When Michelle and Tyler Armstrong first started working with Marvin DeJong at DeJong Design Associates (DDA) to design their house in Rideau Park, the couple had difficulty pinning down their exact vision. But the design came together once the roof was brought into the picture. The distinctive curved-timber roof makes the West Coast-modern-inspired house a sight to behold from the outside. And inside, the wood ceiling in the upstairs family room gives the space a breezy grandeur.
Michelle Armstrong wanted the room to have a comfortable feel, where the couple’s two teenaged daughters could relax and do their homework. The Douglas fir timber glulam (a shortening of “glued laminated timber”) rafters and Kayu Batu wood are visually impressive, but the materials also make the space very inviting. “Wood is just so warm,” says DeJong. “Even though this is a contemporary house, there’s nothing austere about it. People love that connection to real wood.”
Creating the curved roof was an intricate and involved process. DDA provided the timber frame supplier with drawings. The rafters were made in B.C., then shipped back to Calgary. “It’s a bit like a Meccano kit. It all comes pre-cut, pre-made, and you basically assemble the roof on site with a crane,” says DeJong. “You can’t be an inch bigger or inch smaller; it has to fit. There’s a lot of coordination required when you do a roof like this.”
Coordination and cooperation were imperative to all parts of the process of creating this home. DDA worked closely with interior design firm McIntyre Bills and general contractor Stonewater Homes to create the Armstrongs’ distinctive addition to the Rideau Park streetscape.
Interior designer James McIntyre credits the unified design of the house to everyone’s collaborative efforts. “I love, architecturally, how integrated the inside is with the outside,” says McIntyre. “I think it’s an example of great teamwork when the interior designer and the architect and the builder are all on the same page. That’s when you get your most successful result, when they’re working as a team.”
McIntyre’s design for the interior of the Armstrong home was inspired by the architecture of the house and the beauty of the Elbow River. Along with his design-firm partner Ronald Bills, McIntyre focused on making choices that would reflect the surroundings rather than draw attention away from them. “We tried to choose furniture that had a strong connection to the architecture – that is, not too decorative, but furniture that looks more like it fits conceptually. When you do that, it allows the eye to enjoy the view out to the water,” he says.
McIntyre points to the hand-blown glass chandelier that hangs above the dining table as an example. He and Michelle Armstrong found the John Pomp Studios piece while on a buying trip they had taken together to Los Angeles. “The chandelier, as beautiful as it is, you can see through it to the river because it’s glass. It’s not obstructing the view, it’s enhancing the view,” says McIntyre. “None of [the furniture is] too attention-seeking.”
Functional beauty was a key concern for both Michelle and Tyler. “There’s a practicality to the Armstrongs. As much as they wanted [the home] to be beautiful, because it’s a busy family home they wanted it to be functional and practical,” says McIntyre.
The result is a mix of custom touches and easy pieces. The kitchen features luxurious items like the chandelier, a custom dining table by Red Eight Workshop and a granite countertop and granite backsplash. The second-floor family room is a more relaxed space with wave wall art from IKEA and a cheerful turquoise patterned rug from Crate and Barrel. The mix of the functional and beautiful creates a home where the Armstrongs can run through their whirlwind everyday routine of school, work and extracurriculars, and still entertain family and friends with a touch of grandeur.
Three Tips for Choosing Materials
An essential component of home design is choosing the right materials. Designer Marvin DeJong prefers to use natural materials wherever possible. “A design tenet is that there’s truth in materials,” he says. Here are DeJong’s three tips on materials that elevate the design of a home.
1. Full Bed Masonry Full bed masonry, a thick stone or brick that is used as a finish, helps to ground a home. “Brick has weight to it. It’s thick; it roots the house. We tend to do that on traditionally based houses. We like to root them and we use [real stone] masonry.”
2. Real Materials DeJong is not a fan of faux. He prefers to use cementitious siding, or cement fibre board, and recommends using the smooth side rather than anything with faux-wood grain. “We never use anything with fake-wood embossing on it,” he says. “I joke that I can’t find that wood grain in nature, so let’s just not pretend.”
3. Triple-paned Windows “I can always tell the quality of a house in construction when the windows go in,” DeJong says. “Always use great windows. [The best windows are] usually metal-clad windows. They are the most robust window for our environment.”