Swiss Chalet

Project Clearview Chalet, Clearview Township, Ontario
Architect Atelier Kastelic Buffey
Text Penny Tomlin
Photos Shai Gil

Set against a hillside in southern Ontario’s ski country, the black exterior of the Clearview Chalet contrasts sharply with the white, snowy landscape around it. Inside, the contrast dissolves as the white interior blends seamlessly with the white landscape. An homage to the wintry outdoor environment, this open contemporary space still manages to exude warmth, achieved through a number of trade secrets employed by project architects Robert Kastelic and Kelly Buffey.

Kastelic and Buffey are the principals of AKB (Atelier Kastelic Buffey), an architectural firm in downtown Toronto. The two met while working at Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects, and opened their studio in 2004, specializing in high-end residential projects. As is the case with most aspiring architectural firms, their list of clientele has grown by word of mouth. Satisfied with their home renovations in the city, several clients have since contracted AKB to design and build vacation homes. This project is one of four country retreats that AKB have recently completed in the area.

Both Kastelic and Buffey enjoy the freedom that comes with designing a project such as this. “Clients are more likely to give emerging practices an opportunity to do ‘ground-up’ buildings when they are outside the city,” says Buffey. “We are allowed more latitude in the country,” Kastelic adds. “It’s a proving ground. Clients allow us to take risks and be more creative. We appreciate that we are able to do that.”

Married, the pair are partners in life as well as in business. Kastelic studied architecture at the University of Waterloo, and Buffey had a degree in interior design and was working in that field when she decided to undertake a Master’s degree in architecture, which she completed in 2007 at the University of Toronto. Although an intern architect, Buffey designed and managed the Clearview Chalet project. Both agree that her strength lies in her ability to develop a conceptual vision and to focus on the details. She views a project from the exterior as well as the interior, and uses her attention to detail to blend the two together. “For example,” she says, “if the intention is to put a bed between two windows, then the windows must be placed an appropriate distance apart when designing the elevation.” Kastelic, on the other hand, has strong technical abilities. “We have different strengths,” says Buffey. “Together, we are a strong team.” 

The Clearview Chalet is a prime example of this partnership at work. The limited budget and compressed construction schedule of four months imposed by the clients presented real challenges, but simultaneously allowed a great deal of creativity. The pair cite the important role their builder, Wilson Project Management of Collingwood, played in completing the project within that four-month period, just in time for the client to host a New Year’s Eve party.

The exterior of the chalet is fashioned after Japanese-style agrarian buildings, utilizing the application of pine board and batten in a vertical orientation. This inexpensive material enabled the doubling up of the number of battens, giving the illusion of a much higher-grade exterior. A coat of black paint to match the low-pitched overhanging metal roof unifies the exterior and gives it a bold presence. 

A design feature particular to AKB and evident in this chalet are its windows and doors. “We don’t paste doors on the elevation,” says Kastelic. “We’re not building a motel.” Consequently, he devised a technique that subtly projects the window mouldings outward from the elevation. The design provides texture, depth and relief to the elevation, as do clearly defined entrances. Visitors enter a sheltered entry alcove at the front of the building to access the front door. A shift in the scale of the boards’ width along with a change in orientation of the cladding from vertical to horizontal defines this entry alcove. Similar horizontal cladding defines the entrance at the back of the building, where the one-storey front elevation gives way to a two-storey structure, a consequence of the sloping site. 

Unfortunately, the client’s limited budget meant the planned exterior stairs and walkway that would have connected the front and back entrances could not be realized. And landscaping, which would have linked the exterior of the chalet more intimately with the surrounding hillside, was ultimately dropped from the plan. A hot tub was added by the client post-construction, sited immediately outside the back entrance, an unfortunate decision which compromises the overall integrity of the project.

The practical and economical design approach is apparent in the interior of this 2,600-square-foot chalet. Here, the client’s request for minimal maintenance is met, in part, through diamond-ground radiantly heated concrete floors. The main floor is comprised of a mudroom and adjoining laundry area, den, powder room, open kitchen, and a living room with a wood-burning fireplace. Large windows on both sides of the living area provide a visual connection to the landscape and a beautiful view of Nottawasaga Bay. Interestingly, the interior ceiling peak in the living room does not reflect the symmetrical exterior peak of the roof line. In order to keep the interior spaces clearly defined, the interior ceiling peak runs symmetrically down the centre of the living room, leaving the adjacent corridor and stairwell defined by a flat ceiling on the south side of the house.

White oak stairs lead to the lower level, which features a master bedroom with an ensuite bathroom that can be closed off for privacy with a sliding partition, or left open for guests. One of the client’s requirements was that the home be able to accommodate plenty of guests. As a result, the children’s room was designed to fit three sets of bunk beds, allowing each of the three children to have a friend sleep over. Two guest bedrooms, a separate toilet and shower, and a small television room complete the ground floor. As the rooms on this level are relatively shallow in depth, natural daylight is able to penetrate fully into each.

Deep windowsills in the bedrooms and mudroom imply thick walls and an “old notion” of warmth, according to Kastelic. The Clearview Chalet is full of subtle design details like this–details that can be felt but not necessarily seen. And that “feeling of space” is precisely what Kastelic and Buffey strive for in their design process, something they’ve clearly achieved in this modest but carefully considered retreat. CA

Penny Tomlin is a freelance writer and the editor of Dimensions, the magazine of the Interior Designers of Canada.

Client N/A
Design Team Kelly Buffey, Robert Kastelic, Artur Kobylanski, Terry Sin, Ebrahim Oliazadeh
Structural STR Engineering Inc.
Mechanical MIT-CON Services Inc.
Contractor Wilson Project Management
Budget N/A
Area 2,600 ft2
Completion December 2010