Rebuilding a residence destroyed by fire gives a design team the opportunity to reimagine the structure’s relationship with the water
“How often does an architect get a chance to build twice for the same client on the same site?” Jeremy Sturgess, principal of the Calgary, Alberta, firm of Sturgess Architecture, marvels at a rare opportunity he recently had for the complete redo of a home on Kootenay Lake, high in the Canadian Rockies—while he also acknowledges its sad circumstances. Back in the summer of 2005, Sturgess completed the first home, a retirement dream he brought to reality for his sister Carol Johnson and her husband, Dick. The rectilinear aluminum-clad structure, filled with the couple’s collection of contemporary Canadian art and sleek modern furniture, rested atop some 80 concrete pillars sunk into a steep slate site, set back 25 feet from the lake’s heavily wooded eastern shoreline. “We loved it there,” Carol recalls with heart-tugging simplicity.
Then, on November 12, 2009, while the Johnsons were away, a freak fireplace accident completely destroyed the house. “We were lucky that my daughter-in-law’s mother”—who was staying there at the time—“saved some of our paintings,” Carol says.
Devastated but undaunted, the Johnsons almost immediately began rebuilding atop the existing footprint and surviving concrete posts, completing their new home almost exactly two years later. Within the Sturgess Architecture offices, the team led by Jeremy and project architect Kevin Harrison came to refer to this new structure, which literally rose from the ashes, as the Phoenix House.
The project allowed the architects and homeowners to rethink the house and how it functioned from the ground up, particularly with regard to its lakeside location. Though they’d loved their old house, occupying it for almost five years gave the Johnsons a clear idea of not only what they’d liked about it, but also its shortcomings.
First and foremost, Sturgess points out, was how liberally the old house drank in the copious summer sunshine—an average of almost 10 hours a day in July and close to nine hours a day in August. “The light could be a little relentless,” the architect recalls. “There was no place to get out of the sun.” His new design remedied that situation with extra-deep covered decks as well as shady back-of-house living areas “that give you somewhere to go when the heat is just too much.”
The Johnsons had also tired of having to climb the stairs to and from their second-story master suite—not just because “our knees aren’t as good,” laughs Carol, but also because it made the house feel larger and emptier when she and Dick were alone. Now, their bedroom is on the main floor and more immediately accessible to the kitchen, living room and largest outdoor patio. “You can’t believe how well the house works for just the two of us when our kids aren’t there,” Carol says.
Most significant of all, says Carol, is the way the new design emphasizes the connection to the water she’d always loved in the home they had lost. Inspired by an oceanside house her brother had designed on Canada’s Pacific coast, she asked Sturgess to move her main entry from the side of the house to the front, where it now opens directly onto window-wall views of the lake—and the snowcapped mountain peaks beyond. Sturgess also added two new links to the water: an all-glass shower enclosure that extends beyond the exterior wall of the master bath, affording views of forest and lake; and, on the southern end of the house, a sculptural galvanized-metal flume that projects from the wall to transform rain running off the roof into a waterfall.
The overall effect of such connections goes beyond merely living beside the water. “Sometimes,” marvels Carol, “living in this house feels just like being on a ship on the lake.”
Building a Getaway Home
Twice-learned lessons from architect Jeremy Sturgess
KEEP NATURE IN MIND “As much as you might want to exploit all the beauty of a site, you also have to be extremely careful to do it in a way that does not impede nature,” Sturgess says. To that end, the house was built on concrete pillars that allow rainwater to follow its natural path down the sloping slate mountainside to the lake.
CONSIDER THE FINE DETAILS While studying your homesite, says Sturgess, “be really conscious of its subtleties.” In this case, his team and the homeowners considered the angle at which the morning sun entered high windows on the home’s eastern face, and took advantage of a natural rock wall on the basement level that keeps a utility room cool for wine storage.
DESIGN FOR THE FUTURE “Think about how the house will work not only over 365 days but also over a lifetime.” In this case, Sturgess created a floor plan that works efficiently not only
when the two retired owners are there on their own, but also when the house is filled with their three adult children’s growing families.
ARCHITECTURE AND INTERIOR DESIGN Jeremy Sturgess and Kevin Scott Harrison of STURGESS ARCHITECTURE, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, (403) 263-5700, sturgessarchitecture.com BUILDERS Don Johnson (250) 919-6117 and Quintin Dudley (250) 420-7588 FURNITURE, PLUMBING FIXTURES AND FLOORING manufactured in Mexico KITCHEN MILLWORK Poggenpohl, poggenpohl.com LIVING ROOM ARTWORK Laurel Cormack and Michael Flock, Calgary, Alberta, Canada