A Year-Round Retreat on a Scenic Precipice

When it comes to luxurious, rustic-chic retreats, the township of Potton is becoming something of a hub. The southern Quebec region is dotted with hills and sugar bushes, and the township itself is located on the western shore of Lake Memphrémagog. It’s a scenic pocket of the French province, one that is coveted as a rural retreat by wealthy city dwellers. Sharing a border with Vermont, its landscape is akin to that of New England: a wooded, rolling topography that offers a unique magic in every season.

The clients of this particular project were a Montreal-based couple in search of a slice of paradise near the mountains and the lake. They dreamed of a retreat at which to enjoy winter activities (Owl’s Head ski resort is located nearby) and proximity to water for boating during the summer months. They desired a structure large enough for hosting and entertaining friends and family; they also had specific requirements for its design, as they planned to occupy this dwelling in their future retirement. Therefore, the main living areas would need to be accessible and without stairs, and preferably on the ground floor—including the master bedroom. The lower level would house the guest and family quarters.

The site, situated high up at the edge of a steep slope, overlooks Lake Memphrémagog. ESPACE VITAL (a Sherbrooke-based architecture firm that recently opened a branch in the burgeoning Montreal neighbourhood of Mile Ex) was hired to create a contemporary dwelling on this precipice. The firm, known for its minimalist design sensibilities, was faced with a unique challenge when it came to designing for the lot. Upon the initial site visit, the architects of ESPACE VITAL quickly realized that the relatively narrow strip of land, which was wedged between the cliff and the road, would require an innovative layout.

“The area in which we could implement the house was not very big,” explains Paul Faucher, architect and associate at ESPACE VITAL, via press release. “Furthermore, even if the road is not very busy, we wanted to design a curved driveway to maximize intimacy and create discovery when approaching the residence.”

The solution would be a two-faced building to accommodate two different needs. The street façade is opaque while the opposite façade is fully transparent, offering expansive views of the surrounding nature. This concept achieved a “cocoon effect” that was desired by the owners and satisfies the need for both solitude and openness.

Approaching the space is an experience strategically engineered to allow for surprises. Driveway access reveals the enclosed volumes of the garage and main building, and even entry into the vestibule does not hint at the views that await. It is not until one has entered the main living spaces of the main floor that the true vantage point of the property becomes evident; here, the massive windows provide breathtaking views of the forest and lake below. Existing in stark contrast to the initial hidden nature one perceives of the structure upon approach, these spaces are bathed in natural light and filled with oversized furniture that invites communal gatherings.

When looking through ESPACE VITAL’s portfolio, the clients were initially drawn to a house with a huge, suspended bay window, like that of an observatory. “They wanted their own glass cube to be perched among the trees and be able to enjoy and observe the natural environment,” says Faucher. This cube, annexed to the living room, visually connects the interior and exterior spaces and creates a harmonious flow between them.

ESPACE VITAL achieved the retirement-friendly layout by taking advantage of the natural grade of the site. The open layout living room, dining room, and kitchen are all located on the ground floor, adjacent to a spacious master bedroom, complete with walk-in closet and ensuite bathroom. Each space features floor-to-ceiling windows. Downstairs, the lower level features two guest rooms, a full bathroom, a second living room, and a home gym. Each area of the dwelling is connected with fluidity in mind, with open spaces functioning as thoroughfares rather than long corridors.

A large roof overhang was added to protect the rooms from the harsh, direct summer sun. Facing the south and the west, this piece tapers eastwards and lends a dynamic, distinctive silhouette.

When it comes to the materials, the clean and contemporary lines were offset by the warmth of wood, which infuses a touch of the natural world into the stark profile of the structure. “We chose pre-stained red cedar cladding to reduce maintenance and maximize durability,” explains Faucher. “On the inside, natural wood is also used for accents and on the ceiling, bringing a sense of continuity with the overhang and the terrace.”

Looking for a rural Quebec retreat without the commitment of a private dwelling? Check out these unique geodesic domes in the Petite-Rivière-Saint-François region.


Photos via V2com.
Photographer: Stéphane Lemire