It’s not every day you find an indoor swimming pool with an excellent view of … a collection of beloved cars.
But then it’s not every day that an architect meets a new client balancing a four-foot-long cardboard model of the home he wants to build — lap pool and cars included.
Nova Scotia architect Brian MacKay-Lyons says initially he was a little wary. “Those are two red flags: the client says I already have a model and I know what I want to do, and I’m going to build it myself.”
Happily, it all turned out well, says MacKay-Lyons who added that his client — a helicopter pilot who builds wind turbines, including those that power the house — was great to work with and acted as the general contractor in constructing his home.
Named Burge House, the 6,200 sq. ft. family home is on Mount Thom, in Pictou County, N.S. Made of weathered, corrugated steel, the design rests within a concrete retaining wall structure running 44 metres long and 20 metres high.
The home’s lap pool and car collection are on the lower level that’s embedded in a hill over a meadow with views of the creek and lake below.
Upstairs, on the main level, the principal bedroom sits over the garage, along with the ensuite, walk-in closet and study that all sit half a level up from the living room. At the other end of the house is the family room and the kids’ bedrooms — each with its own balcony.
Sustainable features include recycled wood from the owner’s wind turbines, and high windows on the north providing cross ventilation to big windows on the south.
Burge House, completed in 2020, took 2-1/2 years to design and build.
Brian MacKay-Lyons, founder of MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, in Nova Scotia, and in Oregon and Massachusetts in the U.S., answers a few questions about Burge House:
What was the inspiration for the home’s modern design?
The client came to our office with a four-foot-long cardboard model and wanted to build it himself. A lot of architects would have run when they heard that — but it was great.
He was a lovely guy, passionate. We look at what’s unique about clients, their eccentricities, interests, passions, so we said, “This is cool, let’s do it.”
The client as the builder was unusual. But he builds wind turbines and infrastructure stuff, and those have to be built very, very well, so the concrete has to be perfect. The only house I’ve designed in years where the concrete didn’t crack was his house. He’s that knowledgeable about concrete.
I’m looking at some things in the design I haven’t seen before. One is the garage beside the pool.
There’s a glass wall, but you’re swimming with the fenders of the cars in the lap pool. I haven’t ever seen anything like that before. You just embrace it.
How did you come up with the unusual wood ceiling?
The wood ceiling is made of recycled wood — it’s a wrapper. You feel very enclosed and embraced by it. The wood ceiling wraps down the wall. You get the feeling you’re living in a sleeve. We’ve attenuated the sleeve and made it look really thin.
The roof and the wall are the same element. I call it a “Woof.” It doesn’t know whether it’s a roof or a wall.
What were the biggest challenges in designing this home?
The client was very bullish about what he wanted to do. There were some things that weren’t done exactly the way we’d hoped it would be, and he read in my silence that I wasn’t happy. Then one day he said we’ll do all the stuff you talked about. He did come through.
The design is very geometric. Is it a masculine design?
Yep. We do get criticized for making pretty masculine architecture. In this case the client was definitely a masculine guy.
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