A Canadian Couple’s Luminous Home Draws From Midcentury Tradition

A Canadian Couple’s Luminous Home Draws From Midcentury Tradition

By Mandi Keighran
Influenced by the Case Study Houses and Frank Lloyd Wright, Chevalier Morales weaves a riverside dwelling into its bucolic setting.

Building a new home is often the culmination of many years spent planning—but for a Montreal couple with two young children, it was something of an accident. The duo had no plans to move from their suburban home, nor had they ever envisioned building their own residence. However, when they discovered a site along the Rivière des Mille Îles on the outskirts of Laval, Quebec, the couple decided to embark on a journey to create their dream home in the location.

"With its mature white pines and open views of the river, the site is blessed with exceptional qualities," says architect Sergio Morales. "The presence of a natural clearing bathed [in] a delicate, natural light [offered] the optimal location for the residence." 

With no preconceived ideas of what they wanted to build, the owners approached award-winning architecture firm Chevalier Morales with a simple brief for their home. They wanted the residence to engage with the surrounding site delicately, and they also asked for the home to include four garage spaces and a guest suite.

The position of the garage creates a clear axis that marks the main entrance to the residence. It follows the same axis as the preexisting access road, which allowed for the architects to mitigate impact on the site and surrounding landscape.

"The clients approached us with a scrapbook of images, predominantly from midcentury-modern architecture and interior design, which imbued the essence of their dream house," reveals Stephan Chevalier, principal at Chevalier Morales alongside Sergio Morales. "Understanding their passion for the site and the positive aspects of the suburban lifestyle, we developed this idea of reinterpreting the midcentury architectural codes to [make] a new comment about today’s suburban lifestyle."

A double-height glass wall looks out onto the home’s courtyard entrance.

This reinterpretation of midcentury-modern design principles is evidenced in the topography of the home’s ground floor and ceilings, as well as through its built-in timber furniture and masonry veneers. The expansive carport also references the 1950s relationship between the automobile and the suburban world.

The sunken living room features a multifunctional piece of built-in furniture that integrates a sofa, sound system, and television, and also contains a "secret door" that leads to a wine cellar. "[We incorporated this] as a clin d’oeil to the midcentury tradition of built-in work stations and bookshelves," says Morales. 

The home—known as Residence de l’Isle—is designed as a perfect square with two courtyards that extrude from the interior gathering areas. The open-air spaces bring natural light into the heart of the residence and integrate the backyard and swimming pool. Meanwhile, a large, metal-clad beam creates a threshold between the surrounding landscape and the indoor/outdoor living areas, which span a total of 10,000 square feet.

The pool was purposefully constructed close to the indoor living spaces in order to contribute to the interior ambiance. The material palette was informed by the color of the surrounding trees—clay brick for the walls, wood for the soffits, and stone for the flooring.

"We imagined that the pool could function year-round," says Chevalier. "In winter, [it] creates an interesting contrast with the whiteness of the snow." 

The architects designed the outdoor courtyards to "define the internal geometry of the house," Morales explains.

The left side of the pool features a terrace and a large outdoor kitchen, while the right side includes suspended lighting and the changing rooms. The masonry screen—which is inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian period—allows for a dynamic display of light and shadows on the terrace. 

At the narrowest section of the building, the entrance to the Residence de l’Isle opens up to a spectacular view of the river. "It was designed this way to emphasize the feeling of being constantly surrounded by the exterior gardens, and to bring the river closer to the house," says Chevalier.

The entrance to the home features a direct view of the rear courtyard and garden. "We were inspired by the Case Study Houses and some of Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian homes," reveals Chevalier. "The relationship between the interior and exterior gardens was [something we] carefully studied."

The entrance to the Residence de l’Isle is planted with large coniferous trees.

The home’s open kitchen and dining areas connect to a sunken living space with built-in timber furniture, all of which look out over the river through a wide, glass-paneled wall. On the upper level, a glass mezzanine offers additional views of the scenery and breaks up the horizontality of the home.

The home was designed with special attention to midcentury modernist ideals with a focus on the use of public and private spaces, as well as the relationship between interiors and exteriors. The common living spaces are spread out perpendicular to the river which creates a strong link with the landscape. 

The stairs that connect the main level to the mezzanine appear to float weightlessly without any visible support.

A suspended fireplace on the mezzanine level contributes to the overall ambiance of the space, which was designed to feel removed from the other communal living areas.

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While the structure was initially designed as a single-story residence, the architects decided to incorporate elements such as the lowered lounge area and upstairs pavilion to "create a variety of spatial experiences" throughout the home. 

"The ground floor becomes a topography that generates various perceptions as you move through it," Morales explains. The interior levels are connected by a dramatic white-steel staircase that is enclosed by a brass screen, which brings an element of tactile warmth to the otherwise minimal interior.

The brass staircase was one of the costliest elements of the build. "It was worth investing in [because]  it contributes to defining the ambiance of the house in its two most important rooms—the living and dining [areas]," Chevalier states. 

The primary and guest suites are situated on opposite corners of the floor plan, which offers a high level of privacy in both spaces.

The bathroom features timber cabinetry and a natural-stone floor, which echoes the material palette used throughout the rest of the home.

Sustainability was also a key aspect of the project, which was completed in 2019. The architects made an effort to conserve as many existing trees on the site as possible, and some of the rooftop areas were also landscaped to offer a temperate environment on the glass mezzanine level. In addition, geothermal wells provide heating and ventilation for the residence.

One of the architects’ main challenges was to maintain the site’s white pine trees. As a result, the construction made use of sophisticated excavation and tree-conservation techniques. This also ensured that there was minimal disturbance to the riverfront during the build in 2019. 

"My favorite part of [this] project is the simplicity of the square and how we managed to generate a rich, complex, and luminous space within it," says Morales. "The clients are also very enthusiastic—in their own words, they pinch themselves everyday on how privileged they are to live in such a house." 

The rigid geometry of the home sits in pleasing contrast to the enveloping natural landscape.

The Residence de I’Isle’s interior and exterior living spaces take up a total of 10,000 square feet.

A peek at the main floor plan for the Residence de I’Isle, which was inspired by midcentury modernism. 

Chevalier Morales designed the Residence de I’Isle to incorporate a variety of spatial experiences on the ground floor.

A look at a cross section of the Residence de I’Isle from the street to the river.

A cross section floor plan for the Residence de I’Isle by Chevalier Morales.

Related Reading:

Escape to the Woods in These Sustainable, Community-Focused Canadian Cabins 

A Family Retreat in Quebec Gets a Striking White Addition

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Stephan Chevalier and Sergio Morales, Chevalier Morales / @chevaliermorales

Builder/General Contractor: Steve St. Laurent, St. Laurent Construction

Structural Engineer: Thibault Lefort, Latéral

Civil Engineer: Gabriel Pilon, Gravitaire

Landscape Design: Karine Durocher, Fabrique de Paysages

Photographer: Adrien Williams

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