Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Dream with a View

Together with her husband John, Judy Keown had dreamed for years of building the perfect home. For years, they had owned an ideally situated plot of land on an otherwise uninhabited bay near their home just north of Parry Sound, Ontario. At the heart of cottage country, the Parry Sound area is famous for its arresting beauty and magnificent views.

It was the view that was of paramount importance to Judy and John, who imagined a home that looked out over the water of the Sound from every room. Sadly, John passed away in 2002. With the passing of her husband, Judy was hesitant and the dream of the home with the view faltered. But special dreams don’t fade away so easily. Inspired by her children, Rebecca and Jonathan, Judy decided to move ahead, selling her farmhouse and building her and John’s dream house. The challenge was finding the right design that would meet their unique vision.

In 2003, Jonathan came home from a visit to McNabb Home Building Centre in Parry Sound and shared an exciting discovery with his mother. “I’ve seen the perfect drawing,” he said, and handed her the Beaver Home and Cottage Design book. As soon as Judy set eyes on the plans for Jonathan’s suggestion - the Taylor Creek model - she knew that was the one.

Customizing a dream

Having picked a design, however, it was big step to converting that into a finished home. That’s when Judy turned to Gerry March at McNabb’s. “It was really important to have help from someone I could trust,” Judy says. “Especially with me being alone and not being familiar with the process of building a house.”

From the very beginning, Gerry listened patiently to Judy’s wishes, answered her questions simply and honestly, and made suggestions that would help bring the home together exactly as Judy imagined.

“I made lots of modifications to the design,” Judy acknowledges. “I didn’t want a basement, so I had to be sure that the house could be put on a slab. And the master bedroom was on the wrong side of the house in relation to the bay, so we needed to flip it.”

Working with Gerry, Judy soon learned that all of these adjustments, and many more, were possible. Several other changes followed. “Originally, I hadn’t wanted a two-storey home,” Judy says, “but my children encouraged me to do it so there’d be room for guests. We put everything I needed on the ground floor, with just two guest bedrooms up in the loft.”

In addition, Judy worked with Gerry to alter the back entrance to accommodate a laundry room. “And we added a beautiful screened-in porch off the kitchen, which wasn’t in the plan at all. Everything worked in together so nicely.”

Ideas branch out in new directions

Perhaps the most distinctive change that Judy made was at the very heart of the house. “There was a stubby supporting wall between the kitchen/dining room area and the living room,” Judy explains. “I wanted a more open feeling and I didn’t want that wall there. But we still needed to support the overhead beam. I didn’t just want a post, either.” The need was for something special and distinctive.

Then a friend of Judy’s came up with a novel suggestion: a tree. Judy loved the idea. Having a large amount of land around the house, Judy and her children began scouring the property for the perfect pine. “We were searching for a gnarly tree with big branches that went up, so it would look as if the tree was supporting the whole house,” Judy says.

Once that tree was found and harvested, the bark was removed, the trunk was bleached and the tree was set in place. “It blends in beautifully with all the other pine in the house, and it’s certainly unique.”

Building with a dream team

Perhaps the most dream-like element of Judy’s entire experience was the efficient and orderly manner in which it unfolded. Construction began in May, 2004, and was finished on schedule, by October. “We weren’t in any rush,” Judy says, “but there were never any delays, either. Everything happened right on time. As soon as one sub-contractor or tradesman completed his part of the job, I just had to phone up Gerry and tell him we were ready for the next part. It started right away.”

Gerry and the rest of McNabb’s staff supported Judy in the details as well as in the big picture. “When it came to picking out shingles, door knobs, locks and things like that, I didn’t have a clue. Gerry came into the store with me and took me to all the departments and showed me all the choices.” He explained the benefits of the different options and helped with recommendations that Judy is very happy with. She also appreciated Gerry’s patience.

“Sometimes I’d be in the store and settle on something I wanted - sliding doors off the master bedroom, for example - and then I’d get home and decide that I’d rather have French doors. So I phoned Gerry to make that change. He was very patient and everything went smoothly. His knowledge and expertise really helped, and everyone at the store was just super. I never felt alone.”

The finished home reflects the thought, care and patience that went into it. There is an open and casual air to it, with beautiful plank floors, pine trim and railings and a vaulted ceiling. The ample windows let in lots of light as well as affording those essential, stunning views of the bay. It is welcoming and comforting. In fact, entering the home is, indeed, like walking into a dream.

Judy agrees. “I love it. It’s just beautiful. It’s a perfect design for me. I can see the bay from every room in the house. It’s just perfect.”

Coming Full Circle

When Terry and Karen Thompson found the perfect property on the north shore of Lake Huron, they planned to erect a one-room bunkhouse - a vision that quickly escalated into a small, three-season cottage, then graduated to a year-round residence supplied by Home Hardware Building Centre.

