In Nova Scotia, A New Getaway in an Old Schoolhouse

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Brian MacKay-Lyons’ Shobac property in Kingsburg is known for its contemporary yet rustic seaside cottages. Now, the renowned architect has added to the landscape with an 1830 school building, reinvented as a simple, modern retreat.

To sleep under the eaves of a restored one-bedroom schoolhouse by night and to explore the land where Samuel Champlain first landed in the area some 400 years ago by day is as bucolic as it sounds: Sheep really do dot the horizon here.

Chebogue Schoolhouse is the latest addition to Halifax architect Brian MacKay-Lyons’ seaside encampment known as Shobac, located on Nova Scotia’s south shore in Kingsburg, near to popular tourist destinations Lunenburg and Chester. Shobac, however, is a world away from any town, a place to commune with land, sea and sky.

The architect purchased the original property in the late 1980s, re-cleared the agricultural fields by hand, and began reinvigorating this once bustling fishing port. Today, a series of spare, rustic cottages are available as vacation rentals along with a grand refurbished octagonal barn, and a newly built studio for larger gatherings.

Built in 1830, the schoolhouse was originally in the architect’s hometown of Chebogue, Nova Scotia, before it was slated for demolition. MacKay-Lyons purchased the building, which was then carefully dismantled and rebuilt on site using the original hand-hewn frame, windows and trim and then clad in new clapboard and cedar befitting of the area’s style.

Inside, the building awakens as a two-bedroom cabin, but with all the amenities of a luxurious new-build. Horizontal lines dominate, from the extra-wide pine planks on the floor to the strip-wood on the kitchen cabinets, the staircase and the sculptural, barnboard-inspired partition in the large master bedroom. In the latter three elements, a bold matte-black finish delivers the striking contrast between old and new. Minimal and modern, the interior is pared back to give way to the view outside, framed by the mullioned windows and large doors, where dozens of school children once passed through each day.

Known for a deep connection to regional architecture and history, MacKay-Lyons continues an ongoing conversation with the area through the Chebogue Schoolhouse, which looks from the outside as if it has always been on this seaside farm. Since it opened last June, it has been available for weekly rentals year-round.

His firm is currently working on another addition to the property slated to open this spring, called Point House, which will in all likelihood fit perfectly into this community where past seamlessly meets present.

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