Within minutes of meeting Charles Armand Turpin, two things are immediately obvious; he wears his passions on his sleeve, and fluidity is a central tenet of how he lives.
His house in Aylmer sits on the shore of the Ottawa River. It’s an unlikely structure, surrounded by properties best described as “big-house predictable” — lots of garages, pristine landscaping, dozens of rooms. In contrast, Charles is all about living in, and with, nature. Simple, clean lines allow nature to enter the space, while his living area spills outside onto multiple decks built near the shoreline. “I wanted the feeling of being in a cabane,” he says of the design. “My idea was to streamline everything, to be really minimalist.”
Though he didn’t study design, as the owner of an engineering architectural firm that specializes in exterior walls, Charles gets lots of inspiration and ideas from his research on behalf of clients. He’s also something of a Renaissance man: you can guess that if an architect or designer said to him, “Forget it, it’s impossible,” Charles would find a way to make it happen.
This house is no larger than it needs to be — he shares it with his girlfriend and a posse of rescue dogs that roam around at will. But its efficiency of design, lack of walls, and a flowing ceiling combine to make it feel vast.
The kitchen is small but boasts everything you could ask for in terms of convenience. “I hate a kitchen where everything is on the counter,” says Charles. Dishes, cookware, and dried goods are stored behind sleek custom doors. Each aspect has been installed with immense attention to detail, from Stoneglass counters — think Corian meets granite meets glass — to a trough-like stainless sink that has a second inner sink for small jobs and interchangeable cutting boards that fit over the basins.
Surrounded by curved glass, the dining area is a marvel of engineering. It had to be designed to support the weight of the second-level open-air deck; snow load was a major consideration. But Charles’s specialty, after all, is structural glass, and he came up with a plan to manufacture the wall so that it could handle the weight.
Tucked away behind the kitchen is a futuristic powder room with an automated pocket door of sandblasted glass and one all-glass wall that allows guests to take a seat on the commode and feel as though they’re deep in the forest. The room is outfitted with a super-efficient electric toilet — at the push of a button, waste is swept away, and the unit uses less water than conventional toilets. A rotating cabinet hides such necessities as soaps and hand towels.
Remote controls figure prominently in Charles’s world. There’s a hidden elevator that opens into the hallway adjoining the kitchen and powder room — he gets a kick out of surprising visitors by opening the door remotely. The platform descends to the basement, which contains all the mechanical workings for the house, including a trough and two sump pumps to handle flooding — something that many homeowners along the river have had to deal with in recent years.
He also uses a remote control to lower a wall in the extended living room, bisecting the space into two independent sections, one a step higher than the other. And while much of the house features muted colours, his “upper” living room bursts with pinks, oranges, and reds, courtesy of the iconic Roche Bobois seating. Pink lighting glows around the perimeter of the ceiling, and an Artemide aluminum sculpture reflects a distortion of everything going on below.
While the interior brings nature in, the exterior feels like an extension of the indoors. Discreet lighting makes for a magical atmosphere after dark. “It’s mesmerizing at night,” says Charles, looking out over the expanse of river. The central focus of the outdoor living area is an infinity wading pool. The central focus of the outdoor living area is an infinity wading pool. With ample places to sit, think, and converse, the space is perfect for Charles’ meditation practice.
When he started building his ever-evolving home in 1999, the design was unconventional. “I actually drafted the house in 15 minutes,” he says. “Back then, it was off the charts.” Almost two decades later, it remains on the cutting edge, with Charles continually tweaking the fine details while planning big alterations as time permits. With ideas that unite his love of technology with an appreciation for the outdoors, this big thinker has made a unique home that gives his guests the feeling they’re visiting the Jetsons on a camping trip.
One can understand why Charles Armand Turpin doesn’t subscribe to the notion that you need to be an expert to draw up your dreams. He has a vision, and he’ll see it through. The many professionals who work with him are happy to go along for the ride. “I can’t trust anybody else to come up with a design,” he says. “They can’t capture my emotion.”