Arriving by car, visitors pass between austere concrete pillars that bear the historic name of the property, Brigadoon. Up a driveway lined with tall pines and the new home built upon the shore of Lake Joseph in Muskoka comes into view.
The house hugs the ground. A single storey in height, it has low sloping roofs that float above two interconnected buildings. Their horizontality is accentuated by the rectilinear nature of the façade: a three-tone palette of grey fibreglass-reinforced concrete panels called Oko Skin. But details such as this, the warm Douglas fir roof beams and soffits, or the neat nook by the front door for storing firewood are forgotten as your eye and feet are drawn along the granite pathway towards and down a stone stairway under the house.
Yes, down the staircase and under the house. That is where on a fine spring morning I meet architect Peter Berton, partner with Toronto-based firm +VG Architects. We stand under cover of the building looking out at the lake while he explains that the main living space and the guest wing are divided into two buildings, which are joined by an expansive three season/screened room. And it is here, under this elevated screened room, that we discuss how visitors will wander and wonder as they pass down the stairway. Beneath is a wide patio or terrace, where the view opens up to the lake and the new boathouse. It is this terrace, its glorious views unencumbered by handrails or other paraphernalia, that Mr. Berton sees as being the heart of the property.
“It’s an outdoor room,” he enthuses, “a wonderful place to host guests, to entertain. And the great thing is they don’t even have to go into the house to access it. They enter down the steps from the rear of the house or across the bridge from the boathouse and lake.”
Arriving from either way guests are greeted by a large fireplace and massive rusticated granite chimney that dominates the centre of the entire home, its verticality a striking counterpoint to Mr. Berton’s otherwise strictly horizontal design.
The architect is so enthusiastic about the terrace and how the rest of the house is designed around it that it is difficult to pull him away and inside the home. Designed for a Toronto couple and their three adult children, the 4500-square-foot home is textbook “Peter Berton,” a style that is becoming widely known for its clean modern lines and almost maniacal attention to detail.
It was perhaps this obsessive pursuit of perfection that won him the commission for Brigadoon, thinks Mr. Berton. He was introduced to his clients by local contractor and long-time collaborator Greg Mannion, of Muskoka Classics.
“Greg thought of me because the clients are very particular; they are detail orientated; perfectionists,” Mr. Berton says. And the collaboration between, client, architect and builder has produced something very special.
Tall, heavy interior doors finished in riff sawn oak are set within hardwood linings that meet seamlessly with the wall. There are no trims to cloak a gap, no chance to hide imperfections, every lining must fit, every drywall joint be invisible. Similar attention is paid to often forgotten elements such as the heat registers, which are milled from the same material as the floor covering, whether it be hardwood or porcelain tile. Lighting is tucked neatly into the space between pairs of robust Douglas fir ceiling joists. While, the dressing rooms and twin bathrooms within the master suite are not carbon copies, which would have been so easy, but tailored to suit his and hers, according to their particular preferences.
However, while some might get bogged down by the minutiae of such detailing Mr. Berton is masterful in his ability to meld it into a house design that is certainly not short on statement. The main fireplace in the living room has both hearth and mantle cast from concrete, extending from a wall of formed concrete that seems to anchor the house to the Canadian Shield itself.
Intelligent use of natural light and lines of sight throughout the house give its occupants grand vistas of the lake, but also wonderfully framed views both within the house – such as the view from screen room, right through the living room and kitchen to the main entrance – and quirky snapshots of outside, including a wonderful picture window in the laundry room. Additionally, a row of clerestory windows allows the pink hues of the sunset to stream into the main living space; a simple but clever move that adds illuminated animation to evenings within the house.
But still Mr. Berton urges me to step outside once again. This time however, we sneak down a stairway hidden behind the fireplace, the concrete wall descending with us as we pass a small second kitchen – for use when entertaining on the terrace – and out “into” the heart of the home.
In the mid-afternoon sun, the view is still glorious and as I imagine a throng of friends gathered, sipping something cool in the summer sunshine, or cozily ensconced around the roar of a crackling fire, I have to agree with the architect that this terrace will be a real focal point. I feel envious of the real visitors to Brigadoon, as opposed to invited imposters such as myself. I envy the fun that they’ll have on this fabulous terrace whether arriving by boat or car. But then again, they’ll probably not have need to set foot in the house, whereas I got the grand tour!