Farm fresh

It’s a common problem. People with money and not much taste buy up a prime piece of country property and then erect some contemporary monstrosity designed to dominate the surrounding landscape. Frank Lloyd Wright spent his entire career battling this egotistical urge in his fellow human beings. Now Cindy Rendely of Toronto’s Cindy Rendely Architexture has taken up the torch with her latest work, known simply as The Farm House. Luckily for Rendely, her clients are not only well-heeled, they’re designers themselves, graphic artists possessed of exquisite taste. This is the architect/designer’s third project for the couple and it represents that rarest of working relationships: a perfect pairing of sensibilities between client and artist.

The Farm House sits on a tall hilltop in Northumberland County, close to the town of Cobourg, Ont. Yet, far from dominating its environs, the structure appears at peace with them. Its silhouette, in fact, looks so much like an ordinary barn and outbuildings that it is quite unremarkable. For this Rendely credits her clients, who insisted on paying homage to barn architecture with a steep, gabled roofline. The choice was a happy one – its light grey aluminum cladding blends in so well with the sky behind that at times it almost seems not there.

With regard to shape, the Farm House could have been put together by a child – albeit an extremely gifted one – using a set of wooden building blocks. Nothing could be simpler or more geometrically pure than the rectangles, squares and triangles involved. To the east, the long, single-storey “bar” of the main living area is interrupted by a grey porcelain cube pushing through the wall, a self-contained guest suite housed within. To the west, an identical six-metre cube seems to have been broken off the bar by a random hand and shifted 15 degrees. This is the fully detached artist’s studio, filled with meticulously maintained tools as well as light from windows on three sides. It shares a small common courtyard with the two-storey rectangle that abuts the long bar. Here, a daughter’s bedroom and bathroom take up the ground floor, a master bed-and-bath suite the second level.

The quiet timelessness of the exterior gives way to a different sort of serenity inside. A tall, cathedral-style ceiling, rising 15½ feet to the tip of its triangulated peak, stretches the entire length of the building, its vault spectacularly sheathed in Douglas fir plywood. “The random, patchwork quality of the material gives the interior a raw, barn-like feeling,” says Rendely. “It speaks in a country vernacular.” Without losing its progressive appeal, one might add. A central free-standing fireplace, clad in the same grey porcelain as the guest box, separates without dividing the kitchen/dining area from the living room, its own angled pitch at the top echoing that of the exterior roofline. 

Plain proportions, repetition of simple geometric shapes, even the use of one tile and one wood throughout showcase Rendely’s design philosophy that consistency breeds calm: “Minimized visual noise creates a quiet backdrop for your life.” 

Repeat performances are everywhere to be found – from small touches, such as the way the striated colours of a rug underneath the dining area’s harvest table emerge again in the glass bowl sitting on the table, to the extra-large, custom-built doors and window frames veneered in Douglas fir that perfectly mimic each other’s dimensions.

The latter form such exact mirrors on either side of the house that you can almost see the dotted lines extending from one corner to the other, like a draftsperson’s three-dimensional rendering of a rectangle. The view, as it stretches through the building, past the infinity pool towards the rolling hills and blue breadth of Lake Ontario beyond, is, well…you could never tire of the vistas from this vantage point, nor of the way every window makes such a perfectly framed landscape, right down to the dotting of cows grazing a slope as if ordered there by the artist.

And even if that impossibility happened, there are still the interior furnishings to reckon with. Sparingly placed, which only serves to highlight their individual delights, are prime vintage collectibles, such as the Eames shell chairs around the dining table and a big bull’s-eye Coke sign in the living area. Added to the eclectic aesthetic are the owners’ own intriguing artworks and found pieces, such as the whimsical collection of paint-by-number woodland scenes mounted up the tall wall that encloses the master bedroom’s staircase. (“Am I allowed to say I love it?” Rendely asks, in clear admiration of her clients’ unerring eye. “They’ve made it more wonderful with their things.”) The master bedroom itself boasts a peaked ceiling a full foot taller than those in the rest of the main building and the purposely sparse decor allows superb window views to act as living art. A single hayloft window punches through the plywood wall near the ceiling’s apex on the south side, providing additional light as well as a novel focal point.

Here, as elsewhere in this 3,135-square-foot accomplishment, size feels curiously intimate. Sound is hushed. The soul seeks and finds satisfaction at every turn.

Frank Lloyd Wright would be pleased.  cI