Alta Chalet by Akb Architects is designed as a year-round weekend retreat for a family of five, comprising 3,000 square feet of efficiently planned living space spread over two storeys. Located near the end of a cul-de-sac in a private ski club development, the chalet optimizes the scenic and recreational opportunities afforded by the Blue Mountains, a town in Grey County located two hours northwest of Toronto. Tucked between a protected ravine and the Niagara Escarpment, the site is characterized by an abundance of deciduous and coniferous trees which, in summer, offer welcome shade and privacy. Photography by Shai Gil
Successfully integrating into its context, the project responds deferentially to the scale of the neighbouring houses while offering a distinct interpretation of a conventional ski chalet. In contrast to a typical and expected architectural vocabulary of fussy dormers and deep eaves, Alta Chalet communicates an ethos of contemporary design and elegant detailing that derives from the local vernacular tradition of the barn. Its iconic presence – defined by a reductive black-and-white colour scheme and a tight, clean, gabled roof edge – complements the intelligence of its spatial and economic efficiency.
The inversion of program results in the public spaces occupying the top floor to facilitate appreciation of long vistas to the surrounding ski hills. Here, the family congregates in the open-concept kitchen, dining and living areas; a private den with access to a large south-facing outdoor deck completes the arrangement. Below, the ground floor comprises more intimate functions of bed and bath, along with a sauna and direct access to the outdoor hot tub deck. A garage accommodates two vehicles, with extra room for tuning skis and other recreational equipment. Notably, primary access to the chalet is neatly concealed, mediated through a screened and covered entry passage articulated with vertically oriented wood slats painted white. This device achieves not only privacy and protection from the elements, but also a diffusely lit transitionary sequence for those arriving and departing.
On the interior, the spare qualities of the exterior are reflected through an understated but refined material palette: every aspect is meticulously detailed. Walls and sloped ceiling planes form a sculptural composition in matte white that amplifies winter light and the purity of the snow outside, enhancing the expression of light and shadow throughout the course of the day. Wide-plank oak floors and rift-cut white oak millwork convey warmth and tactility. The drama of the blackened steel fireplace surround establishes a focal point in the main living area, its threshold demarcated by a pleasingly textured flamed basalt hearth.
With sustainability at the forefront of the design process, the requirement of material durability and longevity was paramount: thus, low-maintenance pre-finished Canadian pine siding and a high-performance metal roof were specified for the building exterior. To reduce the ecological footprint further, energy consumption was decreased through a high-performance glazing system, hydronic radiant in-floor heating, additional insulation and a wood-burning fireplace. Natural lighting and ventilation is optimized through the provision of several large, operable windows.
Location: Blue Mountains, Ontario, Canada
Square Footage: 3,000 square feet
Completion Date: Spring 2015
General Contractor: Higher Ground Building