportion to create unique architectural statements like the staircase leading up to the second level. The customized staircase was made according to her design. Photo by Doublespace Photography

 

The house sits on two levels. Upstairs, there are two bedrooms. In the large, airy master bedroom, the bed is oriented so that the couple can enjoy views through windows to the front, left, and right, with the Ottawa skyline dead centre. The bed in the second-floor guest bedroom is also oriented toward a view, in this case of the forest and — in winter, when the trees are bare — of the Gatineau River far below. The ground floor covers much more surface area. In addition to the main living space (a combination kitchen/living room/dining room), there’s a large open foyer, an office, a second guest suite, a sizable exercise room, and Diane’s 800-square-foot art studio.

Throughout, Diane very consciously took the concept of open plan and ran with it. In addition to the expansive central living space that faces the main view toward the city, Diane came up with the idea of installing glass walls and glass doors in several “interior” rooms. Together, the large windows and the interior glass walls open up the space in such a way that even someone deep inside the house can enjoy the vistas. And even on the cloudiest of days, light floods in.

Every morning, Diane turns her red leather easy chair toward the view and drinks it in with her morning coffee. And each evening, she and Pierre Charles watch the setting sun reflect off the downtown buildings. “It’s magical,” she says. “My husband and I just look at each other, and say, ‘Can you believe it?’ ”

The bed faces the view through a bank of windows devoid of curtains. That view - forest, sky, river, and city skyline - is never compromised. Photo by Doublespace Photography
The bed faces the view through a bank of windows devoid of curtains. That view – forest, sky, river, and city skyline – is never compromised. Photo by Doublespace Photography