Rural Retreat: Hinterhouse, La Conception, Quebec

Pandemic-fatigued city-dwellers are finding sanctuary in an immaculately detailed retreat cabin north of Montreal, which recently won a 2021 OAQ award.

A prefabricated cabin designed by Montreal-based Ménard Dworkind is the first in a series of luxe rental retreats being construted by a young tech entrepreneur. Photo by David Dworkind

If God is said to be in the details, then Ménard Dworkind Architecture & Design has lavished their concept for a cabin retreat with blessings. On first glance, Hinterhouse—a modernist, nature-adjacent answer to Airbnb—may look like a simple rectangular box, and it is. But zoom in and you’ll discover details, treatments and storage solutions that are far from standard. They might even have the weekend renter wishing they could move in.

The cedar-clad Hinterhouse was conceived for a young tech entrepreneur who wanted a country house for himself. He’d been looking at prefabs from a Quebec company, but when he realized the level of interior customization was limited, he turned to Montreal-based Ménard Dworkind to design a home. He wanted it to be prefabricated, so that he could use one as his personal cabin, and sell others to the public. When the pandemic hit, the client instead saw an opportunity in renting his 100-square-metre cabin to nature-starved city folk. (He’s since invested in the design and construction of a second cabin, with plans to continue adding to the series of one-of-a-kind rental retreats.)

Because the design phase of Hinterhouse was a bit like getting all dressed up with no place to go—there was a brief for a two-bedroom cabin, but no building site—David Dworkind, the lead on the project, set out focusing on the things he and his team could control. “All we knew was the house would be set in nature,” Dworkind says, adding they inserted ample glazing on both sides of the rectangle to maximize the connection to the great outdoors, no matter the location. Beyond that, they concentrated on details and materiality.

On the exterior, channel siding in cedar adds texture and, over time, patina to an otherwise simple structure. The offset pattern is repeated on sliding screens that can be pulled in front of the windows for privacy and light control (a stand-alone sauna got the same exterior TLC). But it’s on the interior, where the cedar is swapped for oiled pine, that the creative solutions flourish, from double-duty furnishings in the kitchen to hidden storage spaces.

“There’s way more storage than you’d need for a weekend getaway, but originally, the client was going to live in the house,” Dworkind says. To keep the design minimalistic, the team concentrated services in a black plywood cube in the centre of the otherwise blond-wood rectangle. The cube conceals electrical and other mechanical parts, but also closets and drawers in the bedrooms, and cupboards and drawers in the kitchen. Another intelligent solution for the kitchen is the hybrid island. With the insertion over the sink of a cutting board in the same material as the coun­tertop, it becomes
a dining table, eliminating the need for a separate table. This hybrid island comes to life not only at dinner parties—thanks to a built-in herb garden, it’s sprouting life of its own.

Even if the cabin originated out of place, it’s become part of its verdant surroundings in the Laurentians, north of Montreal. Looking out at the valley from the miniature garden in the kitchen island, the life inside connects with the life outdoors. You sense the cabin itself is an island—a sanctuary—for urbanites escaping the city and the pandemic. Access to a slice of paradise, more than ever, counts as a blessing.

Susan Nerberg is a writer and editor based in Montreal.