Brian MacKay-Lyons Architect
On a Nova Scotia hilltop, Brian MacKay-Lyons perches Hill House, a duo of buildings that bow toward each other like a pair of dancers
Glacial drift, like large fingers, molded the terrain along the south shore of Nova Scotia, creating a series of drumlins, elongated hills with undulant sides. On one such mound stands architect Brian MacKay-Lyons’s Hill House, a sentinel visible from miles away, capturing 360-degree views of the ocean to the east and south and a bay to the north and west. The dizzying drive to the house follows a tortuous coastline of inlets and outlets. Along a vast network of tiny coastal towns and miles of waterfront property—strewn with large, loose rocks seemingly tossed by giants—upscale dwellings, increasing in number, contrast with the poverty of local fishing communities.
From the winding road that rises up the hill, sequential views of the architecture open up, though the house initially remains hidden by the underlying terrain. Ultimately, a pair of wedge-shaped buildings comes into view. Bowing toward each other, these two sculptural, cedar-clad forms hug the crown of the hill so integrally that, at first glance, they resemble an earthwork—art derived from the landscape itself.
Programmatically, a two-building scheme suited the clients’ desire for a guest suite independent from the main house, ensuring their own privacy and that of their European visitors staying for extended periods. According to MacKay-Lyons, the Hill House clients came to him with consistent and clear aspirations on all levels of detail. As art collectors, they wanted ample wall space to display their work; as lovers of the landscape, they sought out views. The design gives them both. Now large folk art sculptures and paintings play against the spare, light-filled interior. And as Sweetapple puts it, “Our houses are viewing instruments in the landscape.”
In the 2,000-square-foot main house, windows line three sides of an elongated living/dining/kitchen space. An entire stretch of maple cabinets runs beneath one such wall of windows, unifying various functions and camouflaging kitchen appliances and the pantry on one end, while providing storage for the living room on the other. Radiant heat under a polished concrete floor, along with a Danish wood-burning stove, provide all the warmth needed to keep the place comfortable even during harsh winters. The master bedroom and library/office also occupy the entry floor, while a half-basement houses a gym, sauna, darkroom, and photographic studio.
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