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Home of the Week: A prismatic house in the Mulmur hills

THE LISTING: 758029 2nd Line E., Mulmur Township, Ont.

ASKING PRICE: $975,000

LAND SIZE: 1.99 acres

TAXES: Not yet assessed

AGENT: Grace Franco-Lloyd, broker, and Greg Lloyd, salesperson, Sally Franco Real Estate Inc. Brokerage

Gregory Ryback wanted to build"a country house with a twist" in Mulmur Township. (Sean O'Reilly)

For many Torontonians, the land on either side of Highway 400 north of the Greater Toronto Area is a bit of a mystery. Too many of us only know what we can see as we zip through the rolling hills south of Barrie, Ont.

But Gregory Rybak, president of Millworks Custom Manufacturing, started to explore Mulmur Township – about 50 kilometres north of Orangeville, Ont. – back in 2014 with a very specific mission in mind.

“I wanted to build a country house with a twist,” Mr. Rybak said.

The house's exterior features polished stainless steel, slick black siding and Cor-Ten steel. (Shane Fester)

The back story

The land around Mulmur – and specifically in the hamlet of Terra Nova, where Mr. Rybak decided to buy land – is bucolic and idyllic: large plots of land, narrow, winding side roads and alternating patches of forests and meadows.

“This area is a hidden gem,” realtor Greg Lloyd said. “It’s close to Wasaga Beach, Blue Mountain, Mad River Golf Club and the Bruce Trail for hiking.”

But it’s also quite close to Pearson Airport (80 km) and all of the major highways that connect into Toronto’s downtown core. In that way, Mr. Rybak sees this area of Ontario the perfect weekend retreat for city folk.

“This area gives people privacy from Toronto but it’s not Muskoka, with all of its traffic,” he said. “It’s even quiet here in the summer.”

But even though Terra Nova is truly a rural community, it’s not far from amenities. It’s equi-distance from Shelburne, Ont., where you’ll find grocery stores, and Creemore, Ont., with its restaurants and eponymous brewery.

One thing, though: You’re not likely to find in Terra Nova is a multitude of modern housing. But Mr. Rybak changed that with the help of architect Sean O’Reilly.

The house has two major sections: a garage and a two-storey living lodge. (Sean O'Reilly)

The house today

On a nearly two-acre piece of land, the pair built a prismatic modern home, with an exterior that features polished stainless steel, slick black siding and Cor-Ten steel (a steel designed to hold a rusted patina).

The house has two major sections: a garage that could fit three cars, a motorcycle and even a riding lawn mower; and a two-storey living lodge, with three bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms.

But it’s not just the modern exterior that makes this Mr. Rybak’s “country home with a twist.” It’s also the philosophy Mr. O’Reilly brought to the build.

“You find a lot of rural homes that are being built are like suburban houses that are plopped into a country setting,” Mr. O’Reilly said. “That doesn’t really work because they don’t engage the landscape.”

The tool Mr. O’Reilly used most to work with the landscape was the placement of windows. (Shane Fester)

So Mr. O’Reilly went about incorporating the surroundings in many ways. Firstly, the overall shape of the building is reminiscent of a local eatery, the Terra Nova Public House.

“So in terms of the overall form, it’s not going to scare people too much,” Mr. O’Reilly said. “It’s tipping its hat to fit in with the local culture.”

And instead of using a regular, boring downspout, he installed a chain that dangles off the front porch overhang.

“When the water flows down the chain … then it freezes up [in the winter], it’ll build up as ice on the chain and the whole thing becomes a sculpture,” Mr. O’Reilly explained.

But the tool Mr. O’Reilly used most to work with the landscape was the placement of windows.

“We were very conscious of making sure that the sun worked for us in the winter time and not against us in the summer time,” Mr. O’Reilly said.

The southern wall in the open-concept living and dining room space is entirely made out of windows that capture all of the light of a sun low in the horizon during the winter. (Shane Fester)

To do this, the southern wall in the open-concept living and dining room space is entirely made out of windows that capture all of the light of a sun low in the horizon during the winter. But in the summer, the angle of the sun is too high to pour an oppressive heat into the home.

Mr. O’Reilly also ensured the home had enough windows for “daylight harvest,” meaning the owners won’t have to turn on the lights much during the summer. And his design also features east-facing windows that are much larger than west side to compensate for the hot western light that floods into a home in the late afternoon.

Plus, the narrower western windows provide a bit more privacy on the side of the house that faces the road.

(Shane Fester)

Favourite features

But Mr. O’Reilly’s favourite window is on the second floor in the larger bedroom. It juts out over the eastern side of the home, providing a little ledge for knickknacks or a place to put your elbows while you gaze off at the expanse behind the home.

“All of the geometries in that window are very nice,” he said.

Mr. Rybak’s favourite space is the loft area that is directly above the kitchen on the second floor.

“I’d have a 90-inch couch on one side and a big-screen TV on the other and I’d travel the world without leaving the house if I lived here,” he said.

(Shane Fester)

He also loves the view from that space. And it allows for an appreciation of the living room-dining room on the first floor, with its wide-open space, vaulted 24-foot-9-inch ceilings and southern wall of windows, which show off a chunk of the Niagara Escarpment.

“It’s nice at this time of year because you can see through the trees and see the undulations of the hills,” Mr. O’Reilly said.

The loft space hints at the fact that even though it appears minimalist and simplistic at first glance, Mr. O’Reilly has buried a lot of intricacies into his design.

“You cannot understand the house from looking at it in any one direction,” he said. “It changes completely as you walk around it, as the sun travels through it and the seasons change.”

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