A cantilevered design provides a family cottage a scenic perch in Quebec’s Gatineau hills
When a young couple with an unusual piece of land in the Gatineau hills decided to build a cottage, they had two requests: keep it modest for their budget, and take advantage of the great view.
Their property, about 30 minutes north of Ottawa and on a tiny lake four kilometres from well-known Lac-McGregor, in Quebec, was not highly accessible by vehicle and also sits on a sloping bluff of rock in the Canadian Shield.
“They knew it would be a bit of a challenge,” says architect Christopher Simmonds, of Simmonds Architecture in Ottawa. “The challenges always make the project better.”
So, he designed Val Des Monts (in the municipality of Val-des-Monts), a cottage with a cantilevered section that provides a view of the lake and anchors the structure in the rock. The ground floor, 1,050 square feet, includes the living and dining room at the front of the building and facing the lake, with the main bedroom, bathroom and a child’s bedroom at the back. The lower level, 500 square feet, is partially embedded in the slope and has a den, small bathroom and kid’s bedroom.
Building materials include white oak boards in the kitchen and dining area, a silver maple slab for the bathroom vanity, open-joint eastern white cedar on the exterior with the stairwell encased in steel. Sustainable features include its modest size and reduced use of materials. In the summer, the cottage is ventilated by cool air flowing in through the lakeside openings and out through clerestory windows on the opposite side, facing the forest.
Val Des Monts took 1-1/2 years to design and build, and was completed in 2014.
Christopher Simmonds, of Christopher Simmonds, Architect Inc. in Ottawa, answers a few questions about Val Des Monts:
What was the inspiration for the cottage’s design?
These clients came to us with a couple of younger kids and really wanted to build as modest a cottage as possible to suit their budget.
The property was sort of long and the portion of the site that was accessible by vehicle and concrete truck was quite a height and distance above and from the lake. They wanted a cottage they could drive up to. We did that by locating the cottage as far along the driveable access as we could to a point where we could see the lake and the water.
What were the challenges working on this site?
It was on a rocky bluff and we proceeded to have the contractor blast out and be able to nestle the building into the rock that was sloping down toward the lake, and locate the cottage there.
To enhance the view of the lake and ensure we could see the water, we created a cantilevered volume box which projected 14 feet off the edge of this embankment — and located the living and dining rooms at the end of that cantilevered volume. It’s all about locating the most important spaces, the most proximate, to the lake and the view.
The stairwell is interesting — why did you encase it in steel?
The steel corrodes over time, rusts and creates a really nice contrast with the light wood and clad elements which change over time and become grey. The rust is reddish and the steel is closer to the ground so that when the water washes the rust off, it’s not staining anything but the ground around it.
The interior staircase is different, but just as interesting.
There’s a glass guard between the living and dining room spaces and the stairs. So, when you are in that space you can see out right through that stairwell. You can see the landscape in every direction.
How did you balance and anchor the building?