IMG_1380At our cottage, there was a hope and a dream to honour a canoe birch (paper white birch) by installing it within the interior. The tree was miraculously found by our contractors after a major wind storm up north and installed with branches and leaves intact. Which we loved, of course. even if it meant crawling through the branches as if we were living in a forest.

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The tree functions as a structural column, strong enough to handle a spontaneous climber.

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For any custom built-ins or shelving we’re using Baltic birch ply. It’s light and creamy next to the golden cedar interior of the original 1960s cottage.  Our coffee bar, pictured here, just getting set up now with Danish teak chest from Kensington Market, yellow Italian espresso maker from my friend, Ginetta, and pastel-coloured melamine dishes.

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It seems that trees are coming inside more often these days. For a main lobby space at Quality Hotel Expo, Norway, by Haptic Architects, planted trees are set among long communal tables and iconic modern chairs – a dramatic set piece that looks as fantastic inside as it could in a forested park. (Photo Trine Thorsen)

Garden-Tree-House-by-Hironaka-Ogawa-Associates-Yellowtrace-02Garden Tree House by Hironaka Ogawa & Associates.  For this project the Azelkova tree and a Camphor tree from the site were carefully cut then smoked and dried for two weeks to reduce the water content.  They were then reinstalled within the house to serve as main structural elements and central memory totems. (Photo Daici Ano)

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The great Norwegian modernist Sverre Fehn (1924 – 2009) might have been among the first to honour living trees within architecture with this unforgettable gesture at the Venice Biennale’s Nordic Pavillion.  There’s no way to dispute the power of nature here.

IMG_0984For the addition to our cottage in one of Canada’s provincial parks, we decided to follow the Japanese tradition of cladding the exterior with charred cedar. The technique, known as Shou-Sugi-Ban or Yakisugi, is said to raise the natural resins in wood and naturally protect against rot and fire.  (Try igniting a charred log and you’ll see what I mean.) Besides the long-lasting benefits,  the moody-black aesthetic of the burned wood convinced us to try out Yakisugi.

IMG_0973Call us crazy (we were) to burn wood on purpose.  Luckily, our excellent contractor (Brinkman Construction) was game.  He supplied us with a massive propane torch typically used to melt ice on roads, and we char-tested Western Red Cedar and Eastern.  The Eastern, primarily because it’s local and readily available, won out. We laid out about 12 boards at a time and went to work. It’s very intense and best done in pairs: one person working the torch, the other ready with a wet brush and pail of water to control wandering licks of fire.

IMG_0965The depth of the charring in Japan varies wildly, from wood burned deeply over fire pits to light charring.  Swiss architect Peter Zumthor charred the interior of the Bruder Klaus Field Chapel in Germany to create a mystical experience.  We decided to go for the sateen finish of the lighter char to gain some rot resistance and heighten the wood’s natural grain.  It took nearly three days to produce about 400 boards.

IMG_1506We’re thrilled with the result.  In full sunshine, the wood takes on a silver patina.

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Our Yakisugi cedar with newly installed black frame windows.

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Now we’re counting down the days ’til construction inside and out is complete.  More on that – and the Birch tree installed inside the cottage – to come.  Happy creative summer!

ztjacob6Students at Canada’s Trent University, a masterwork of 1960s modernism, lounging on Swan chairs by the great Danish designer, Arne Jacobsen.   Did they know how cool they were?

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An archival photo of one of the Trent lounges, graced by Jacobsen Swan chairs around an Eero Saarinen table. Built-in furniture and modular wood chandelier by Canadian great, Ron Thom.

img_4134As my homage to the vast collection of mid-century furniture that once flourished then disappeared at Trent, here’s a tribute with some of the chairs I’ve been collecting for a while, and the joy that they bring.

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Restaurant L'ExpressL’Express, a Montreal classic on rue St. Denis, where the ambience and bifteak with frites are a rare treat.  (Photo: Andre Cornellier.)

IMG_1371The Building as Sign.  A commercial building renovated 33 years ago, L’Express is an instant stand-out for its glass archway, cream-coloured painted masonry and heated black and white tiles on front terrace that move seamlessly from the sidewalk inside.

