stats Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels


  This site         Tips

  The Web Google


  Where to Find It

Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business



Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store

Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business




  Arts & Entertainment



   Headline Index

 Other Sections

  Births & Deaths






  Facts & Arguments




  Real Estate









  Food & Dining




  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...


   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site



  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us



 Web Site

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


Two houses sit quietly on the land
How a pair of homes in rural Ontario became contenders for the Ontario Association of Architects' Design Excellence Award

Email this article Print this article
Friday, April 13, 2018 – Page H1

MULMUR, ONT. -- It matters little that the township of Mulmur, Ont., has boundaries; that it's west of Barrie, south of Collingwood or north of Orangeville is irrelevant.

No, it's the slow rising and dipping of the land, the winding concession roads, the rocky edges of stubborn Niagara Escarpment, the gullies, streams and wildflowers that count. "Unobtainium" in the city, these allow architects to unshackle, slow down and dream.

But with such a gently unfolding landscape, one should use caution: "I've thought about this," award-winning, veteran architect Ian MacDonald says quietly.

"I think it's partly because of the relatively undramatic character of the landscapes that we have to be more careful to understand the subtle nuances." With mountains or seascape backdrops, he continues, "you just put a box and you're done."

For his recently completed House in Mulmur Hills 3, the answer didn't "jump out" at him. Rather, it unravelled over conversations with his clients, over motorbike trips to the 80-hectare site to walk through it and over a friendly debate about the "natural human inclination" to place the dwelling at the highest point: "Every owner I've ever met wanted to put their house there because you'd have a better view," he says with a laugh.

But, in this part of Canada, surrounded by three weatherwhipping Great Lakes, you'd also get blown away. So he suggested the "bottom corner" of a big meadow and his clients agreed.

It's telling that his favourite photograph of the home shows nothing but the line of a flat roof - and a green one at that - just barely visible over tall grasses. What's below?

Who lives in such a place?

This is a house of secrets.

Roll along the long driveway and plantings (which Mr. MacDonald just repurposed from other areas) shield one's view; dip down into the home's courtyard and be greeted by the "sacred" pile of firewood and a hint of escarpment just over yonder; enter into the "elegant mudroom" - the client wanted both an "elegant entrance" and a mudroom - and find a wood stove and an edited view of that escarpment; look up and one spies the hanging pots and pans that reveal the kitchen and suggest a living area just beyond.

"So all of these things are just little opportunities to pause and see things, and have the subtle landscape of the meadow withheld as a view." It is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's "mystery of the L-shaped room," which engages the imagination by not revealing everything at once, put directly into action.

Walk up into the living room, however, and the long curtain wall finally reveals the breathtaking, rolling meadow where endangered Bobolinks build their nests and the owners wait to trim until the season is over.

Even when tucked into the inglenook beside the Rumford fireplace where "you can spy on a rabbit or deer," there's yet more home hidden away: The cozy master bedroom sits at the home's prow and an entirely separate wing contains the children's bedrooms and noisy TV room.

A contender for a Design Excellence Award from the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) this year, House in Mulmur Hills 3 is a delightful composition in heavy steel, concrete, big timber beams, and glass that sits as light as a feather on the landscape.

A 20-minute drive north, superkul's Compass House sits almost as lightly on its 80-hectare site. But instead of wearing Mr. MacDonald's suit of corrugated galvalume to reflect the sky, architect Meg Graham has chosen cement panels painted cloud-white for her client's peaked-roof home, which reads as a series of rural outbuildings (main house with bedrooms; separate wing for a family room and utility rooms; and a garage building).

Built in phases since 2010, Ms. Graham says her office was tasked with providing a "warm place" for their clients to land after skiing, hiking and spending quality time together. And the idea of a compass, she adds, was her client's also: "It opens itself up in all directions and really takes advantage of the views and the wind orientation ... in the summer, all of these big glass windows open up and there are insect screens that drop from the ceiling." Indeed, when opened about 20 per cent of the main building disappears, to be replaced by connections to a short patio to the north and a long "dog-run" to the south, which includes a totem-like outdoor fireplace and barbecuing area.

And instead of bringing nature inside via exposed beams, as Mr. MacDonald has done, superkul has given Compass House an interior horizonline of nine feet: everything below is knotty-wood panelling, everything above is creamy drywall. "That's all about the integration with the landscape," Ms. Graham explains. "The wood, especially in summertime, it ties it into the trees ... and above that, it's all about the sky."

Real sky is welcomed in via skylights; one in particular illuminates a cozy loft/office over the master bedroom and would make for a great place to park a telescope.

"For me, it's a kind of spirituality," she says. "That there's this connection to the cosmos and to the landscape within the house and you can enjoy it on your own or with a whole group of people but there are always these expansive and, by turns, these more intimate moments where it's just you and that little skylight and looking up and seeing a bird go by."

Built to LEED Gold standards, the main building "slims itself" at both ends so that it doesn't seem so long and the family room wing tapers at one side. In that family room wing, walls are covered in a riot of heavilypatterned plywood: "They really wanted something that was different from the rest of the house and also something that was fairly robust ... it has the same effect as a figured wallpaper."

Back in the main building, past the glass-doored fireplace - "We don't put in open fireplaces any more" - a long hallway connects together two guest rooms, a washroom, and two rooms with multiple bunk beds.

Set at the end of the old farm lane, Compass House, too, eschews the high ground in order to be nestled into the landscape. Viewed from a distance, the buildings are delicate, dream-like, almost fragile-looking; inside they're hearty, welcoming and familiar. That's why it, too, was a contender for an OAA Award this year. (Neither house won in its catagory at the awards, announced last week.) "The test for a piece of good design to me is a sense of inevitability about its final form," Mr. MacDonald says. "It should look like it was always meant to be there, and it should be there, and there's something right about that."

Associated Graphic

Compass House by architect Meg Graham was designed to take advantage of the views on the 80-hectare site.

Designed by architect Meg Graham, Compass House, features cloud-white cement panels for the roof, which reflects the sky. Ms. Graham aimed for both the exterior and interior of the house to intergrate with the surrounding landscape.

Compass House, built by architectural firm superkul, is located on the Niagara Escarpment in Mulmur, Ont.

For House in Mulmur Hills 3, architect Ian MacDonald suggested setting the main building at bottom of a big meadow, which had the effect of hiding the home.

The interior of House in Mulmur Hills 3 was designed to be subtle and lead to opportunities for people to pause and see things.

Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Rex_Murphy Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.


7-Day Site Search

Breaking News

Today's Weather


Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes

Where Manley is going with his first budget



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
Margaret Wente arrow
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game

Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
Mathew Ingram arrow
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
Andrew Willis arrow

Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
Eric Duhatschek arrow
Allan Maki arrow
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
 The Arts

John Doyle arrow
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
Johanna Schneller arrow

Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
Paul Knox arrow
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
William Thorsell arrow

Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page