Whoa! It’s a real house!

I’d like to talk about the process we’ve been going through with Solares, our architects, and how we got to where we are. It’s been an extremely fun and eye-opening experience, to say the least.

You might recall that our house will be built from 16×16 foot modular units from MAFCO House. We specified six modules but allowed for seven if we thought we needed the space.

So imagine our surprise at attending the first design meeting at Solares and finding they had developed a whole set of floorplans based on seven and eight modules.

Were they not listening?

They were.

Tom was clear that these were not to be “chosen from.” We were to look at the features of each and just talk generally about what we liked and didn’t like.

The exercise took a bit of reorienting our thinking. We had such emotional investment in some of our earlier preferences that we really had to open our minds up to new ideas.

For instance, we had loved the way that some of the MAFCO houses provided a view in three directions by sticking a module out the front. Every design we had conceived included that idea.


Mafco - Sportun-Woodbury home

Mafco – Sportun-Woodbury home

But the more Tom and Jered showed us other designs and talked through the practicalities, it become clear that this idea was both impractical and unnecessary.

Impractical in that it limited the use of that space and made for weird traffic flow. It also gave us three exterior walls separated from the elements by nothing but glass.

Unnecessary because we can get just as good a view and better traffic flow with a long wide flat glass front.

Tom also introduced us to a feature we hadn’t thought about – a screen porch. With a screen porch we could extend our outdoor patio time into three seasons (one of which is “mosquitoes”) and effectively expand our living space by a full 16×16 module for less than the cost of an indoor module.

Another important realization was that Barry needs an office with a door that affords him privacy, while I prefer an open office that allows me to wander in and out and work in a variety of settings. This again shifted our thinking and expanded our idea of how to use space.

The process unfolded predictably after awhile.

They’d give us a design. We’d like it but tell them to move this wall over a foot or reverse the bathroom or put the fireplace over there.

They would ignore our direction, ask us why we wanted those changes, then give us a better solution that solved our issues.

In this way we steadily worked our way to a 6-module design using three of the more expensive 16×20 modules instead of 16×16.  (I think this was Concept J or thereabouts.)

It had everything!

Sure it was larger than we had planned, but we couldn’t see a way to make it any smaller, so we gave Jered a few minor suggestions and told him it was perfect!

But no. It wasn’t.

Now it was time, we learned, to take all of the good things we liked about that design and make them fit into our original six-module specification.


Those of you who are writers know the adage about how it’s harder to write short than long.

Well, the same applies to architecture.  Any hack can fit everything you want into a 3,000 square foot home. But it takes real creativity to design an elegant solution that fits into less than 1600 square feet.

And so they did. (Click images to enlarge)

Floorplan Apr 1 2015

This design takes advantage of the open nature of  “post and beam” construction. It gives us a wide open length along the south side with no supporting walls to break up the flow. The partial fireplace wall will serve as a simple divider.

My office is at the west end of the living room between the fireplace wall and screen porch. Barry’s office and the workout room will both double as guest rooms. The workout room will also be our TV room.

Keep in mind, all the details are still to be worked out – from kitchen layout and bathroom fixtures to windows and doors to exterior and interior finishes. The only existing furniture we’ve designed around are our bedroom set and my work table. Everything else is just placeholder.


This is the the south side of the house, facing the lake.

 This is the the south side of the house, facing the lake. The front door is at the east end. The screen porch is at the more private west end. 4-1-2015 12-21-58 PM4-1-2015 12-21-58 PM


North ElevationThis is the “back” or north side of the house. The house sits up on a ridge that drops off a good 10-15 feet into the forest behind the house.


Southeast View


 Southeast corner of the house showing front entrance porch. The privacy wall serves to shelter us from our neighbours, whose house appeared closer than we expected once the trees lost their leaves.


Southwest view

Southwest corner showing the screen porch.


West end

The west end with screen porch and our bedroom windows. We’re already talking about making those windows smaller. That big “hump” is a rock now known as “the whale.”


Front EntryEast end. The front door here will be made pretty. The garage will stay the same size but have 2 garage doors in the next iteration.


In other updates –

  • We’ve selected a construction manager / builder.
  • We’ve had a preliminary analysis done to determine the feasibility and ROI of installing solar panels under Ontario’s MicroFit program and the results are extremely encouraging.
  • We’ve also had an energy modelling analysis done by ReNU Building Science. We’re going over those results this week and will use their numbers to determine optimal window sizes and building envelope and HVAC specifications.
  • I will talk more about energy, insulation, “passivhaus” and other “green” factors we’re working on in a future post.


For other updates on this project, click the Sweetfern tag above this post.