Gatineau couple finds a country home close to the city

Dr. Christopher Place is a busy radiologist in Gatineau. To unwind from the demands of his job, he and his partner, Marie-Eve Coupal, had long dreamed of a weekend escape – a cottage where they could have a sail boat, swim, and spend time with their four adult children.

Their criteria included something water-side, quiet and remote. Good views – the kind that miraculously melt worries away – were essential. But because Dr. Place is so often on-call, he and Ms. Coupal decided that their retreat also had to be within a 25-minute drive of the hospital where he works.

Finding such a removed respite so close to the middle of the Ottawa region wasn’t easy. “We looked for the right lot for 10 years,” says Ms. Coupal, who teaches Ikebana, the Japenese art of flower arrangement (it has roots in Buddhism and “can be quite meditative,” she says, at least “when it’s going well.”)

Then one day, when Ms. Coupal was out looking for driftwood, which she uses in her floral designs, she came across a vacant, secluded lot that was a 15-minute drive from the hospital. Overlooking the verdant banks of the Ottawa River and nestled within a rocky cove, it felt far from the city.

At first, it wasn’t for sale, but when it eventually came on the market, “I called Chris right away,” Ms. Coupal says. “I said, ‘We have to make an offer immediately.’”

The couple closed on the land in 2012, but it was several more years before they even started to build. For one thing, despite its natural beauty, the lot was “a jungle,” Ms. Coupal says. “It was covered in poison ivy, which took me three years to get rid of. I was in long sleeves and long pants a lot.”

Another issue was that Dr. Place and Ms. Coupal had seemingly opposing visions for their place. “We weren’t too sure what to do,” says Ms. Coupal, who wanted a small bungalow that required no maintenance. “I wanted a two-storey house,” says Dr. Place. “Something very modern.”

The home is elevated on stilts because the porous shale lot routinely floods, rendering a basement impossible.


That the resulting home appears, after winding down the long stone drive, to be a tall three storeys might suggest that neither party won the argument. However, the design, by Ottawa- and Toronto-based architecture studio Linebox – referred to the couple by a friend – is cleverly deceptive and works hard to please both homeowners.

Despite its vertical appearance, the home is, in a sense, a bungalow. The primary living areas – a sky-lit kitchen, a fireside living and dining space and the three bedrooms (one of the benefits of having a cottage so close to the city is that guests don’t necessarily have to spend the night, so extra sleeping quarters aren’t necessary) – are compactly contained to a single floor. It just happens to be the second.

The home is elevated on stilts because the porous shale lot routinely floods, rendering a basement impossible. Instead, a very compact foyer, utilities room and storage areas are set on a series of steel legs. Otherwise, the ground level is left open to the elements. “In the winter, we sit under the house, sheltered from the snow,” Dr. Place says, noting the riverside microclimate that is often warmer than the Ottawa region as a whole. “It’s very peaceful,” he says.

The extra height was also instrumental to take full advantage of the views. The living/dining area walks out onto a long, glass-railed deck made from sawn, six-by-six cedar posts (to comply with Ms. Coupal’s request, all the exterior materials are low maintenance, including stainless steel, black bricks and the weathering wood that will simply grey over time).

While that vantage is stunning – “You see the trees and the birds,” Ms. Coupal says – the river is largely obscured. Hence, the third level.

The interior space up top is quite modest. It’s mainly a small office space for Dr. Place, as well as a landing that has a glass floor to bring light to the level down below. “Our dogs were quite scared of it at first,” he says of the deck, but adds it was necessary because the home faces north so might otherwise get dark.

The exterior space, on the other hand, is an expansive deck, edged on the sides by sedum-filled green roofs. “By going up another level,” Ms. Coupal says, “we were over the trees.” The Ottawa River stretches out in either direction, creating a serene, restful backdrop for the couple’s many dinner parties or simple, quiet evenings in.

Now that it’s complete, the place works well for both their sensibilities. Ms. Coupal forages for driftwood by the river and tends to the gardens. Dr. Place sails and canoes. And despite the home’s clean, no-maintenance, modern aesthetic, there is still space for personality. The slot windows in the master bedroom, for example, are inset with colourful panes of stained glass, save for one clear rectangle at the bottom “for the dogs to look out,” Ms. Coupal says.

The house has been so successful that Dr. Place and Ms. Coupal now spend roughly 50 per cent of their time by the river (another plus of having a cottage so close is that they can actually use it without getting snarled in escape-the-city traffic).

Linebox principal and founder Andrew Reeves “really blew us away with the design,” Ms. Coupal says. Even two years after completing construction, “it still feels like a hotel here,” she says, ”without the need to travel far. It’s just so nice, right here.”