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Houses of the Gatineau Hills

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the July 27, 2011 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Timber-frame builder's house idea borne in a barn

by Lucy Scholey

The old barn in Cantley would have been the perfect place for a house. It sat atop a hillside amongst other farmhouses and barns, with a view of a horse pasture and a small pond in the distance. But a barn sat there.

That's where Stephane Charette stepped in. The Wakefield-based homes renovator and owner of Bala Structures stripped the barn of its tin roof down to its skeletal frame, replaced the worn brown wood that's still on the neighbouring buildings, laid down a new roof, replaced most of the floors with new hardwood and added 35 windows.

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
The exterior of Stephane Charette's timberframe renovation project took over a year to complete, as he stripped away old wood and tin. He also added new floors, added 35 new windows and divided the space into new rooms. Lucy Scholey photo.

Now the century-old barn is a house.

Although it houses two bathrooms, three bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room, the house retains the spaciousness of a barn.

It's a long stretch of the neck to observe the ceiling's peak, way up at 33 feet. A cupola, added during construction, invites more light to the previously dark farm building and tops out the peak at 42 feet.

Each floor sits like a loft, with the upper floors slightly staggered. You walk 15 steps up to the first floor and turn left. Another six steps and you can play a game of pool or stay in the guest bedroom that's curtained off from the rest of the area. If you turn right after those 15 steps, you can access the master bedroom, two other rooms and a bathroom.

The guest bedroom floor is again elevated to allow for larger windows in the living room underneath. The master bedroom floor is lower to allow for more windows on that floor.

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
Top view of the house. Lucy Scholey photo.

Now the century-old barn is a house.

Although it houses two bathrooms, three bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room, the house retains the spaciousness of a barn.

A few of the original beams were chopped to make the floors this way. Otherwise, the original sturdy beams are still there.

With so much open concept, there are no secrets in this living space. But there are plenty of memories, if you ask 81-year-old neighbour, Mary Burke Birt.

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
View of the living room. Lucy Scholey photo.

Her grandparents used to live on that property, back when it was a working farm in the early 1900s. Birt remembers after- school visits to the barn, where the cows were kept and farmers could drive in to unload hay.

She hasn't been to visit the barn since its transformation - her arthritis makes it more difficult to move around - but she says she would like to visit.

"It's hard to believe all the things that they've done," she says. "I think it's wonderful."

The barn project was one of Charette's major challenges as a home renovator. "I said, 'Yeah it's a crazy idea. Let's do it,'" he said.

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
Top view of the house. Lucy Scholey photo.

The project took over a year to complete, but it was finally finished in 2007.

During that year, Charette took a month-long break from construction to build a yoga studio in Toronto. He largely deals with renovation and restoration projects and prefers working with timber because he says it's sturdier. He'll work with his client's designs, but throws his own ideas into the mix.

"It's like a big carving," he says. "You carve a house for a client."

Except the barn project was not quite like that. Charette had to work with an existing frame and a request to keep the barn's natural character.

He says he would rather accept the challenge. Cookie-cutter-style homes typical of some housing developments won't work for him.

"I don't like normal houses," he says.

For more information on Charette, visit www.balastructures.com.


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