This Modern Farmhouse in Quebec Will Make You Do a Double Take

This Modern Farmhouse in Quebec Will Make You Do a Double Take

By Mandi Keighran
Thomas Balaban Architect (TBA) radically updates a traditional farmhouse and adds a cedar-clad addition that charms through contrast.

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.

Building the addition upward instead of outward allowed for more space and better views without excavating across the hilltop.  

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." 

Before the renovation by TBA, the traditional gabled farmhouse had a 40-year-old, single-story addition that mimicked the style of the original building.

The brickwork of the original gabled farmhouse was painted white, referencing the local vernacular, and a new corrugated metal roof was added.

The corrugated metal roofing is a subtle reference to the many sheds found on farms in the local area.

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 box-shaped extension plays off the familiar farmhouse typology, creating a series of intriguing contrasts. 

The architects thought of the silver cedar cladding to the addition as "an exterior surface, skin, or bark" that wraps around the minimal cube form. 

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 ground-floor social spaces open up to a timber deck, which is used to extend the living room in warmer months.

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."

A band of windows wraps around the social spaces, uniting the contrasting forms and looking out to views of Brome Lake Valley and Mount Sutton. 

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."

LED lighting playfully highlights the zig-zag form created where the timber stairs met the wall.

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.

A window in the bathroom frames the surrounding forest. These smaller windows have been designed to be read as two-dimensional artworks that are part of the wall.

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. 

Painted steel panels frame the fireplace in the dining room and make the structure seemingly disappear, leaving only the fire visible. These steel panels also mirror the horizontal form and height of the kitchen wall it is facing. 

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 master bedroom is located on the upper level of the addition, while the other bedrooms sit in the former roof space of the original house. The windows frame views of specific trees on the site.

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 all-white kitchen—as well as a bathroom and stair to the basement—forms a central core around which living spaces are arranged on the ground floor. The dramatic, double-height space echoes the form of the original building and makes the living space feel expansive and open.

The sculptural folds and the connections between various elements—such as where the kitchen/dining room wall meets the sloped ceiling—have been highlighted with bands of LED coves that provide lighting during meals.  

"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."

First floor plan of Knowlton Residence by Thomas Balaban Architect (TBA).

Second floor plan of Knowlton Residence by Thomas Balaban Architect (TBA).

Related Reading:

20 Modern American Farmhouses That Update Tradition

A Modern Farmhouse Recalls Old-Time Americana

Project Credits: 

Architect of Record: Thomas Balaban Architect / @wearetba

Builder: Construction Laplume

Structural Engineer: Consultants Structural OV Inc

Cabinetry Design: Pure Cuisine

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