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Inspired by temples and churches they visited while in Japan in 1996, Hélène Séguin and Vincent Lavoie fell in love with that type of construction and decided to design a timber-frame home that would fit their needs and lifestyle.
“From the outset, we wanted to include Japanese Zen elements in the design. The timber frame construction style consists of wide beams joined together by wooden dowels and is very strong, resulting in structures that can last for centuries. Because this style does not require supporting walls, it allows for a very airy interior and personalized layout,” Lavoie explained.
Séguin used 2D/3D drawing software and images, ideas and memories of stays abroad to create the atmosphere the couple wanted: a small paradise. The more technological aspects — heating and ventilation, security needs and a generator — were managed by Lavoie.
It took years to develop a plan that met all their criteria. ConSpecTek, a structural timber-house design firm, produced 2D/3D blueprints from the drawings. Many hours of work alongside architect technician Carl Fournier were necessary to achieve the end result, which perfectly matched the couple’s vision.
The construction of the B.C. fir frame by Heirloom Timber Frames was started in the spring of 2007 on a 5,109-square-metre (55,000-square-foot) lot with a protected natural forest reserve as a backdrop. The couple had purchased the Hudson property in 2001. Donald Elliot, a general contractor from Hudson, was hired to oversee the project.
“We surrounded ourselves with very good professionals and tradesmen to take on the construction of our home,” Séguin said. “People who love their jobs, have integrity and are committed to doing well.”
But self-build projects don’t come without challenges and surprises.
“We had chosen a specific type of metal roof and the firm we had selected was unavailable when the time came to finish the roof. We found another firm, but they offered a different type of metal roofing that was twice the cost. This was the unexpected surprise that had the most impact on the budget overrun. We had to postpone certain add-ons, like a garage, at the time of construction,” Lavoie said.
The couple moved into the home with their two young boys in February 2008 even though it was not fully completed. Each year since, Séguin and Lavoie have made additions to and around their home — a pond, sunrooms, a spa with a pergola and landscaping — managing and distributing the cost of the projects over time.
Measuring 18.28 metres by 13.71 metres (60 by 45 feet) and clad with horizontal white pine planks stained a cedar colour, the house has cathedral ceilings up to 7.31 metres high in some areas. Since the house has no basement, almost all of the approximately 233 square metres (2,500 square feet) of living space is on the ground floor. A 20-metre mezzanine was incorporated into the design for the main bedroom. The galvanized sheet-metal roof was installed by Toitures Vaillancourt. The mix of shrubs, climbing plants, autumn chrysanthemums, plus a few pumpkins in the raised flagstone edged border embellish the facade — even more so at Halloween.
Looking at the house from the outside, you might not guess that the structural and interior design is inspired by Japan. Yet as soon as you set one foot inside, you can’t help but be mesmerized by the floor — slate slabs covered in a thick layer of glossy, smooth and wet-looking epoxy resin that sets the Japanese mood of the house.
The large slabs, which look like they were laid in a natural riverbed running under the entryway, mirror the outdoor elements.
A Japanese cherry-wood lamp that hangs from the ceiling highlights certain details in the slabs, which come from L’Ardoisière, a company in Prévost that specializes in the extraction and processing of Canadian slate. Two large openings in the wall separate the entryway and kitchen on the other side. They were designed to accommodate two glass aquariums. Koi are transferred in mid-autumn from the outdoor pond to spend the winter indoors.
The aquariums allow one to see through the interior of the house to the living-room windows, which look onto the back yard and forest beyond.
In the dining room, the suar wood table is in a hollow space that’s 45.72 centimetres (18 inches) lower than the floor to be able to slide one’s legs under the table, Japanese-style. “Since this space is lower than the rest of the floor, great care was taken by the contractor to properly insulate it so that our feet and legs are not cold when we eat there,” Lavoie explained.
The tatami mats surrounding the table make the floor comfortable and warm. The floorboards are carbonized bamboo planks. These thick planks are resistant to stains and foot traffic are usually used for outdoor patios, giving an exterior cachet to the dining room. The imposing antique buffet from China was bought in Luxembourg, where the couple lived for a few years. The dining room overlooks the pond, as does the sunroom, which has large custom-made screens. Séguin is a psychologist and uses the sunroom as an extension of her office when seeing patients during the summer. Another sunroom adjacent to the living room also offers a beautiful view of the pond.
Wanting a modern, refined and unobstructed design with a clean look, Séguin and Lavoie opted for stainless steel in the kitchen.
Pierre Morency Architecte, referred to the couple by friends, was chosen for his restaurant kitchen designs. He also suggested the 4.57-metre-long B.C. fir beam that serves as a counter for the island. The height-adjustable black drafting chairs come from a home office supply store. The stainless steel cabinets that surround the refrigerator were added several years later. They were designed and manufactured by Cajo Métallurgie Inc.
The kitchen and living room form one big, airy space and share the same flooring material: Chinese slate procured from Ramacieri Soligo in Montreal. Hot-water pipes are embedded in the concrete slab for radiant heating.
“The whole house is heated this way, making it warm and comfortable for our feet in all the rooms” Lavoie said.
An important architectural detail about the timber beams on the back wall is that the lower beam is curved to imitate the structure of a Japanese Torii gate. The tan leather sofa from Italy was also bought in Luxembourg. An antique Chinese-made cabinet with carved figurines painted gold is decorated with black and white photos of jazz musicians. Thirteen pine wood steps attached to a single galvanized steel beam make up the stairs leading from the living room to the main bedroom on the mezzanine. The handrail was made to measure by a tinsmith in Dorion and installed by the general contractor. The delicate, tightly stretched wire cables in the railing continue along the mezzanine.
Overlooking the living room, the main bedroom is an open-concept ensuite on two levels. The king-size mattress is on tatami mats on the elevated level. The uncluttered space gets light from the living room’s upper windows, which are perfectly aligned with the mezzanine.
“In winter, the tall trees covered in snow at the back of the house give a magical Canadian postcard vibe to this room,” Séguin said. Careful planning was necessary in the design of the free-standing Japanese-style vanity. A false beam was manufactured to allow the installation and operation of the faucet and plumbing without the need for a wall that would have blocked the light.
The ceiling is covered with rolls of bamboo slats with joints that are hidden by natural bamboo poles.
The pergola is made of B.C. fir beams from Heirloom Timber Frames. The base that surrounds the backyard spa is made of IPE wood. Pronounced “ee-pay,” this strong wood species is also referred to as Brazilian walnut. Naturally tolerant to humidity, rot and insects, its warm amber colour is enhanced and protected when oiled, a task done by the owners every year.
The pond, built by Jean Brulé of Jardins Aquadesign, is partly inspired by a pond alongside a house Séguin and Lavoie visited in Japan. The pond is less than a metre at its deepest, with three levels to accommodate each type of plant. The natural stones around the pond were laid by Jean-Pierre and Lise of JPL Excavation and Landscaping. The 25 to 30 koi that live in the pond come from a variety of sources. Some were purchased from a breeder, others were offered by residents who moved away and couldn’t bring the fish with them. Although the algae and plants in the pond are a natural food source, the fish enjoy being hand-fed twice a day — and petted as well.
“Being surrounded by a natural forest, the pond and flowers, our house is very peaceful and zen. It’s a place where everyone feels good, balanced and calm. But we still have many ideas and projects in the works to continue building our little paradise,” Séguin said.