Here is the fortuitous story of the home the Thompsons never expected to build on a piece of land they never thought of buying. One fall day in 2004, Terry and his siblings set out from Sault Ste. Marie to look up former neighbours who’d move to Blind River, a small town halfway between the Sault and Sudbury. They found their old friends living on Lake Huron, and after admiring their spectacular view, Terry went for a stroll. He came across an empty lot - 130 feet of lakeside frontage, a large rise of granite bedrock and dense forest extending 280 ft. deep - and fell instantly in love.

It turned out the property’s owners were none other than the old friends Terry had tracked down! He talked them into considering selling it, and returned with his wife, Karen, a few days later. “I had already decided that I really wanted it,” he says. “She wasn't as convinced, but it took less than a couple of hours” for her to fall in love with the lot, too.

Their thoughts turned naturally to what they might build on their dream property, and they had no experience in that regard. “We've lived in the same home in Sault Ste Marie for 34 years and we didn't build it,” Terry says. “Everyone in Blind River told that us that Home Hardware building consultant Erik Carlson would be the best person to see about building.” The Thompsons looked through the Beaver Home & Cottage Design Book, picking designs they liked that were in their price range, and brought them to Erik for discussion. “He recommended certain styles and products - he always accommodated us changing our minds - and that happened a lot!” says Terry, laughing.

“Another thing that impressed me about Erik,” he adds, “is that he and the contractor would be honest and tell us, ‘this is the way to go.’” For example, Erik said that a rectangular shape 28 ft. at the widest would be “more efficient, easier to layout, and cheaper to build.” Erik introduced the couple to staff at the Home Hardware Building Centre in Blind River, whom Terry found to be “courteous, professional, well-informed, and very accommodating.” He recalls how “one day, I stopped in to ask a question about windows and Vern said he’d come down to our home to demonstrate. I went off to the grocery store and post office and stopped in at the Building Centre again, and learned that Vern was already down at my place!”

Another time, the couple had doubts about 1,500 square feet of hardware flooring that was delivered to the house. “Erik said, ‘we want you to be happy, it’s absolutely no problem if you want to exchange it,’” Terry says, “and he brought down a package of a different hardwood to compare.” (The Thompsons stayed with their original choice which, Terry adds, “Erik had recommended to us because of its attractiveness and affordability.”)

Terry also appreciated that the owners of the Home Hardware Building Centre in Blind River “were kind enough to let us visit their home so we could get design ideas.” Erik arranged for that visit and to other local homes with similar layouts to what the Thompsons had in mind.

The couple ended up going with a modified Trillium model from the Beaver Home & Cottage Design Book, customized to a large extent by Erik. He’s helped homeowners build almost 400 homes over the past dozen years in his territory of three Home Hardware Building Centres (in Blind River, Espanola, and Providence Bay). Erik also acted as the couple’s contact for local tradespeople, who were in short supply in the region and, as a result, very busy. The Thompsons let building proceed around the contractors’ schedules, since they weren't in a hurry to reside there. “They were very patient and good natured, they didn't get too excited about anything,” Erik says. The couple wanted a low-maintenance house, and the materials recommended by Erik met that need. The house is covered in vinyl siding, the white windows are PVC, the wraparound deck is composite, the deck’s railings are aluminum, and the roof shingles are fiberglass.

Their home is as beautiful as it is practical. Its simple, straight lines contrast with the twisty pines and curveous rise of granite. The rock is complemented by the house’s dark-grey exterior. The natural, clean feel of the home continues inside, with pre-finished pine on the Great Room’s cathedral ceiling, pre-finished birch flooring throughout, all posts made from the area’s white pine, and the stairway railing built on-site, also with local white pine.

When the Thompsons decided against a crawlspace, some bedrock had to be dynamited to put in a full-height basement, complete with a walkout facing the lake. The guest bedroom and bath in the lower level brings the home’s total square footage to 1,500 square feet. The addition meant “we could make the main floor smaller,” with a master bedroom, one bath and small computer room, says Erik.

The Thompsons are selling their Sault Ste. Marie home - leaving behind their daughter and friends accrued over three decades - and moving into their dream home full time when Karen retires shortly. “We don’t know many folks in Blind River,” notes Terry, “we’re just that happy with the new house and its view!”

Certainly, the Thompsons will refer friends and family to the Beaver Home & Cottage Package program. In fact, they’re hiring Erik again to build a garage with a loft alongside their new house.

The irony doesn't escape them that the garage design resembles the unadorned “bunkie” the Thompsons first planned to build - the whole process of creating their dream home having come full circle!

*[Editors Note: This article refers to a project built in 2006 in Blind River, Ontario. For current pricing information, please visit to find a Beaver Homes & Cottages dealer in your area.]