How do you get huge wooden beams up a steep hill?
If you’re Frank White, you strip away the body, dashboard and seats of an old VW Beetle, then hook up the chassis to a gas-powered winch to create the ultimate cargo-cart. That – plus the next 200 to 300 weekends hammering the rest of the chalet together – got 18 Maplecrest Court ready for entertaining the Horseshoe Valley crowd by the late-1970s.
“We would go up, lay the floor, my wife and myself,” remembers the 77-year-old, a self-confessed “putterer” who retired from a career in electronics a decade ago. “We sort of had a rule: we’d work until 11 o’clock, then we’d ski for the morning and moving into the afternoon, then clean up and head back to Toronto.”
Nice work if you can get it, eh? But with that oh-so-close ski hill framed by the chalet’s enormous floor-to-ceiling windows, who can blame them for nipping away early?
“It was a love project right from the very beginning,” Mr. White says.
You can still feel the love in all 2,000 square feet, by the way, since nothing has changed over the past 35 years. Enter through a front door decorated with bold geometric panels into a generous foyer: On your left is a big laundry room (with washer and dryer built right into the groovy lime-green countertop); on the right is a large bathroom (with matching flower-power wallpaper and flooring) that includes a sauna and a suit of armour (Why not?). Flush the toilet and you’ll hear one of many sound effects (Mr. White, also an electronics hobbyist, rigged the lever to a looped tape). Directly ahead is a stair to a pair of bedrooms separated by a half-level landing with copper-clad closet; one more flight and you’re in the pièce de résistance, a light-filled space with kitchen, dining room and a sunken living room with windows so tall you can stargaze from the sofa.
That built-in, burnt-orange sofa (built by Mr. White), custom-fabricated, suspended triangular fireplace (sketched by Mr. White), swanky orange swag lights and white shag carpet give the place a kind of “Matt Helm” or Hugh Hefner vibe, but with a sense of humour: When a visitor outside hits the doorbell, a mask on the wall beside the living room stair opens its mouth and “speaks” one of four phrases (again, the whimsy of the electronics-obsessed owner at work).
Up another flight, and it’s a stop at the floor-to-ceiling wine rack, a lounge chair in the cozy den or into the master bedroom, notable for its large, pie-slice window.
Speakers are hidden in the sauna, behind the couch, and a host of other places: “At that time, you might remember it was quadraphonic sound,” explains Mr. White, “so there were speakers in each corner of every room to get that sort of effect.”
The whole thing began around 1973. Knowing Mr. White needed a place to “hammer and bang and get away from it all” because of the stressful nature of his work, the future Mrs. White suggested they buy a property with an old barn. While skiing at Horseshoe Valley one weekend, they stumbled upon “one of the last available” lots for sale, says Mr. White, so they purchased it, but didn’t build right away.
The next two years were spent clipping inspirational images from Architectural Digest and other sources. Eventually, they contacted A. Duncan Green, a Toronto architect who’d done interesting work out west and in Latin America.
“I think Frank Lloyd Wright is the author of the remark, ‘Give me an impossible site and I will give you architecture,’” laughs the 74-year-old Mr. Green, thinking back to the day he and the Whites sat on top of the steep site they were about to make habitable. “I said ‘You’re crazy, it’ll never fly,’” he continues. “But I’ve got to give Frank credit, he built it … he never backs down: Once there’s a bone in his teeth, he’s gone.”
“It took about 20 minutes to do some sketching,” Mr. White adds. “He showed us the sketch and he said ‘Is that what you had in mind?’ and we said ‘That’s it, go ahead.’”
The result was – and still is – a stunning piece of architecture “generated by the cliff-side” with “a bunch of crazy trusses on the top” and a “maze of staircases” on the inside, says the architect. To further enhance the pavilion-like quality of the structure, light fixtures were strategically placed near the roofline: “We exaggerated the lighting just to make it a little bit showy,” explains Mr. Green, “great big spheres of lighting to show the building off … I hope they’re still there,” he adds.
They are. And the furniture. And don’t forget the VW-cart’s baby brother, built beside the exterior stair to bring appliances and other heavy items up the hill, but used as a carrier of wine, beer and groceries ever since. “People would always want to ride up and ride down on it,” laughs Mr. White. With the chalet currently for sale, Mr. White hopes future owners will appreciate the quirks and silliness that have defined life here for his family all these years. With pretty much all of the furniture and décor included as part of the $449,900 price tag, that should be easy.
What won’t be easy, however, is letting go: “It’s like selling a piece of your soul,” Mr. White said.