Houses of the Gatineau Hills

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the August 29, 2018 issue. Reprinted with permission.

'Unique' the word for octagon forest tree house

by Nikki Mantell

If you've lived in Chelsea for a decent amount of time, you know that some of its most striking, unique, and even beautiful, houses were built in the 1970s by people with a keen eye for design.

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
The octagonal form of the Chrisalis, an architectural gem nestled in the forest, is immedately evident from the exterior.

The Hopkins house, known as the Chrisalis and built in 1972, is certainly one of those houses, and may very well be the most unique house in the Hills. Owner Melanie Hopkins describes it as a forest tree house, where the main living space is at eye level with the birds in the surrounding branches, and every window is a picture frame showcasing the soaring hardwoods that nestle in close to her 2,400-squarefoot home.

But what makes this tree house truly unique is its shape - a three-storey octagon, with angles, lines, and inset and outset spaces not seen in any other type of house.

Why an octagon? "Because that was Alan's favourite shape," said Melanie simply. Her husband, Alan Hopkins, was an architect. While he spent most of his career specializing in restoration architecture for the National Capital Commission, anyone living in the Hills will recognize many of his local projects, including the Cascades Club and the Fairbairn House, as well as many private homes. "He slipped in a half octagon in the front of the Wakefield General Store," said Melanie, describing the front entrance of the grocery store Alan helped expand some years back. "He loved octagons."

He and Melanie also loved trees. They built the house themselves back when their kids were little (Chrisalis is a play on their kids' names, Chris and Lisa) and even though the oneacre-plus property in Burnett comes with 175 feet of waterfront on one of the widest points of the Gatineau River, they chose a forest view over a river view. It's a one-minute walk to the shoreline, where Melanie parks what may be the most famous of her late husband's design projects, the Chrisalis II, the large paddlewheeler houseboat that sleeps 10. The pine, maple, and Douglas Fir along that walk soar to a height not often seen in these parts.

Her house is part of a family compound going back at least four generations, and some species came with her grandfather, who planted breeds that interested him from his day job as chief botanist at the Experimental Farm.

With her husband gone, and the kids long moved out, Melanie is putting her unique three-bedroom tree house up for sale to move next door into her parents' former cottage-style house. It's a rare opportunity for someone who loves secluded forest living and original 1970s design that combines open-concept flow but still maintains a cozy feeling in all the tuckedin nooks off the main space. It's currently listed with Paul Lemelin of Keller Williams for $639,900 and can be seen at www.kwdistinction.com/en-ca/ houses-for-sale-in-chelsea/twoor- more-storey/3-bedroomshouse/ ch--maxwell/14198394

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
The scale model that Alan Hopkins made of the Chrisalis - the home he designed and built in Burnett - now stands as a keepsake of architectural creativity.
Houses of the Gatineau Hills
The sauna captures the warm essence of the interior, with one of the home's 16 picture windows framing the lush view outside.
Houses of the Gatineau Hills
The open concept main living area with a kitchen bar and custom wood stove is symmetrically oriented around central living space offering a warm family and social setting at the core of the house.

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
The master bedroom reflects the uniquely angular architecture with crisp contrasts of white walls and wood-clad ceilings.
Houses of the Gatineau Hills
A large, ground level games room reveals a billiards table, and access to the rooftop solarium and the sauna.

Return to list.