Open-Concept Lakeside Cabin
Buying a remote patch of Kootenay Lake’s sublime shoreline secures one couple an ultimate escape from the city’s hurly-burly (and one of the country’s finest patio views, too).
The idea was to get away. Have a place that could accommodate visitors, sure, but find a site far enough off the beaten track that only the people who count would bother coming. Back in 1996, Carol and Dick Johnson bought a lot with 300 feet of frontage on Kootenay Lake. The neighbours were invisible behind dense stands of forest. Across the water: green, undeveloped hillside. Carol’s brother, Jeremy Sturgess (who happens to be an acclaimed architect), set them up with a small cottage at the property’s edge; from that base, the Calgary couple got used to the remote landscape while on trips away from their historic 6,000-square-foot Mount Royal mansion. Carol explored the base of the site, discovered sheets of horizontal slate, and decided that, long ago, this was the edge of the continent, the crust of Pangaea. When the couple finally retired in 2006, Sturgess handed them a second building on Kootenay Lake, a full-time escape from the bustle of the city. At 3,000 square feet, the Johnson residence is half the size of their Calgary home, but it hardly feels like a compromise. Maybe that’s because the vast view of the lake from their kitchen window has been so effectively incorporated.
The most striking feature in this home (aside from its remoteness) must be the loggia. Don’t fret if you’ve not heard the term; loggias usually appear in the residences of Italian nobility. Imagine a square room with one wall blown out, exposing the folk inside to breezes and an unencumbered view. For this contemporary update of the 17th-century notion, Sturgess finished the entire recess in cedar and stained it black to contrast the aluminum that covers the rest of the house’s exterior. Inside the loggia, a ceramic-topped table is ringed by a team of mod Saarinen chairs. Al fresco dining is a regular pleasure here (rain or shine).
Entering the home from the loggia, one moves through a sliding-glass wall into the kitchen. (On summer days, it stays open.) Naturally, the view remains paramount but now it’s tempered, framed. The house faces west and so gets an intense blast of sun each afternoon. Rather than expose inhabitants to a greenhouse-scale wall of glass (as so many architects in this position would have), Sturgess built a shelf in the living room that lowers the ceiling a few feet to partly shade the room. The round column supporting the shelf is made of a laminated wood system called Parallam—a mille-feuille of aspen veneers bonded with adhesive. This creates a slight plywood look, which lends a hint of “raw cabin” to this otherwise highly finished space. (Since the construction was a DIY family project, building materials needed to be kept simple.) While the Johnsons escaped here together, that doesn’t mean they won’t occasionally want to escape from each other, too.
Sturgess made sure to provide respite from the mainly open plan. “I wanted a high space, but also to break things down so the scale and the view could work at an intimate level.” Take the living room, where the couple’s extensive art collection (vibrant paintings by Albertans, largely) resides: across a polished concrete floor, the hearth and the living room are centred by a long, cherry-red Frank sofa—but a private nook around the corner of the living room offers a solo daydreaming seat, with a picture window that frames the lake like another piece of artwork. All that solitude, the deliberate remoteness the home allows for, does get washed aside at least once a year. Every August long weekend, the Johnsons’ three children invite friends to camp out on the property. The house is surrounded by a tent city and a crowd of 100 tromps through. Those three days of partying remind the Johnsons why they spent a decade planning their gracious retreat.