An Artist Designs a Small House with a Big Impact
Photos by Steve Smith, VisionFire Studios
When her marriage ended in 1999, Louise Cloutier left her home on the Northumberland Strait near Pugwash and rented a house along the River Philip, a move that healed her broken heart.
“I fell in the love with the river,” says Louise, who moved to Nova Scotia from Quebec in 1989. “You don’t play on the ocean in the winter time but on the river, you can snowshoe and do other activities. The river was where I wanted to be.”
A friend suggested a property down the road that might be for sale, and on the day Louise knocked on the owner’s door to inquire, she returned to the rented house knowing the four-acre mix of woods and fields that extends right to the river was hers.
There was an old barn on the property and Louise thought she’d renovate it to live in but an engineer told her it wasn’t worth saving.
“But the barn had all this metal on the roof so before demolishing it, I saved the metal,” she says.
Louise wanted to use that old steel on the outside of her new house but her carpenter told her it wasn’t usable; there were too many holes. Undeterred, Louise told him to put it on the inside walls, while new steel went on the exterior.
“As a single woman, I wanted my home as maintenance-free as possible so I never have to paint the outside of the house,” explains the now-retired high school art teacher. “There’s steel on the outside and steel on the inside; it’s the kind of house that you can huff and puff but never blow it down!” she laughs. She also lined an interior wall with natural wood shingles and finished her downstairs bathroom with raw lumber in order to minimize maintenance inside as well.
Beginning with a basic saltbox house, Louise designed the interior space of her home with architect Frank Lloyd Wright and her travels in Europe as inspiration.
“His idea was to get away from the box room and have a free-flowing space,” she says. “And in Europe, I enjoyed the narrow alleyways where you look up and see the sky above.”
A central circling staircase provides the interior walls and gives the impression of the house spiralling upwards.
When it came time to do the kitchen, Louise didn’t have enough money for cupboards. Rather than go into debt for the kitchen she’d designed, she asked her carpenter to build her a workbench to go along the shorter wall under a window. He then lined it with metal and cut a hole in it for the old farmhouse sink Louise had found in the old barn and refurbished. That sink is the ultimate contrast with the industrial kitchen she ended up with thanks to a long steel countertop and steel shelving found at a second-hand restaurant equipment store in Truro.
Although the kitchen has two windows, Louise wanted to make an even bigger impact so above the long kitchen table hangs a large painting of the Confederation Bridge against a blue sky.
“You don’t see a wall when you walk in and that painting is there,” explains the realist painter. “I learned that when you have a small space, you don’t go with little things. You go big and it gives a bigger impression.”
In 2011, Louise fell in love again, this time with a poet named Richard. She says going from living alone to having another person in the house was “quite an adjustment” but at least he didn’t have much to move in.
“He had his suitcases full of poetry,” she says with a smile. Upstairs are two bedrooms, a bathroom and a space she uses for yoga, so the guest room became Richard’s writing room and the closet was enlarged into her yoga room.
It’s a fair trade considering Richard allowed Louise to take over the main floor of his house in Pugwash so she could fulfil her retirement plan of opening her own art studio.
An American citizen, Richard must return to the States every six months and since retiring in 2015, Louise goes down south with him. After spending the winter on the ocean under a vast sky, she loves returning home to her house along the river with its large windows and light-filled rooms.
“Here, it’s the woods. The woods are in the house; every window frames the woods. And it’s quiet and private.”
Blending in to her beloved property was an unexpected bonus of her low-maintenance design.
“I like the fact that the outside comes in,” she says. “I also like that when you stand back and look at the unpainted stainless steel on the outside, it reflects the sky. I like how the house fits into the environment.”