The listing: 148 Ivy Cres., Ottawa
Asking price: $1,760,000
Taxes: $10,960 (2017)
Lot Size: 33 ft. by 96.29 ft.
Agents: John King, License Partner, Engel & Völkers Ottawa Central
The back story
When Vivien Frenkel and her husband were searching for a new home, they weren’t entirely sure what they wanted. But they knew what they didn’t want.
“Most of the places we looked at required a lot of gutting and renovations and they weren’t appealing to us,” she said.
This was back around 2010 and Ms. Frenkel was living in a traditional townhouse in Ottawa’s Sandy Hill neighbourhood. She knew that she wanted her next home to have a different layout plan, but that was about it.
Then they visited a friend’s house, who happened to be an architect. And his modern home opened their eyes to new possibilities.
That friend was Rick Shean, who is now the principal at Shean Architects but at the time was working for prominent Ottawa architect Christopher Simmonds. After Ms. Frenkel and her husband asked Mr. Shean to help them design their new home, he started to tag along on their search.
“At every place we looked at, Rick came and did a light study to determine if the lot or the house was good enough in terms of getting maximum natural light,” said Ms. Frenkel.
Eventually, they decided on a lot with a small home in Ottawa’s New Edinburgh neighbourhood in 2011. She and her husband bought with the goal to tear down the existing structure and build fresh with Mr. Shean and RND Construction.
The design was a collaborative process, with Ms. Frenkel remembering Mr. Shean presenting her with a couple of options for all of the finishes and features. He also provided her with sage advice on the flow and layout of the home.
“I was considering a sunken living room originally,” said Ms. Frenkel, adding that the intention with this new home was to grow old in it. “And I remember Rick saying, ‘Well people might trip and break a hip, so I wouldn’t recommend that.’”
But perhaps the most striking element of the home was introduced by Mr. Shean: the exterior barn wood cladding.
At the time, Mr. Shean had been looking for inspiration with respect to incorporating warmth into minimalist homes and had found some European examples that blended reclaimed wood with a modern aesthetic. So he proposed the idea to Ms. Frenkel, explaining that the wood would serve a practical purpose too.
“I believe that because there is an inherent history to the wood, it helped the project nestle into the streetscape,” said Mr. Shean in an email. “It allowed it to mitigate the impact of a new modern element in the neighbourhood.”
Three of the four sides of the home are sheathed in this barn wood and it sets the tone for the inside, which features a lot of glass, large windows and open spaces.
For example, the first floor of the house has an open kitchen-living-dining room space with access to a courtyard that is off to the side of the house, behind the carport. There is also a media room with two-storey height thanks to the cathedral ceiling. The second floor, meanwhile, has three bedrooms – each with an ensuite bathroom – and an office that overlooks the media room below.
The lower level has a guest suite (with its own full bathroom), plus more work spaces.
The outside spaces were also redone during the build. In addition to the courtyard (which has a retractable awning), the backyard is shaded once the leaves burst forth and includes a deck with locked storage underneath it.
“The front of our house is like our city home and the rear is like a country home,” Ms. Frenkel said.
As with Mr. Shean’s home, Ms. Frenkel’s house has a minimal aesthetic: It’s entirely painted white on the inside and the edges are clean, with bulky items, such as the ductwork, hidden in the ceiling. For their agent, John King, it’s a design philosophy that reflects his client’s personalities perfectly.
“They are not ‘bigger [is] better’ people,” Mr. King said. “They brought a minimalist mindset with high-quality finishes to this home.”
The minimalism design does allow for some flourishes – the ones Mother Earth provides. The use of windows was not just important though to showcase the natural beauty outside the home, but also to let light in, said Mr. Shean.
“I really love looking at how natural light moves through space and try to use this to create a consistent warmth and connection between spaces both exterior and interior,” he said.
Hidden behind the simplicity of the interior, though, are new mechanicals as this is a new build right down to the foundation. The home has also designed with environmental sustainability in mind and has been LEED platinum certified.
“Everything in terms of the infrastructure was really thoughtful,” said Mr. King. “Not from a glitter and sparkly side of things, but more in terms of an energy efficiency, blending with the neighbourhood and the architecture.”
When it was all done, Ms. Frenkel remembers feeling ‘love at first sight’ and decided to christen the home with a name: Zen Barn.
“It definitely has a zen feel about it,” she said
Ivy Cresent is located in Ottawa’s New Edinburgh neighbourhood, which is just a short distance from Rideau Hall (the Governor General’s residence) and about two kilometres away from the popular ByWard Market, itself just steps away from Parliament Hill.
In the past year, Ottawa’s real estate market has made strong gains, with a 16-per-cent increase in number of residential sales and an average increase of 6.8 per cent in residential sale prices.
One of the factors for its success was the even stronger growth seen in the Toronto market, said Mr. King.
“Ottawa picked up a little momentum because of that,” he said, explaining that people who were cashing out in Toronto turned to Ottawa, where the average home price in 2016 was $425,063.
When it came to pricing the Zen Barn, Mr. King took many factors into account, including comparable properties that sold in the area.
“That was coupled with the lot that was purchased about seven years ago for about $600,000,” he said. “Then we’ve looked at how much they invested in it and what they would need to sell it at to break even.”
They settled on $1.76-million, which would be considered a luxury home in the Ottawa market as its listing price lies within the top 10 per cent of the market.
Ms. Frenkel says she can’t name just one room that is her favourite. But one thing that all of her favourite spots share is the flood of light they get thanks to the giant windows.
“There are floor-to-ceiling windows in almost every room,” Ms. Frenkel said. “You never get the feeling that you’re in darkness.”
In particular, she said she loves the second-floor windows that offer a panorama of the crescent and a view of the University of Ottawa.
“Building this house – with all of the windows – is the best thing we ever did for mental health. The light, the openness, it’s wonderful,” Ms. Frenkel said, adding that she is going to deeply miss it.
“Every moment we’ve been in here has been superlative.”