written by:
photos by:
October 8, 2012
Originally published in Small World
as
Into the Great Wide Open

For this rural Ontario home, building sustainably was less about high-tech gizmos than learning to truly love the land.

Sustainable home with galvanized steel shed roof and siding
The 925-square-foot house Maggie Treanor calls home blends into the landscape somewhat; with a galvanized steel shed roof and siding, it looks like a high-design little brother to the barns on the surrounding farms.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
© Derek Shapton
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Modern porch with triple-glazed casement windows
Doors and triple-glazed casement windows from Loewen work hard to form a tight thermal envelope.
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© Derek Shapton
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Homeowner watering outdoor plants
Maggie Treanor waters plants around her rural home.
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© Derek Shapton
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maggie treanor, huron county, ontario, farmhouse, modern
The long gangplank of a deck runs right out into the fields, a fact that Treanor relishes.
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Modern porch deck with casement windows
A covered porch on the south side provides comfortably shaded outdoor space, and its roof keeps the high-angle summer sun out of the house.
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Courtesy of 
© Derek Shapton
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Modern open kitchen with stone flooring and wood-and-metal tables
Though small, Treanor’s house feels spacious thanks to an open kitchen and a tranquil mezzanine.
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© Derek Shapton
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Modern home mezzanine with wood flooring and patterned rug
As for the interior detailing, “In contemporary construction you have a layered approach to materials. Everything is on top of something else. We tried to avoid that.” Indeed, the house’s materials are few and hardy: polished concrete, maple, and Douglas fir, and white walls with a few bold accents of green and blue.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
© Derek Shapton
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Modern home with solar roof panels by Sharp
A 1.4-kW solar array by Sharp and propane-powered in-floor radiant heating from Radiantec obviate any need to connect to municipal power.
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Courtesy of 
© Derek Shapton
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Modern outdoor gated long deck with laundry clothesline
When building such a modest structure in a large landscape, designer and client often had to defend their vision to their collaborators. “We knew this house was going to be for Maggie and she would live there alone,” designer Lauren Moffitt says. “But people are always projecting for future resale. Putting in the smallest size of anything—to any subcontractor, it’s just not reasonable.”
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Courtesy of 
© Derek Shapton
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Modern glass-and-metal shelves
“In contemporary construction you have a layered approach to materials," says Lisa Moffitt. Everything is on top of something else. We tried to avoid that.” Indeed, the house’s materials are few and hardy: polished concrete, maple, and Douglas fir, and white walls with a few bold accents of green and blue.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
© Derek Shapton
10 / 16
Modern home hallway with stone flooring
“There’s not a single place where you’re not aware of the larger landscape,” Moffitt says. “The double-height living room is such a generous space that it feels big.”
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Courtesy of 
© Derek Shapton
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Curved black leather chair by wood-framed corner windows
Though the house is only 925 square feet, Moffitt argues that it feels much larger, for which she credits three factors: its visual connections to the outdoors, its open spaces, and its simple interior-design language.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
© Derek Shapton
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Modern master bedroom with stone flooring and wood framed door
Treanor's bedroom.
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© Derek Shapton
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Modern hanging lighting fixture with adjustable cord
A metal lighting fixture with an adjustable cord hangs from the ceiling.
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© Derek Shapton
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Field view of modern off-the-grid house with solar panels
“Often when we talk about sustainability we focus on the gadgetry, what makes things feasible off grid,” Moffitt says. “But to me there are more interesting things in passive design that rely on the available sun and wind.” An eight-panel solar array does chip in significantly, generating all the electricity the house needs.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
© Derek Shapton
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Exterior view of modern home with galvanized steel roof
“There’s a presence to that place—it’s vast, and constantly shifting,” Moffitt says. “It was clear that this house should be an observation shed for the changing landscape beyond.”
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
© Derek Shapton
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Sustainable home with galvanized steel shed roof and siding
The 925-square-foot house Maggie Treanor calls home blends into the landscape somewhat; with a galvanized steel shed roof and siding, it looks like a high-design little brother to the barns on the surrounding farms. Image courtesy of © Derek Shapton.
Project 
Treanor Residence
Architect 

After years of city living, Maggie Treanor was ready to move to the country, though she didn’t know how far her journey would take her. She first migrated in 2002, from the Ontario city of Guelph to a small town nearby, which “was like going on vacation,” she says. “Amazing sunrises and sunsets. I knew then that I wanted to move into the landscape.” A decade later, not far from Auburn, Ontario, in a rural corner of Huron County, she’s done it. Her living room looks directly onto cornfields, without a road or a power line in sight.

