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Expansive windows and a free-flowing interior open this house up to spectacular views filtered through a leafy green canopy

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Summer vacations are memorable for lots of reasons, but it's often the opportunities to get close to nature that provide the most lasting memories.

This house takes that concept one step further, providing a retreat that's just like camping out, but with all the home comforts. In every room, the only thing separating the owners from nature is a pane of glass.

But it wasn't always this way. Architect Gilles Depardon says that despite its picturesque, lakefront setting, this 1970s house originally turned in on itself. As well as having small windows, there was a solid wood railing on the deck that completely blocked the view from the living room seating area. Large eaves also protruded above the clerestory windows, ensuring any potential view of the trees was lost.

"In addition, many of the interior spaces were closed off from the view due to the fact that the main living areas and kitchen were separate rooms," Depardon says.

The owners commissioned Depardon and fellow architect Kathy Ogawa to create a house that would maximise the spectacular location, and better reflect their relaxed lifestyle.

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"The shape of the house has largely remained unchanged, as we kept to the same footprint," says Depardon. "But the facade has been altered. The original dark-grey vertical siding was replaced with pre-stained cedar boards that have a light, weathered look. And the roofs were effectively pulled back, with the eaves removed to allow a view of the trees through the clerestory windows."

Depardon says the house had a number of exterior walls that appeared to slice through the house, linking the indoors to the outside. These were reduced in number to simplify and streamline the design.

The entrance was also changed to open up the view through the house. Originally a separate room with no link to the view beyond, the entrance was extended towards the driveway, internal walls removed and windows added.

"It is designed so you discover the view as you come towards the entrance," says Depardon. "The lake appears, then disappears again. The glimpse of what lies beyond creates an air of anticipation that draws you in."

The most dramatic structural changes, however, are evident inside the house, which was fully opened up to the view. The original wood beams were replaced with a steel and glass structure that creates a wall of glass from floor to ceiling. A double-height volume in the main living area allows even more glass, providing views of the treetops and sky. Several skylights also provide views of the canopy, and let in light. But Depardon says some of the original skylights were removed.

"We wanted to control the view as you move through the house," he says. "Rather than have windows in all directions, the design focuses the eye towards specific outlooks, framing key views for maximum impact."

Walls between the living room, dining room and kitchen were removed to create one large open-plan space – sliding glass doors can screen the dining area if required. The original, stepped, pyramid-style chimney was also removed, and replaced with a sheer stone chimney that appears to slice through the ceiling.

The chimney helps define the living spaces – a television viewing area is positioned on the far side. A further room was added by enclosing an outdoor deck. This area is now a piano room, which extends out towards the trees and the lake.

Depardon says all the rooms now have views, including the kitchen. Originally, the only link between the kitchen and living room was a pass-through window. The new kitchen is designed so the owners can enjoy the view from the main sink countertop.

The main bedroom wing is stepped up a level from the living floor, and reached via a glass bridge. As with the main floor, these rooms feature quartersawn white oak flooring, which provides visual continuity, and complements the green outside.

Depardon says windows in the main bedroom suite were replaced with full-height panes. One narrow window that overlooked a gutter was removed – the space now features built-in shelving. The original fireplace was also replaced with a more contemporary model with a stone surround.

"The main bathroom really sums up everything that is special about this location," says Depardon. "It is right next to a bed of moss, so we continued the green colour inside the room with glass wall tiles. We also positioned the rainhead shower right next to the full-height window, so it feels like you are showering outdoors."

Depardon says that because the location is extremely private, there are no blinds or curtains on any of the windows – a factor that further increases these sense of being at one with nature.

First published date: 17 August 2007

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Credit List

Architect Gilles Depardon and Kathy Ogawa, Ogawa Depardon Architects (New York, USA)
Main contractor 8 x 8 Construction
Kitchen manufacturer Flying Chameleon
Siding Pre-stained cedar
Decking IPE
Doors and windows Robert Frost Design Build
Flooring Quartersawn white oak
Lighting design SM Lighting
Fireplace Rhodes Stone
Kitchen cabinetry Teak veneer
Countertops Pietra Cardosa
Cooktop Viking
Combi oven Miele
Dishwashers Miele
Kitchen sink Franke
Kitchen tap KWC
Tub surround White Carrara marble
Tub Zuma
Shower fittings Dornbracht
Bathroom wall tiles Ann Sacks
Floor tiles Limestone
Bathroom taps Dornbracht
Bedroom fireplace surround Limestone