Grey Highlands, Ontario, Canada

A Toronto family commissioned a 2,000-square-foot weekend retreat outside of the city on a hilly 100 acres where they bike and hike. Toronto-based Williamson Chong Architects divided the house into two volumes'a poured-in-place raw concrete base buried into the hill and oriented east and a rectangular volume, perched on top, oriented to the west.

Design concept and solution: The concrete base defines a “service bar” of rooms: the entry and stair, kitchen, office, bike garage, storage, and a mechanical room. Adjacent to that, a living room, with cedar-framed windows on three sides, offers panoramic views across the owners’ property. Polished concrete floors contain an efficient radiant-floor heating system.

The plywood-clad second level hovers above the first and contains the bedrooms, bathrooms, and family room. The two floors are connected by a sculpted, curving stair formed of thin, CNC-cut plywood panels. The architects also employed this technology for the siding, which traces an evolving wave-like pattern around the perimeter of the building. A clerestory above the stair dramatizes its flow and introduces natural ventilation.


Owner: Withheld at Owner's Request

Location: Grey Highlands, Ontario, Canada

Completion Date:
September 2009

Gross square footage:
2000sq. ft.

Total construction cost:
Withheld at Owner's Request

Williamson Chong Architects
235 Carlaw Ave., Suite 400
Toronto, Ontario M4M 2S1
T: 416.703.9271

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Betsy Williamson, OAA (registered architect) and Shane Williamson, Principals

Engineer(s): Blackwell Bowick Partnership Ltd.

General contractor: Wilson Project Management

Photographer(s): Bob Gundu



Structural system
Frame: 2x6 wood frame with LVL and 2x10 framing members. There are 6 structural steel columns at the ground floor supporting three main beams that form the cantilever at the window wall.

Floor and Roof Systems: 2x10 wood joists and 9-1/2" TJI 110s.

Exterior cladding
Wood Siding:
The upper volume is custom milled 2x8 (actual) pine boards that were CNC milled by the architect on a 3-axis router with a custom pattern that registers the shadows created by the sun as it moves around the house.

The lower volume is western red cedar siding installed vertically.

Upper volume: Falun Red, iron oxide pigment in a linseed oil base
Lower volume: Clear exterior sealer

Douglas fir wood windows with exterior aluminum cladding by Loewen.

Glass: Clerestory windows are fiberglass windows by Inline Fiberglass.

Entrances: Custom wood exterior door, wood frame with glass with custom wood screen door.
Wood doors: Interior doors are solid core wood with paint finish.

Locksets: Arrow Javelin JL

Interior finishes
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: All millwork is custom by Speke Klein. Upper level is paint finish. Lower level is birch veneer with satin conversion varnish.

Custom Felt Headboard in master bedroom: Kathryn Walter, Felt Studio

Stair: The stair balustrade and treads are solid birch. The curved interior stair, designed and fabricated by the architect, is made of custom CNC milled birch plywood profiles. 

Paints and stains: Walls and ceilings. Benjamin Moore CC-40.

Plastic laminate: Kitchen counter: Nevamar Black Pearl and Wilsonart Laminate Frosty White

Floor and wall tile: Bathroom wall tile is Olympia New Windsor Matte, Salt & Pepper

Window Shades: Solarfective Teleshades, Pearl 1% fabric.

Chairs: Dining Room -  Hans Wegner Y Chair

Upholstery: Window bench is covered in Maharam Venn in Paprika

Fireplace: Heatilator Accelerator Wood Burning Fireplace

Stairwell lighting: Cloud, Frank Ghery, three fixtures in a custom configuration.

Downlights: Eurolite Strategy adjustable recessed downlight

Toto dual flush toilets
Duravit sinks
Meridian Bathtub.
Faucets are Grohe

There is no forced air system in the house. The house is heated with radiant floor loops that supplement the passive winter heat gain from south facing windows.  In addition, there is no mechanical cooling.  Instead, the stair tower and operable windows facilitate passive ventilation that draws cool air through the house from shaded exterior areas. 

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability: Natural materials and pigments were used throughout and a small square footage was maintained to further reduce construction costs and keep future energy consumption to a minimum.