The 925-square-foot house she calls home blends into the landscape somewhat; with a galvanized steel shed roof and siding, it looks like a high-design little brother to the barns on the surrounding farms. And its energy footprint is equally subtle: Designer Lisa Moffitt (whose partner is Treanor’s son) built it with an array of sustainable features that take the simple home off-grid.

For Moffitt, the project represented a chance to put into practice ideas she explores in her work as a designer and professor of architecture, ideas about sustainability and shaping buildings around climatic conditions. For three years, she and Maggie’s son, Nick Treanor, traveled from their home in Toronto to do “field work” on the property, a 25-acre plot set among much larger working farms. The couple even went so far as to survey the land themselves, planting steel poles topped with windsocks to map the terrain and weather. So when Treanor commissioned her to design a house, Moffitt knew the site intimately. “There’s a presence to that place—it’s vast, and constantly shifting,” Moffitt says. “It was clear that this house should be an observation shed for the changing landscape beyond.”

This led Moffitt, who left her job with Toronto’s Plant Architect to run the project, to sculpt the house around some carefully chosen views while keeping in mind the patterns of the sun and wind. Moffitt’s brother-in-law Peter Long, who has worked in construction, did the framing and and roofing and installed doors and windows—“assisted by the unprofessional likes of my son and a couple of my daughters,” Treanor says. A local farmer and electrician, Ken Shortreed, brought his bucket truck and his family to help out. Another acquaintance who fixes farm machinery fabricated and installed the exterior guardrails and steel mesh panels on the mezza-nine sitting room. “That was how things went,” Treanor says. “Many of the workers did jobs they never knew they had talent for, jobs they’d never done before.”

As you enter the house on its east side, you can see straight through to Treanor’s land beyond; a 50-foot-long wooden walkway extends from the west side into the field, carrying you toward the horizon of waving grain. A covered porch on the south side provides comfortably shaded outdoor space, and its roof keeps the high-angle summer sun out of the house. Likewise, triple-glazed windows provide even sunshine throughout the day, which, combined with the house’s largely open interior, saves energy on both lighting and climate control. In the winter, a radiant heating system, supplemented by the lower-angle sun, provides consistent warmth.

These elements, along with high-R-value insulation, help the house stay comfortable through the year, a tough task in a region where the temperature veers from zero to over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. “Often when we talk about sustainability we focus on the gadgetry, what makes things feasible off grid,” Moffitt says. “But to me there are more interesting things in passive design that rely on the available sun and wind.” An eight-panel solar array does chip in significantly, generating all the electricity the house needs.

Moffitt’s ideas resonated with Treanor, who is nearing retirement from her job at an engineering firm and who has a long-standing interest in environmental issues. “I wanted just enough for me—something simple and gracious, not ostentatious,” she says. “From the beginning, the premise was a house that minimized impact on the environment. We wanted the farming activity to carry on as before all around the house.” And it does; Treanor leased her land to a nearby farmer, who grows different crops there each year. This year it’s the corn that grows right up to the house and the wooden walkway.

Looking outside is what Treanor loves most about the place: deer in the field, bald eagles in the trees, yellow finches on the clothesline, and her neighbors “tilling the land, harvesting as the seasons roll around.” With that, she says, “I’ve always felt at peace.”

Small Victory

When building such a modest structure in a large landscape, designer and client often had to defend their vision to their collaborators. “We knew this house was going to be for Maggie and she would live there alone,” Moffitt says. “But people are always projecting for future resale. Putting in the smallest size of anything—to any subcontractor, it’s just not reasonable.” This is why Nick Treanor—a philosophy professor—selected all the mechanical and electrical systems. “When you do things yourself, you learn that there are a lot of myths floating in the building industry,” Moffitt says. “If you go to the source and talk to manufacturers, you learn that many things that supposedly won’t work are entirely feasible.”

Look Out

Though the house is only 925 square feet, Moffitt argues that it feels much larger, for which she credits three factors: its visual connections to the outdoors, its open spaces, and its simple interior-design language. “There’s not a single place where you’re not aware of the larger landscape,” Moffitt says. “The double-height living room is such a generous space that it feels big.” As for the interior detailing, “In contemporary construction you have a layered approach to materials. Everything is on top of something else. We tried to avoid that.” Indeed, the house’s materials are few and hardy: polished concrete, maple, and Douglas fir, and white walls with a few bold accents of green and blue.

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