It all began as a guest house. When a St. Sauveur, Quebec family purchased a 1960s Swiss chalet adjacent to their home, they expected it to become a place to host friends, visitors and their children’s expanding families. But when they contacted Toronto designer (and TAXI cofounder) Jane Hope to upgrade the chalet, she didn’t see a guest house. She saw an opportunity.
“I recall we stood side by side looking at the house,” Hope says. “To me it was simply an obstacle to the spectacular view. I said, ‘I think you should tear it down and start over.’ The owner was quiet. We continued looking at the house for a moment. Then he said, ‘How much?’ “
Hope’s instincts, of course, proved correct: St. Sauveur is located 60 kilometres north of Montreal in the Laurentian Mountains, a rugged region filled with ski hills and sweeping, conifer-studded valleys. So she proposed an entirely new structure, retaining the Swiss chalet’s foundation and frame, while adding a wing that sits three steps below the original house, perched on the lip of a valley.
Hope’s design created a T-shaped structure with two different ceiling heights: the original chalet has eight-foot ceilings, while the addition’s ceilings rise to 11 feet. “It was important to make sense of this step down, the two different ceiling heights and how the windows would line up on the outside,” Hope says.
From its exterior, Mont Suisse’s rustic-design motif is evident. The home is clad in cedar shingles – Hope told her clients the facade would age more like a “tweed jacket than silk blouse” – and standing steel, a nod to the metallic spires common to Quebec churches. And though “the term ‘modern barn’ is so overused,” Hope adds that nearby barns were strong inspirations.
“In the immediate vicinity, especially toward Lachute, there still stand some phenomenal historic barns. Some as large as 200 feet long and always featuring the typical disciplined row of square windows,” she says. “The intention was a purified contemporary interpretation of these historic, local influences.”
Visitors enter through a custom-made, extra-wide door by Jean-Yves Côté with Rocky Mountain Hardware; it was clad in rusted steel, another nod to agricultural buildings. (“The client worried it would look junky,” Hope says. “We went through a few rounds before arriving at a level of distressed that everyone was comfortable with.”) Upon stepping inside, the home’s contemporaneity takes hold: visitors enter a 15-foot-long, seven-foot-wide hall flanked by a cantilevered bench and deep closets. This is ski country, and the hallways provides ample space to shed gear.
Bedrooms flank the hallway, which guides users to a living space, where Mont Suisse’s breathtaking surroundings come into focus. A living room, a kitchen, and a dining sit at the centre of the home, which spreads across the original chalet and its stepped-down addition. Here, cabinetry was sourced from Montreal’s Denis Couture, a custom dining table was made by Treebone Design, and a sofa and ottoman came from Perez Furniture. Two suspension lights, Luceplan‘s Compendium and one custom-made by Robert Franco, hang over the living area. White-painted cedar ceilings run throughout, and hardwood and porcelain walls and flooring were provided by Stone Tile.
The extension’s windows, which soar up the length of the 11-foot ceiling, are triple-glazed – a feature that was important for the clients, who work in cosmetic dermatology. They keenly understood the beauty of natural light, but also its potential to damage the body.
Wide wooden beams, a nod to the home’s rustic roots, unify both levels. “The visual solution was also a structural solution,” Hope says. “A wide beam was required to carry the weight of the new enlarged opening between the two levels. The look of the beam married existing exposed beams in the extension, while in the original house the beam marks the beginning of a cathedral ceiling. “The intention is to make the two levels look deliberate.”
A second-storey bedroom and ensuite also detach from the living area, accessible via a glass-wrapped staircase from Terrebonne’s Centre de l’escalier Signature.
While one of the living space’s walls is defined by glazing, another features a stone fireplace, which Hope salvaged from the original chalet. A master bedroom, running the width of the building, is hidden behind this wall, along with a bathroom. The custom touches – which Hope says her clients supported in pursuit of a “holistic vision,” which also allowed her to style the project down to the furniture – continue here, with built-in cabinets and a walk-in closet flanking the master suite’s bed.
Hope commissioned the bed’s quilt from Red Barn and paired it with wool blankets from a local farmer. “While the architecture and design are quiet and rigorous in the organization of elements, I wanted to inject some whimsy that would be reminiscent of old chalets in the furnishings,” she says.
Hope says that, throughout the project, she used a limited palette – an “attempt to reduce everything to essentials so there is a sense of peace and quiet that allows the view to breathe.” Indeed, Mont Suisse is no longer an obstacle to a spectacular view but a warm retreat that embraces it.