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Small is Here to Stay

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Common Sense Window Shading for Sustainable Living

Change takes place over a period of time that we don’t realize that some things have come to stay till we actually think about it. With urbanized overcrowding driving people out of cities to relocate to other less populated areas, with hopefully cheaper real estate, city planners, developers and homeowners have slowly but surely arrived at an appreciable solution to keeping folks from moving, and to maintain the façade of cities instead of going high rise. Exorbitant real estate has urged homeowners into converting outdoor sheds, or rooms over garages into cosy little homes to rent out, or as additional dwelling for elderly folks who want to hang on to their independence, and not least for young adults or grown children who can’t afford independent housing in the waning and waxing economy. Folks who have relatively large housing lots can opt to build additional homes not exceeding a certain size (depending on city norms), generally anywhere between 250-800 Sq. ft., creating structures that are easily managed and sustained to provide green living, without infringing on privacy and amenities, keeping folks from moving away. Vancouver’s lane housing is a prime example of this system.

Small housing is better – it’s easy to maintain, cheaper to heat and cool, and with people losing jobs left, right and centre, or with folks not able to find high-paying jobs, downsizing makes sense. In America, Many large homeowners rent out the main building and move into smaller backyard homes, creating additional income for themselves. Isn’t that really cool?!

But nothing brought the fact home better than the housing on the Magdalen Islands – we vacationed on the windswept and treeless Havre-Aux-Maisons this summer, one of the six interconnected Islands. This little archipelago of red crags and endless dunes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence that has a small year-round community, is quite the summer destination for Quebecers –call it a rugged, Francophone Cape Cod but with few golf courses. Though we stayed at a local Inn, we got to hear of a couple of vacation homes that we were remiss in researching. The Magdalen Islands’ residential character is exemplified by small, colourful homes that are quite unassuming and uniform in character – magenta, canary yellow and even black painted homes lend color to an otherwise bleak landscape. According to local lore, fishermen painted them the same colors as their boats and used their homes as reference points when sailing. Though navigation techniques are markedly more sophisticated today, the lively paint jobs have stayed on.

Thoroughly won over, we requested a tour of the 1690 sq. ft. vacation home belonging to Montrealers, Yves Bériault and Diane Decoste, very like the other vibrant residences on the Island, a cerulean blue inspired by the sea and the sky. Originally a one-room schoolhouse built in 1915, by the time Bériault and Decoste bought it from a friend and neighbor it was yellow, metal-clad, and not in the least representative of the local architecture. With the help of their architects, they tore out the false ceiling, baring a high arched open space – the bones of the building needed little work, and they retained the pine interiors. They now have an open living room and kitchen area with a small suspended office and a vaulted ceiling soaring some 35 feet above.



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Houses on the Magdalen Islands are often square affairs, with smaller outbuildings situated just behind. “In the old houses you’d have the main house and then about 20 feet away a small duplicate,” says Bériault. “It was used as a storehouse to dry fish or keep cranberries.” These tiny replicas still abound, though now they more likely house lawn mowers or tandem kayaks. So in slightly increased dimensions, the outhouse was converted to a master bedroom suite, with the bathroom below it and adjoining a sitting area that doubled as a library, and the entrance to this area, sliding glass doors that look out onto undulating green pastures and a small canal through which boats pass as they head out to sea. Oh, decadent beauty! And this outhouse is linked to the main house by an orange cedar corridor, rich in expression and texture, resembling a boxcar that has come to rest at an angle between the two structures. This home reflects the local vernacular with exciting complexity that is derived from child-like simplicity!
And what struck us was that though the house was wonderfully ventilated, the windows were all modestly sized, with rectangular double-hung windows brightening up the interiors, and sensibly covered with shades that reflected the overall energy efficiency of the house. Motorized Cellular shades help save up to 30% of a home’s energy consumption, their cells trapping air that forms a mighty barrier against infiltration and exfiltration of air around heated or cooled window panes. Also, they dull the sound of the howling winds that sweep the area! Even those who live in the remotest of places know the importance of covering windows in order to save energy. Brings to mind a movie based in the Antarctica – the wooden shed the scientists used were covered by thickly insulated shades – looked like Roman shades to me!
The next time we visit, we were going to book this place – how awesome is that?!


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