Nova Scotia, Canada

“On the first day on the project, we decided to fly it off a cliff,” says Brian MacKay-Lyons, describing the simple wood and steel–frame residence his firm designed. The two-story, 970-square-foot house juts out from its perch on a bluff overlooking Nova Scotia's windswept Atlantic coast. “We thought, 'we can be boring and build on land, or we can do it this way.' ” And so the Cliff House was born.

The owners, a young family that shuttles between a primary residence in California and their native Nova Scotia, didn't want their summer house to upstage its dramatic site. To that end, Halifax-based MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects (MLS) hewed to their practice's principles, choosing simple materials: an envelope of cedar acts as a kind of “wood lampshade,” wrapping a steel frame, explains MacKay-Lyons. The area's ubiquitous fishing shacks served as inspiration for the Cliff House, and the architect expects the house's cladding, like that of the cabins from which it takes its form, to “pickle” in Nova Scotia's briny air.

Inside, the house has a pared-down, rough-hewn aesthetic that showcases its wood-and-steel construction. This simplicity, says MacKay-Lyons, minimizes distractions, highlighting views of the ocean and coastline just beyond large windows at the front of the house. Open-plan communal spaces on the first level, and a second-level bedroom that overlooks the living room and has views out to the sea, create a sense that the house is “hung from the ocean horizon,” says MacKay-Lyons. “When you're in the house, you should feel mostly a sense of refuge.”

Completion Date: June 2011

Gross Square Footage: 960 sq feet


MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects Ltd.
2188 Gottingen Street
Halifax, NS
B3K 3B4
T: 902-429-1867
F: 902-2496276

Architect of Record:
Brian MacKay-Lyons
Talbot Sweetapple

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Brian MacKay-Lyons, Partner in Charge
Talbot Sweetapple, Partner
Kevin Reid, Project Architect


Engineer: Campbell Comeau

General contractor:
Gordon MacLean

Greg Richardson

CAD system, project management,
or other software used:




Structural system:
Steel Frame

Miconos Suspension; Erneoto Gismondi

Faucet: Grohe, Tenso Cavatory Centerset, Watercare, 32924
Bathtub: Kohler ' Archer 6' K-1125-LA
Wash Basin: Duravit, Vero # 045260
Toilet: Eco Drake, Toto
Tub Filler: Tenso, Grohe

Faucet: Grohe, Dual Spray 33939
Dish washer: Thermador, DWHD44EF
Cooktop: Thermador, LEM304FS
Oven: Thermador, ME301EP
Fridge: Miele, KFN 9755 ICE

Hearth: Pacific Energy