We all claim to care about the environment. But while most of us are content to put out our recycling each week, Ben Williams and Aidan Burgess actively practice the other two Rs of environmental stewardship – reduce and re-use.
Burgess, Williams and their three sons live in a stunning round house, which the couple purchased in 2006. Williams, a woodworker and custom furniture designer, has used his skills to renovate and add on to the building, using sustainable methods that support the environment.
“The original house is cordwood, meaning the logs were placed with their ends sticking out, surrounded by mortar,” explains Williams. “But the logs shrink in really cold weather, so we had cold air drafts coming in everywhere.”
While he insulated and covered the outside of the house with board and batten wood siding, the log ends provide a unique pattern along some of the inside walls. A log building that was originally a barn from the MacIntosh farm south of Maxville was turned into his 1200-square-foot workshop in 2015.
“I want to preserve the historic log buildings, as they are disappearing so fast,” he says.
Another log building which Williams took down with a friend was added as a north wing on the original round house and serves as the couple’s bedroom, with a sitting area, a luxury ensuite bathroom and walk-in closet. A mini office was tucked in for when Burgess, Director of Indigenous Affairs in the federal Department of Finance, works from home.
“The building was used as a garage, so one whole wall was missing where the door was,” Williams notes of the space – now a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows and French doors that open to the garden, creating a light-filled retreat.
The roof, kitchen, loft and many other built-ins were all constructed by Williams, as well as a screened-in south wing. There, he created an outdoor entertainment centre with a hand-crafted patio set bought on Kijiji, and a hot tub.
“We live here in the warm weather,” Burgess says.
The dream kitchen wraps around a stone central core and features a large curved island made of maple, with cherry wood inlay and cabinets of birds-eye maple and walnut.
The house features a number of repurposed items, including a stainless steel stove rescued from a renovation in Westmount. In the round dining room is a gothic altar that came from the Church on the Hill in Alexandria. Old lathe from previous projects has been re-crafted into picture frames.
The house heating and cooling systems also reflect the couple’s environmental values. Both the house and the workshop are heated by a wood boiler in the workshop that provides radiant in-floor heating. A huge fan in the loft keeps the heat down in the winter and cools the house in the summer. Because the floors are slow to heat up, in the shoulder seasons of Fall and Spring, a heat pump is used.
The 50 acres of woodlot the house sits on has plenty of room for the couple’s three boys – Cole 12, Dawson 10, and Oakley 8 – to roam, skateboard and play. On a recent visit, spring flowers were in bloom around the property.
It seems fitting that a house built to protect nature also celebrates it.