Modern architecture has undeniable aesthetic qualities. But old houses also have their quaint charm, with creaking floors and interiors steeped in history. Lovers of both often believe that you have to choose between the two…but that’s not necessarily the case. This period house in the Eastern Townships is living proof of this, with its newly renovated outbuilding which houses an impressive library.
“The client is passionate about architecture and history. So for him, it was really important to preserve the heritage,” says Jean-François St-Onge, architect co-founder of the firm ADHOC, who piloted the project.
On this spring-like day in mid-March – at least, in Montreal… – we had both feet in the snow and our heads in the flakes when we arrived in front of the house, nestled in a former Loyalist hamlet. . On the small country lane, we first passed the mill, the chapel, then the cemetery, before finally arriving at the residence which dates from 1831.
This was left untouched by the architects. It is rather the old outbuilding that has been restored, to create a living room with a wood-burning fireplace and a large library, all topped by a mezzanine that houses an office – and even more books.
“We had a super nice volume, which was underutilized”, summarizes Jean-François St-Onge about the old outbuilding. This volume, precisely, is sandwiched between the original house on one side and an unused barn on the other. The building to be renovated, which at the time served as a summer kitchen and garage, was sagging to the point where its corners rested on its neighbour. The architects first had to lift it, build a foundation for it, and straighten it. Then they went inside.
One of the first gestures they made was to pierce the facade with two large openings, aligned with each other, on each side of the building. This now allows for views across the land, which spans 83 acres.
“The owners wanted to connect more with the landscape, and link the front and the back of the land,” explains the architect. Before, happy hours were always done on the side of the entrance, on a small, fairly tight terrace, adjoined by a hedge and an old well. “It almost felt like having an aperitif in a Montreal courtyard, when we are in a very large estate,” he adds.
On the other side, more open, there is a swimming pool, another terrace, not to mention the view of the sunsets; but to access it, the occupants had to walk around the house before. Access is now easier.
The intervention also allowed them to come and create a welcome contrast between the two worlds, the old and the new, underlines Mr. St-Onge.
They also demolished the ceiling, because originally there were bedrooms on the second floor. This allowed them to create a double height above the living room, as well as to arrange the mezzanine. Interestingly, to access the office perched there, you have to go through the old house, since the architects kept the original access that led to the bedrooms, upstairs.
Having a mezzanine also made it possible to fit several service spaces downstairs, on the ground floor. This is where we find the entrance, the cloakroom, a bathroom, the laundry room, a small cellar and even a cloakroom with shower, for those arriving from the swimming pool.
The clients, parents of three young adults, acquired this country house about fifteen years ago to spend the weekends there. But for years, they have definitely left Montreal to settle in the countryside. This is mainly where their daughters grew up.
However, it was only recently that they decided to proceed with the work. It must be said that it is not over: eventually, a dormitory will be set up upstairs, above the garage, in the second part of the building. They will be able to receive friends, family and extended family there.
What about books in all of this? Apparently, the three floors of the house were filled with them before the majestic library was built. “There were books everywhere: on all the chairs, all the tables, like mountains. It was very beautiful, but we needed a place to store them”, notes Jean-François St-Onge, before concluding, rightly: “He is really a lover of literature. »