Just Looking

When you think of P.E.I., what first comes to mind? Maybe it’s potatoes, but chances are it’s a little girl with red braids. And if you’re asked about architecture on the Island, you’ll probably picture Green Gables. The words “modern” or “edgy” are quite unlikely to come up.

But Bertrand Dessureault was in just that frame of mind when, after spending several summers on the Island, he decided to build a cottage there. The Quebec-based industrial product designer, who “dabbles in architecture, for my own purposes,” had been vacationing in the Martime province since the ’80s and decided it was time to have a piece to call his own. After seeing an article on Toronto architect David Sisam’s P.E.I. cottage, Dessureault was inspired to build his dream house in an Island field, planting his own sensibilities in the picturesque landscape.

After a long search for said field, Dessureault found a perfect lot in Park Corner, with a breathtaking landscape of rolling hills and views of the Lake of Shining Waters and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Attempting to place the house without modifying the land, he worked for nearly three years on the concept for the building, going through various marine-inspired plans and finally settling on a simple agricultural- rooted idea, perfect for the farmland on which it is built.

Like Sisam’s cottage, Dessureault wanted his retreat to be respectful of Island tradition, without being traditional. His red barn concept fits the bill. The simple rectangular shape and gabled roof, along with the board and batten construction, complete with barn door “X,” mimic the agricultural buildings of the area. But the extensive glazing wrapping the first floor – giving the impression that the structure sits on stilts – makes it clear this is something different.

The main objective in the project was to take full advantage of the views. Barns don’t typically offer much in this respect, so Dessureault planned to incorporate large expanses of windows on the first floor. Unfortunately, cost was also an issue – and windows are expensive. A fortuitous solution was found in sliding patio doors, which were not only a more economical option, but also allowed better access to the wraparound deck (with screened porch area, for mosquito season) and improved ventilation, eliminating the need for air conditioning.

The unconventional piano noble layout confines utilitarian spaces, such as the kitchen and dining area, to the main floor. The main living space is on the second floor, along with two small bedrooms and the bathroom. A third mezzanine level is open to the living room in front, and sleeps up to four people, creating enough space for a large group, or even two families, to enjoy. No doubt Dessureault’s skills as a designer of highly functional, specialized equipment were a major asset on this project. “It’s small, but the space is very efficient,” he says.

The interior aesthetic is dictated by the exterior building materials, as the structure is basic in its construction and not winterized, with the red ranch board simply painted white inside. Interior walls are predominantly in OSB, also painted white, except in the bathroom and the mezzanine staircase, where it was varnished to create a distinctive space. Though the OSB was used to reduce cost, the rough, textured look contributed to the aesthetic. “I didn’t want the classic knotty pine look,” says Dessureault. “The intention was something contemporary, but homey and relaxed.”

Furnishings were selected for their ability to withstand damp winters in the uninsulated cottage and are kept to a minimum. “The lack of embellishment allows the views to speak, rather than furniture,” Dessureault explains. Just as well, since the landscape has plenty to say. cI