Home on a ridge, and 25 acres of peace

Home on a ridge, and 25 acres of peace
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Mitchell Hubble/Mitchell Hubble/Modern Movement Creative

Ridge House, 395910 11th Line, Clarksburg, Ont.

Asking Price: $4,495,000

Taxes: N/A

Land Size: 25 acres

Agents: Kevin McLoughlin and Kerri-Ann Brownlee, Sotheby’s International Realty Canada

The backstory

For many years, avid cyclist David Houghton spent time peddling backroads and climbing hills around Collingwood, Ont. during family visits to the area.

After a decade or so of exploring the rural landscape near Georgian Bay, the Toronto-based creative director began to look for a plot of land where he could build a house surrounded by nature.

In 2017 Mr. Houghton purchased a 25-acre parcel with forest and meadows descending from a high ridge.

The Town of the Blue Mountains, as the area is known today, is located within the traditional territories of the Anishnaabek, Haudenosaunee and Wendat-Wyandot-Wyandotte peoples.

In later centuries, settlers turned much of the rugged territory into farmland.

Walking the land, Mr. Houghton found remnants of corn fields and stone walls on the property.

“I started looking for clues. It became clear that it was a farm,” he says.

He learned that frost would push the boulders up from the earth and farmers would move them aside to build boundaries around the fields.

Mr. Houghton investigated the work of several architectural firms until his search led him to Toronto-based Superkül. Perusing the firm’s website, he zeroed in on the award-winning Compass House on the Niagara Escarpment and asked his wife’s opinion.

“She said immediately, ‘That’s our architect,’” Mr. Houghton recalls.

  • Home on a ridge, and 25 acres of peace

    Home of the Week, Ridge House, 395910 11th Line, Clarksburg, Ont.Mitchell Hubble/Mitchell Hubble/Modern Movement Creative

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The house today

Superkül, led by Meg Graham and Andre D’Elia, is known for striking residential projects but also commercial, retail and cultural works that include the Robarts Library Reading Room and Universal Music Canada.

The architects describe Compass House as a seminal example of their edited, yet character-driven, design. The LEED Gold-certified home also illustrates their deep commitment to sustainability and reverent approach to nature, they say.

It was that approach that resonated with Mr. Houghton.

The architects studied the site and advised the couple to set the house slightly back from the ridge.

“They definitely take a lot of time to understand the setting. They don’t just plunk a house on the land,” Mr. Houghton says.

He recalls how plans were changed along the way to shift the building seven-and-a-half feet to the north to provide a better view of the house peeking above the ridge.

“We had long conversations about ‘should it be three feet, should it be seven?’” Mr. Houghton says of the precision involved.

The architects and their team also spent a great deal of time asking questions, making lists and measuring household items from the tallest to the tiniest.

They asked how often the couple entertained, took an inventory of their tableware, and noted the dimensions of the coffee maker.

For Mr. Houghton and his wife, hosting dinner parties was not as important as having a place to spend downtime with occasional visits from their adult daughters.

“Really, we were just looking at a place that was more of a sanctuary for us.”

Superkül designed a single-storey building with three bedrooms and two bathrooms in 2,432 square feet of living space.

Rooms for dining, cooking and lounging are placed at the centre of the home with a primary suite on one side and guest bedrooms on the other.

The living and dining areas are separated by a double-sided Stûv wood-burning fireplace. Each room has walls of windows framing the views of the forest.

“Being in the house is really about enjoying the land surrounding the house,” Mr. Houghton says.

Skylights are positioned to allow the light to move through the house during the day.

He describes the kitchen – with a centre island and breakfast bar, integrated appliances and floor-to-ceiling cabinets – as extremely functional.

“It’s easy to live in a very organized way.”

For the primary suite, the architects created a tranquil bedroom with views of the forest.

During early conversations, the couple presented a collection of images that appealed to them. One photo showed a bathtub overlooking a garden.

That was one inspiration for the architects’ decision to divide the building into two sections with a private garden – open to the sky – between them.

The ensuite bathroom has a walk-in shower and a deep, stand-alone tub next to a floor-to-ceiling window and a door into the garden.

With the courtyard open to the elements, rain and snow falls from above and tends to the plants, Mr. Houghton says.

That design choice also created a unique roof silhouette that dips down at the juncture of the two parts.

“The roof line is certainly one of the distinctive things about the house,” he says.

A heated walkway leads from the main house to a two-car garage and a separate space that can serve as a home office or gym.

The continuity of materials that runs throughout the house contributes to that sense of calm with the use of natural or stained white oak and an organic palette inspired by the landscape.

“One of the beautiful things is how silent the house is,” he says. “It’s so solidly built you don’t hear a thing once you come inside.”

The home is built to passive house standards to minimize energy consumption and improve air quality. The exterior is clad in a durable cedar product so the house blends in with the environment.

“It’s a colour that’s not dissimilar to the tree trunks,” Mr. Houghton points out.

Ridge House, as the building was named, is mostly hidden from the road and gradually becomes visible on the approach.

“It’s a mystery that reveals itself.”

Outside, Mr. Houghton has spent time clearing brush, preserving the natural flora and creating walking trails.

The property is part of Ontario’s managed forest program, which provides a tax incentive in return for good stewardship of the woodlands. The annual taxes have not been reassessed since the project was completed.

Collingwood is about 15 minutes’ drive from the property, Mr. Houghton says, and the hamlet of Ravenna is just down the road.

He notes that the area is popular with outdoor enthusiasts in all four seasons, with quick access to ski hills and golf courses. During the summer, the waters of Georgian Bay offer sailing, swimming and kayaking.

The best feature

Mr. Houghton was keen to create an indoor-outdoor room that allows the residents to immerse themselves in nature with a little bit of added comfort.

The architects carved a chunk from one corner of the house to create a haven warmed by a gas fireplace under a vaulted ceiling clad in marine-grade mahogany. Retractable screens close off the space in warmer months.

The south-west corner was chosen partly for its view of a distinctive Ironwood tree standing at the edge of the forest.

“It’s just a crazy, gnarly old tree.”