When a couple from Québec City, Canada, sought a second home to eventually become their primary residence, they bought a traditional, gabled farmhouse on a hilltop just outside the elegant Victorian village of Knowlton, in the Eastern Townships of Québec. They chose the property for its spectacular views, but wanted to renovate it to become larger, more open, and contemporary. Montreal-based firm Thomas Balaban Architect (TBA) took on the project, transforming the farmhouse into a striking white volume with a contrasting addition clad in weathered cedar timber.
The new addition replaces a 40-year-old, single-story extension to the farmhouse that mimicked the style of the original building. While the existing house was in relatively good physical condition, with just minor water infiltration and mice, it was quite compartmentalized and closed. "It offered the clients little opportunity to appreciate the view from the inside," says Balaban. "Especially in the winter months, when spending time in the garden is not possible."
Instead of continuing the style of the existing building, the clients and Balaban wanted to create distinct identities for the existing and new parts of the house, breaking them into individual forms. "The result is a balance between compositional harmony and contrast," says Balaban. "There is an interesting and charming awkwardness to the composition that we are very happy with."
The brick-walled volumes of the existing farmhouse were painted white, and a new corrugated metal roof was added. The two-story addition is clad in cedar boarding, charred and silvered to replicate weathered timber. The material palette was inspired by the township’s farmhouses and agricultural sheds—the timber cladding references old barns, the corrugated metal roofing references sheds, and painted brick and timber board is a common finish on older homes in the local area.
The two distinct forms are united with a band of windows on the ground floor that wrap around the living and dining spaces. "This window came out of a horizontal gesture drawn in elevation to connect the box and gable structures," says Balaban. "The gesture cuts into the gabled form while the box sits on top."
The glazed doors slide open, extending the living room onto the deck. "In the living room, an attempt was made to maximize the connection to the exterior," says Balaban. "In particular, we wanted to frame a specific view of Mount Sutton, rising out of the valley in the distance."
While this long, glazed section brings an expansive view of Brome Lake Valley and Mount Sutton into the living room, other windows in the home are more intimate vertical openings, each framing a specific view or tree. These windows also reference the couple’s art collection—each window is outlined with a thin, black aluminum frame, allowing the views to read as ever-changing pieces of artwork.
The ground floor is organized around a central service block containing the kitchen, bathroom, and a staircase to the basement, with wings that extend to the living room and the laundry/garage. The three bedrooms and a television room are all located on the upper level.
The master bedroom maintains its own identity in the cubed form of the addition, while the other rooms are arranged in the space that existed in former roof of the old house and garage.
The clients are avid art collectors, and they requested that the interior be predominantly white, providing a neutral canvas for their art collection. As a result, the interior finishes are kept minimal and neutral, while white oak timber flooring imbues the spaces with a sense of warmth. This approach also puts a focus on the framed views, allowing them to play a defining role in the interiors.
"The clients wanted a contemporary house with contemporary spaces—that was non-negotiable from the beginning," says Balaban. "Weaving the larger rooms and double-height space into the existing compact house involved some tricky structural diversion and acrobatics. In the end, we wanted that work to disappear and the spaces to be appreciated without being distracted by the articulation of how it all held together."
Builder: Construction Laplume
Structural Engineer: Consultants Structural OV Inc
Cabinetry Design: Pure Cuisine