6 Modern Houses Totally at Home in their Rustic Surroundings

There’s a time and a place for gathering inspiration and sketching out ideas, but at the start of a new project, those at MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects prefer to get their hands dirty. “The first and primary principal in practice involves a profound engagement with the place where the architects live and build,” writes Robert McCarter, an architect himself and the author of the new book about the Nova Scotia firm, The Work of MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects: Economy as Ethic ($70, Thames & Hudson). In fact, the architects log hours exploring a property on foot and researching its history before ever breaking ground. “MacKay-Lyons characterizes the firm’s works as ‘essays on climate and weathering, responding to the effects of sun and wind. They are studies in cultural processes of human settlement on the land,'” he writes. To sum it up, partners Brian MacKay-Lyons and Talbot Sweetapple are pros at building gorgeous residences that embody their surroundings. Eager to do the same? Read on to discover how they approached designing a few of the homes featured in the book.

Looking out over Blind Bay, Lean-To House boasts a unique mono-pitch roof. “Its glazed south facade and concrete floor (containing a hydronic heating system) receive the sun, while its thick service wall protects it for the north wind,” writes McCarter.

“Like a pair of binoculars, Two Hulls House acts as a landscape-viewing instrument, effortlessly framing the environment,” writes McCarter. “A concrete seawall on the foreshore protects the house from rogue waves. Two Hulls House touches the land lightly, resting on concrete fins, in order to have a minimal impact on the fragile land and flora.”

“The plan addresses the human need for both prospect and refuge by contrasting a mute, protective, thick north service wall against the woods with a glazed south wall facing the sea,” writes McCarter of the wedge-like de Vries House in Liverpool.

Perched on the edge of Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast, the aptly named Cliff Housewas built at a specific angle to maximize not only its waterfront views but also its opportunities for solar energy gains.

“The form of Mason House is grounded in the material cultural traditions of Nova Scotia rather than in the found potential of the site, and it brings to mind a ‘ship’ that is moored on land,” writes McCarter. Which is only fitting for an island residence.

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