A HOUSE WE LOVE: A sunny house on a hill in Wakefield

A HOUSE WE LOVE: A sunny house on a hill in Wakefield

What could be more welcoming than a long cedar deck? The front deck calls out for bare feet in summer and is a good snowshoe starting point in winter. With no preconceived notion of where the front door should be, a modernist approach allows the architect and owners to figure out where they’ll want to find their way in. Photography by Peter Fritz.

On The Rise: A welcoming space that encourages friends to stop by and stay awhile. 

By Andrea Hossack. Photography by Peter Fritz.

This house was featured in the 2012 Interiors edition. See more photographs and read the full story in the print edition.

It first reveals itself as a modern beach house, sun glinting off glass and the limestone cladding reminiscent of greyed driftwood on sand.

But the homeowners prefer to think of their modern-rustic gem of a house as an oyster shell, the chalky, weathered exterior complemented by a polished white palette within. Lori Doran and Ryan MacDonald — the relaxed, outdoorsy professionals who own this house and had such a good time with the building process — are understandably proud of it. Five years ago, the couple saw a lot for sale on the road that leads to the Wakefield covered bridge. They bought, then got to know the land by plunking down an Airstream trailer. The idea for a more permanent dwelling began to take shape.


Graduated terracing takes visitors gently up and delivers them to the entranceway, which opens into Lori and Ryan’s kitchen and dining room. This is exactly the place they like to be — and the place they wanted to open up to their friends. Photography by Peter Fritz.

Lori and Ryan’s first meeting with architect John Donkin began with them mapping out the elements they found aesthetically appealing. “We’re both fans of modern,” says Ryan. “We’re in tune with more industrial raw spaces.” They also knew that they wanted a clean, functional space — something “unique, not too stock.”

They found Donkin to be adept at listening. For this project, he collaborated closely with colleague and fellow architect Sarah Lee. The two teamed up to interview the couple and formulate a design. “We talked about how we wanted to live,” says Ryan. “We thought of this place as a kind of a drop-in for friends.” The house welcomes those friends, encouraging them to stay awhile and enjoy the open and expansive kitchen and dining area. The private and public spaces, meanwhile, are cleverly separated, with a guest room at one end of the house and a master bedroom at the other.

The kitchen is open to the living area. The white quartz countertop in the kitchen is well leaned on, chopped on, served from. Looks sharp, too. Photography by Peter Fritz.

From that master bedroom, you can just spot the river. The windows are striking, filling the room with light and providing wrap-around views of the natural beauty all around. On a winter morning, says Ryan, the red paint on the Wakefield covered bridge is visible through snow-covered evergreens. It’s in this room, looking at this woodsy view, that Ryan speaks about their idea of the house — that it be a part of the village rather than “just trying to buy a little piece of waterfront paradise.”

It was Stephen Sabean who built the house. A custom builder, Sabean picks and chooses his projects. With a fine-art background (he studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design), he offers an approach that is aesthetically tuned a little more finely than most. “He had the talent to actually see and manage the detail work,” says Donkin enthusiastically. “He had the obsession, he knew the trades that could do the job, and he knew when to ask us questions.” Most important of all, says Donkin, when he had an out-there idea, Sabean immediately got it.

The master bedroom is “very much a capsule in itself” in the otherwise open plan. The layout offers privacy if one chooses to retire before the party winds down completely. The intimate space feels very connected to the woods outside. Photography by Peter Fritz.

All the windows are a calculation. They are not aligned according to a traditional symmetrical plan or preconceived notion of where windows should go but instead are placed to funnel light. While the site faces north, the light comes in from the south, so Donkin made up his mind to capture that light by using “big windows high up.”

For Ryan, the resulting structure and the play of light give him the “cathedral feeling” that he loves about the woods. “The inside of this house feels almost the same as outside. When you walk out, the temperature may change, but under the trees, for me, it’s a bit of an extension of the house.”

Sunlight floods into the open-concept space from the south-facing upper windows, bathing the concrete floor with warmth and moving shadows from the trees. The thin separation between the indoors and outdoors is best felt in the living room, where a glass wall and a comfortable radiant-heat floor create perfect conditions for living outdoors while inside. Photography by Peter Fritz.