IMG_1360Spring flowers at L’Express, planted with a hint of the kitsch and the bohemian spirit of the 1970s.

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Laloux, another chic eatery by Laporte where he repeats some of his favourite design tropes:  mirrors galore, black woodwork and wainscotting, cream-coloured walls and arched window.

IMG_1344Arthur Quentin, a glorious housewares boutique in Montreal lined in plywood with custom shelving, first designed by Laporte in 1975 and subsequently as a series of rooms made possible when the owner bought out the neighbours.

IMG_1354Owner of Arthur Quentin,  Renée Fournier, looking out from her boutique onto St. Denis, with L’Express across the street.

IMG_1316Inside Luc Laporte’s live-work studio on Square Saint-Louis in Montreal’s Le Plateau neighbourhood. A space with boat-like efficiency and everything you need: some dishes, sugar and coffee. Most meals Laporte enjoyed at restaurants and cafes. (yes, he was single and without children.)

IMG_1323Books in Laporte’s studio – not surprisingly, Eileen Gray, a great designer of exquisite small spaces, features among them.

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The plaque on the front facade of L’Express.  A lot of architects say nothing at all with big buildings.  Laporte said a lot about ways to satisfy our cravings for small social spaces.

IMG_4377friendships are the glue to cities, and this doesn’t just mean intensification and destiny.  city sidewalks are long, linear stages for conversation.
IMG_4382so are outdoor dining rooms
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and breakfast places that become bars at night
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or art exhibitions to navigate
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cities are where friendship finds alchemy in colour and light
Folk Art Facade 3, Image By Giles Ashfordwhere there also causes to defend.  Here, the sculpted white-bronze facade of the American Folk Museum, slated for demolition by its hungry neighbour, the Museum of Modern Art, NYC.

IMG_7953The Millennial Generation (born between 1980 – 2000) believes in beauty in design and architecture. They skirt the windswept modern plazas to seek out cities with secret courtyards and rooms, such as this 12th century university centre in the walkable neighbourhood of Hauz Khas, New Delhi, India.

IMG_7934One of the cafes (actually it’s a tea salon) preferred by the Millennial Gen in Hauz Khas, New Delhi.

IMG_8644It’s possible to spot Milly-Gen neighbourhoods in cities around the world.  Watch for cultural fusion and art that’s part of streetlife, not sequestered to institutions.  In Istanbul, eclectic vintage stores are layered next to antique jewellers next to architecture studios in Tophane district across the river from the ancient Hagia Sophia. Even the heaps of garbage on the sidewalk are artful.

IMG_8677The Milly-Gen tends to be well-travelled and well-educated.  They’re foodies with a love of eclectic, locally-grown dishes that pull on old traditions.  This fresh Istanbul breakfast served in a neighbourhood transitioning from strict Muslim…

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In Toronto at the Stop Market anti-poverty fundraiser – a crowd of Milly-Gens contemplates life in the big city, naturally, in a parking lot.  Values of the Millennial Generation in Big City Canada: EQUALITY OF THE SEXES; PERSONAL CREATIVITY; NEED FOR ESCAPE; CULTURAL FUSION; FLEXIBILITY OF GENDER IDENTITY; CONTROL OF DESTINY; ECOLOGICAL LIFESTYLE; INTROSPECTION AND EMPATHY; EQUAL RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUTH;  GLOBAL ECOLOGICAL AWARENESS; DISCRIMINATING CONSUMERISM; PURSUIT OF ORIGINALITY; SOCIAL LEARNING.
(Environics Analytics)

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Fresh roses, rue des Archives, Paris, after the March snowstorm

IMG_0585Ile Saint-Louis church poster on wooden poster board

IMG_0504Grand creme, late afternoon lunch, at the ever venerable Les Deux Magots (1884).

IMG_0593The passing of time, church foundation wall, Ile Saint-Louis.

IMG_0856Spice and pepper stall, open-air spring market, Aix-en-Provence

IMG_0843Lemons fresh from Spain at Aix market.

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