The Art of Isolation: A Quiet Cottage in the Laurentians

We’ve been talking a lot about loneliness in its myriad forms this year. “Self-isolation” and “social distancing” are the directives of the day, and there’s an inherent loneliness in the status quo. But what is the difference between isolation and solitude? Why do we find ourselves frustrated by the former while craving the latter?

With this week’s project highlight, we’re trying to celebrate the beauty that can be found in quiet living — in being removed, remote, far from the madding crowd. We’re trying to think of isolation not as a chore, but as an art form, one that can do wonders for the mind and spirit. (Hey, it’s our civic duty. Might as well put a positive spin on things!)

This project is located in Saint-Donat in the Laurentians, a mountainous, lake-speckled part of Quebec. Visitors flock to the region in summer for its skiing, snowmobiling, and other winter sports; in summer, the comfortable climate and beautiful terrain make this an ideal spot for swimming, sailing, kayaking, and more.

The 1,600m2 lot upon which the country home is located is steep and lush with dense vegetation. It borders Lake Archambault, a scenic body of water that is popular with tourists.

The existing structure on the lot was built over 40 years ago by the contractor’s father as a family chalet. Montreal-based firm Cardin Julien was brought in to reimagine the home to suit the needs of the present owners. The clients wanted a retreat that would be practical and comfortable in all seasons. A top priority would be the addition of outdoor spaces that would allow them to enjoy the beauty of the natural surroundings and participate in year-round sporting activities. Inside, they also wanted to preserve the original charm of the structure while introducing a modern aesthetic.

Cardin Julien answered by expanding the chalet on both the north and west-facing sides. The north extension includes a garage, storage spaces for sporting equipment, and a mudroom. The west extension includes a space with a panoramic view of the wooded landscape; designed as a three-season room, it provides a sense of being immersed in the outdoors and allows the family to enjoy the feeling of comfortably being outside for longer than the climate would normally allow. Both extensions feature a dark wood that nods to the structure’s original bones.

By opening up the western façade, the kitchen windows were able to increase in size, flooding the space with light throughout the day. Opening up the original kitchen and applying an open-concept organization to the layout of this floor means that the entire living area is now bright as well. According to a recent press release, the large island in the kitchen has become one of the figurative hearths of the home; it is now a “beacon of family time,” a comfortable place around which to gather. (And it’s endlessly more functional, too.)

New materials introduced to the structure toe the line between tradition and modernity. Original details like the gorgeous stone fireplace, wooden beams, and wood walls and ceilings are now complemented by subtle industrial elements. The kitchen is streamlined and maintains a low profile, with the matte, pewter-coloured finish of the cabinets mirrored in the finish of the pendant lighting. Some fun touches were used sparsely in choosing the décor; for instance, the stools at the kitchen island are made from tractor seats, while the main light fixture was designed with a wooden wheel.

Outside, the existing patio, which faced the lake, was extended. It is now adjacent to the three-season space. A solid wood railing was cleverly removed and replaced with a glass wall, ensuring that the view would now be unobstructed.

With many cottage homes, it’s tricky to create architectural delights while also ensuring that the true pièce de résistance remains the view. This family chateau in the Laurentians succeeds, serving as a beautiful retreat in which the wooded landscape is honoured via the surfaces of the home’s interiors, with windows beautifully and strategically framing those enviable views. It’s the sort of home in which we’d be more than happy to practice a little solitude. As Einstein once said, “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” Here’s hoping!


Images via v2com
Photographer: Olivier Blouin