In this time of supply chain shortages and Covid construction delays, Alexandra Corriveau and Andrew Decristoforo of Art and Stone Group built no fewer than seven luxury custom homes. One of these houses was their own. It’s a small miracle that a home with such a Zen sense of calm and attention to detail should result from such a busy year.
“We really wanted to do something a little different,” says Alexandra, “something that we haven’t seen very much of here in Ottawa. We call our house the wabi sabi house.”
Wabi sabi is a Japanese idea that beauty is found in simplicity and imperfection; for this couple, it meant choosing natural objects that become more beautiful as they age, fade, and acquire new charm.
It starts with the façade. Located in the heart of Westboro, the house has strong echoes of a contemporary farmhouse, with simple lines, a pitched roof, sloping ceilings on the first floor, and earth-toned siding. Alexandra and Andrew describe it as a “minimal gable house look” with Scandinavian influences.
Inside, the couple’s commitment to high-quality finishing and thoughtful design is clear. While the house boasts a palette of neutral tones — a little bit of sage green here, some grey there, but mostly white — it is layered with texture and natural accents that will age well and develop patina, such as wide-plank white oak floors, eight-foot custom oak doors, and aged copper plumbing fittings that are both contemporary and classic.
At the front of the house, Andrew’s light-filled office features an eye-catching white oak storage cabinet and a teak desk. Custom steel-and-glass doors with uneven mullions lead to the serene space. The overall aesthetic of this house is minimalist but playful. A Bocci light fixture in the powder room features small suspended succulent plants and an upstairs landing wall is adorned with framed postcards of dogs doing goofy things.
“We were caught in a massive rainstorm in London,” says Alexandra, “so we ducked inside the closest store. It was a pet store. We don’t own a pet. It was awkward. So, we bought these cards!” The couple chose an open-plan living room and kitchen. “We love to entertain. I think we both agree on the kitchen being our favourite area of the house. It’s where we spend most of our time together, and with friends and family,” says Alexandra.
Aside from the kitchen, there’s another corner that’s dear to her heart: a reading nook at the top of the stairs, packed with cooking books for inspiration. “I love how cozy the space feels, even with the tall ceilings. I spend hours there reading and concocting my next meals.”
In the kitchen, a massive three-sided quartz Caesarstone waterfall island with a suede finish is complemented by a European white oak wooden table. Combined, the space can host a serious party. In one corner, an environmentally friendly Stûv wood-burning stove creates a cottage-like feel.
“That’s a cold-night nook for us. Sometimes we will sit by the fire with a makeshift picnic on the coffee table, with cushions, a glass of wine, our nibbles, and talk about our week together. It’s all about the small things in life.”
Nearby, a healthy young ficus tree makes his presence felt. They have named him Ben. “He’s three years old and he’s moved four times in the past three years. Typically, they don’t do well when they are moved,” says Alexandra, “but he’s very happy.”
On another wall, a large landscape painting of Tuscany by Montreal artist Megan Fitzgerald — commissioned specifically for the room — speaks to the couple’s love of travel and Andrew’s heritage. A giant winemaking jug nestles beside the fireplace and an antique steamer trunk that belonged to his great-grandfather still has its labels from the 1967 voyage from Naples to New York.
“I come from three generations of Italian builders,” says Andrew, who was a professional hockey player before turning his hand to construction. “But I grew up in construction. I grew up doing it, physically; I know what needs to be done and how to do it,” he says. Andrew also has a master’s degree in economics. This might explain how the couple managed to build their home in seven months. “We work with fantastic trades,” the couple agrees.
And while this is lightning quick for any build, it’s remarkably so for a house that boasts thoughtful details such as soft glowing floor-level lighting on the stair risers and striking flush-mount vents in the wood floors. Seamless built-in cabinetry off the kitchen, and in many rooms throughout the house, adds to the minimalist atmosphere.
The ensuite master bathroom conjures the feeling of a foggy morning by the sea in tones of sandy grey, cream, and sage, with real Spanish moss growing on the shower shelf. Plumbing fixtures are teak and solid brass, an elegant combination to complement the egg shaped soaker tub from Wetstyle in Montreal. There’s also a walk-in shower. Thoughtful details such as taps installed opposite from the shower head, allowing the user to run the water warm without getting wet, bring a luxuriousness to the simple space.
“We’ve really focused on materials in this house,” says Alexandra. “Everything is well-thought-out and not flashy. We wanted to combine the feel of several of our favourite places around the world, since we didn’t know when we’d be able to travel again with Covid. We have built this house to stay in and grow a family and we really, really love the space!”