Cedar in Three Textures is a story in part about a young couple and their commitment to a small town. The architectural project is intrinsically connected to the people who inhabit it and the context in which it is tied to.
Dr. Lynda Earle and her husband Dr. Andy Blackadar both grew up in small towns in Nova Scotia (though Lynda was born in Winnipeg). Both went to study medicine at Halifax’ Dalhousie University. They met during their time in school and eventually got married. After leaving to Ontario to complete their residencies in Family Medicine, they wanted to eventually go back to the place that they came from, start their own practices and have a family together.
They found opportunity in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, the setting of this story. Liverpool is about 90 minutes down the south shore from Halifax. Andy became the town doctor and Lynda went back to school in hopes of becoming a public health officer. They bought a century old house and had two kids. While most of their friends went off to the big cities, they decided that they were going to make a significant contribution to the kind of place they grew up, like their parents did. Lynda’s father was Nova Scotia’s first black Member of Parliament. Andy’s mother helped community members, young and old, as a speech therapist. Andy recalled that even as a child people came up to his mother and thanked her because she taught them how to speak.
The time came to consider either moving or expanding their home. For many reasons they decided to stay where they were and expand the existing house. The addition and renovation project was designed in one sitting. The parti was simple: open the house on the “private” side towards the south. This orientation brought views of the Mersey River into frame allowing as much sunlight in as possible during the winter months and shade in the summer months. Above all else, the project aspired to maintain a modest street presence (preserving the original house), while in the addition they would use local materials and traditional building technologies.
The existing house is to be re-clad in local Eastern White cedar shingles. The new portion will be clad in two widths of Eastern White cedar boards. The clients wanted their house to age/silver in the landscape naturally over time.
The project team includes contractor Deborah Herman-Spartinelli and structural engineer Andrea Doncaster. Construction is slated to commence this fall and winter 2010-11.
As is the case with many small maritime towns, Liverpool, Nova Scotia is the kind of place where kids still play outside and neighbours notice change. It’s a small but historically relevant town. At one time it was the second biggest port in Nova Scotia and was one of the primary settlements for American Colonial Loyalist refugees after the American Civil War. During the American Revolution and the War of 1812, Liverpool financed and manned many infamous privateer vessels. In recent history, fishing, ship building and the pulp and paper industry provided work for locals. Liverpool is the kind of place where honest people work hard for a living.
The Earle Blackadar family home sits in the middle of a dense main urban street on a deep narrow lot and backs onto the Mersey River. Currently the home lacks any engagement with the river. The rear of the home has southern exposure, an attribute which had hardly been tapped. Primarily, the massing of the proposed addition responds to both a requirement for privacy and a character of modesty. Secondly, the massing responds to a desire to both draw in and shade natural sunlight depending on the time of year. The second storey cantilevers over past the ground floor and subsequently shades the living room. The second storey windows are deep set into bedrooms to provide necessary shading. From street/sidewalk view none of the proposed windows are visible. All that is visible are both east and west building elevations of meticulously placed cedar, in 3 forms. The existing century old house remains as it has always been, with a new jacket of 4″ exposure cedar shingles.
We proposed strategies for sustainable design on this project that were simple and effective. First and foremost, the clients decided to alter their existing house. There was no desire to build new.
The plan to make the existing house more efficient and to apply efficient strategies to the new portion of the house is as follows: Change the heating system to a heat pump from tradition oil. Add an air exchanger. All new walls will be built to Nova Scotia Building Code requirements R24 and the roof to R40. The new foundation walls will be built using ICF. The roof and cantilever cavities will be filled with closed-cell spray insulation. Several of the older windows in the house will be replaced and all of the new windows (large openings) will be highly efficient vinyl windows on the second storey and wood windows on the ground floor.
All of the interior cabinetry will be made using local solid birch and/or maple, fabricated locally in Liverpool, NS. All of the trades are from local sources. Interior finishes include local hardwood and marmoleum floorings. Dual-flush toilets and automatic light dimmers are among the common sense strategies slated for the project.
The wall assembly for both the walls and roof are 2×6 with either batt or spray-foam insulation, and also clad in rigid insulation to further prevent thermal bridging. We reduced a single layer of strapping on the exterior wall assembly by using a reverse board + batten system, with the internal batten providing both a strapping layer and an air space.
Increased spatial needs came from the thought that the family would eventually need more space. On the second floor the increased footprint will provide a larger master bedroom, a larger bathroom and sufficient storage space. Much of the layout of the original house stays as is. On the ground floor there will be a small powder room, a more spacious and effective kitchen and a large central social space which will look onto the rear property and river. Work spaces have been designed to be within the living room to promote family interaction. A large long desk flanks the entire west wall of the living room. Below ground will be a new insulated basement for storage.
The upstairs bathroom was designed with a private toilet room, a shower with privacy screen and central lavatory, allowing for multiple members of the family to share the space.
The new kitchen and living room spaces were designed to take advantage of the newly exposed sun and view. The new master bedroom and adjacent bedroom take advantage of the same exposure. The master bedroom was designed with a large nook in front of the window.
The layout of built-in cabinetry provides view corridors. All of the cabinetry, on both floors (shown toned in plans) run in the direction of the building and the view toward the river.
Visually, the addition presents itself as subservient to the existing house. The new portion would be shorter, lower, and less textured. Both the west and east elevations are extremely minimal – just the texture of the cedar. The fully glazed south elevation is within the private realm.
We designed for metal roofing on the addition in order to have a low sloped roof (2:12) to decrease the overall engagement with the existing roof framing.
There was a rigor about material integrity from the outset. Cedar is left unfinished. Interior millwork is left natural. Concrete is left natural. The roofing will be left natural, just galvanized. It was important that one recognized that the materials used were ordinary, though the sum of the materials and ideas attempt to achieve much more.
Clients: Dr. Lynda Earle and Dr. Andy Blackadar
Location: Liverpool, Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia Contractor: Trunnells and Tenons Construction Ltd. (Deborah Herman-Spartinelli)
Structural: Andrea Doncaster
Renderings: Omar Gandhi
Model: Peter Braithwaite, Dalton Kaun, Omar Gandhi
Photography Greg Richardson