Growing Upward and Outward, a Cabin Expansion Mirrors the Trees

By Lindsay J. Warner / Photos by Loukas Yiacouvakis
The shape of a tree’s canopy inspires the expansion of a ramshackle cabin in Quebec.

Landscape architect Suzanne Rochon spent more than two years searching for an isolated weekend getaway close to her home in Montreal. Upon discovering five densely wooded acres with an old lumberjack’s shed in the Eastern Townships region in 2002, Suzanne says she "fell in love with the land and nearly forgot to visit the shack." No wonder. The rough-sided structure had just one window and a Dutch-style barn door for light. It had electricity, but no running water. It was also strewn with items discarded by the hunters who occasionally used it. It was, in a word, "disgusting," as she remembers. 

By building upward and outward, YH2 Architecture added to a former lumberman’s shed without harming the nearby trees. 

By building upward and outward, YH2 Architecture added to a former lumberman’s shed without harming the nearby trees. 

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The new 1,300-square-foot home is tucked away in southeastern Quebec. 

The new 1,300-square-foot home is tucked away in southeastern Quebec. 

Suzanne spent the next 10 years working on the building, which was constructed on a concrete slab measuring 400 square feet. She added windows, a rain barrel, and a composting toilet and began removing dead trees to clear out a view of the nearby mountain, doing nearly all of the work herself. 

"The idea was to mirror the forest in our design without disturbing it in our execution." Marie-Claude Hamelin, architect

The pentagonal geometry of the third story is echoed an Alumilex window. 

The pentagonal geometry of the third story is echoed an Alumilex window. 

While Suzanne treasured the tiny haven, it didn’t offer much in the way of modern conveniences for visiting friends. Yet she didn’t want to expand beyond the home’s original perimeter for fear of compromising the mix of spruce, hemlock, maple, birch, larch, and beech trees harboring it. So when she approached Loukas Yiacouvakis and Marie-Claude Hamelin, partners at YH2 Architecture, in 2012, she was unyielding on just one point: The renovation must not exceed the existing footprint. Clearly, the only way forward was upward. For Hamelin, that meant looking to the surrounding forest for ideas. 

The addition rises above the original shack's 400-square-foot concrete foundation, which is partially visible in the living room. A Cricket patio chair by Hershy Way is used for indoor seating opposite a Morsø wood-burning stove. 

The addition rises above the original shack's 400-square-foot concrete foundation, which is partially visible in the living room. A Cricket patio chair by Hershy Way is used for indoor seating opposite a Morsø wood-burning stove.