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Sightlines: On top of the world

Idyllic gardens, rustic wood surfaces and pastoral views punctuate this incredible hilltop home overlooking Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley.

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Sweeping valley views, sublime garden spaces and hand-hewn wood surfaces abound in this unique hilltop house.

Getting to Susan and Joop (Joe) Ueffing’s North Mountain home in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley is no small feat, especially for the directionally challenged.

Driving from Halifax on a hazy but pleasant afternoon means passing through the gentle bustle of Wolfville and the bucolic beauty of Port Williams, before skipping past Canning and Sheffield Mills. Next is the aptly named Black Hole Road, a winding, pock-marked roadway shrouded by towering and magnificent foliage that leads up the steep rise of the mountain.

Then comes Gospel Woods Road and a 900-metre driveway that leads to the Ueffing’s house. “The view changes every day,” Susan says. “Every day there’s something different—sometimes you don’t even have to wait a day.”

Today her gaze meets the greens and golds of summer in full bloom in farming country. When farmers begin harvesting the crops, rich browns and blacks abound. Next come the autumn medley of reds, purples, golds and browns—with soft blankets of white not far behind.

“People say, ‘Oh after a while you don’t see it’ but we still see it,” adds Joop (pronounced “yope”). The couple sees Evangeline Beach and Cheverie and, on a perfectly clear day, they can pick out the shoreline on the other side of Windsor.

“On a good night, when the trees aren’t leafed out, we can see the revolving light at the base in Greenwood,” says Susan. “We have what you might call a large view.”

Now 66, Joop arrived here from his native Holland when he was 18 to work on his brother’s farm in Delhaven, just below. He remembers looking up and wondering why no one lived on the mountain. “You come from Holland and it’s flat,” he says. “It was probably the first hill I had ever seen.”

He and Susan, who grew up on an apple farm in Sheffield Mills, home of the annual Eagle Watch, named this place ’s Heerenbosch, in the old Dutch spelling. It translates into “gentlemen’s woods,” a popular homestead name in Holland.

There isn’t a room in this house that doesn’t have a view and that’s deliberate.

Married 38 years, with two grown sons, the Ueffings (pronounced “ewe-fing”) were themselves living in Delhaven—running a hog farm and then a feed mill—when they began planning their dream home in the sparse settlement of Glenmont, on the North Mountain range that stretches from Brier Island to Cape Split.

Here they bought 5.6 hectares, with 305 metres of mountain frontage. They completed the house over several years, with help from local architect W.J. Hettema and a full-scale construction company. They moved into their new house in October 1989, when their boys were in their early teens.

The cedar home with brick façade boasts 5,200 square feet of living space, with an additional 2,200 square feet for an indoor, kidney-shaped pool.

Influenced by Joop’s European roots, the home features a vaulted, 7.3-metre ceiling with large wooden beams in the main foyer and living room. The large windows at the top let in lots of natural light and mimic the lines of a ship’s prow, a nod to Nova Scotia’s seafaring history.

Spread spaciously over two levels, the three-bedroom (the fourth bedroom is now an office), four-bathroom home has three stand-out fireplaces ventilated through the same chimney. The doors and windows, all from Belgium, are tilt-and-turn style, which is all the rage now but was virtually unheard of in Nova Scotia 22 years ago.

“We were probably the first ones around to have that…and we were also among the first people to have in-floor heating,” says Susan, who calls her husband “an innovator.”

The Ueffings were cutting-edge in other ways, too. They took cues from European trends and followed their own instincts, installing a large whirlpool tub, steam sauna, oversized laundry room and full pantry to ensure extra storage space.

But the place this couple spends most of their time in is the large, open-concept kitchen with centre island. Its simple, uncluttered lines speak to its German cabinetry that is yew trimmed with maple. “Twenty-two years ago, it was top of the line,” says Joop.

A dozen windows surround the large dining table. Guests often sit here to enjoy the view. “We do a heck of a lot of entertaining,” Susan says. “Both of us enjoy people.” They host two annual potlucks, one at Christmas and the other at summer solstice, each drawing at least 60 people. The home has witnessed everything from an art gala to a wedding and several fundraisers.

“The biggest we’ve ever done was a sit-down dinner for 110 on our 25th wedding anniversary—it was catered, thank you very much,” says Susan. “All friends and family. It was terrific.”

The kitchen flows into the dining room, where the focal point is a large turn-of-the-20th-century oak hutch rescued from a home in Kentville. The Ueffings kept its original leaded glass and have accented it with lighting.

The formal double front doors are a deep, rich mahogany called Meranti. “I saw that door in the showroom in Belgium and I said, ‘That’s the one,’” Joop recalls.

When visitors fling it open, they can soak in views of the Valley across the foyer and the living room. The pine floor is inset with granite. “It’s polished granite, the same thing that’s used for gravestones, so I always say when I die, they can cremate me and just pop me under here,” says Susan with a laugh.

Overhead, the 16-metre beams are Douglas fir, while the ceiling is cedar. “It was all brought in on a flatbed from B.C.—boy that was a sight!” says Susan.

The couple heats the home by wood pellets, with oil secondary, and all of the hook-ups—heat, water and power—come underground through the barn, an aesthetically pleasing touch.

The earth tones of the all-encompassing outdoors make their way inside, with a palette of creams, tans and greens dominating the décor. There is whimsy here, from the stained-glass dragon in Susan’s study, to the funky glass blocks in the pool shower, to the striking wood carvings by Kentville-based sculptor Dick VanderEyk.

“He has been all around the world studying carving and painting techniques,” notes Susan. “He was looking for a place to hold an art show so we let him set up here in the house and we invited people.”

But the focal point is always the view, via the home’s many windows. Unencumbered by drapes or blinds, except in the two lower-level bedrooms, each room offers an awe-inspiring view of rich Valley farmlands, patches of forest and the naturally brown waters of the Minas Basin. “There isn’t a room in this house that doesn’t have a view and that’s deliberate,” says Susan.

But the couple doesn’t just sit around drinking in the setting. Now semi-retired, they have full dance cards: Susan, a folksinger and guitarist, performs at hospitals and nursing homes, while Joop is active on the boards of several organizations. He is also the North American representative for Farmersgolf (think golf played on pastures, over ditches, through forests and amongst cows). Both support the Rotary Club of Kentville and have hosted exchange students from Japan, Brazil, France and Australia.

“The house looks like it just belonged in this spot,” says Phyllis Jarvis, a long-time friend who visits the couple weekly to play cards or share a meal. “It’s hard to pick one spot as the favourite. There’s the large, friendly atmosphere of the kitchen, where many a card or board game has been played while dinner was cooking or the deck next to the kitchen where you can relax and watch the many birds.”

She’s also partial to the pool, sauna and flower gardens. Indeed, while the views from inside are spectacular, stepping outdoors at ‘sHeerenbosch is even better.

Whether you’re leaning out from the wrap-around, upper-level deck, lounging on the ground-floor terrace or ensconced in one of the many secluded nooks on the property, you’re surrounded by oaks, birches, maples and evergreens, bright flower bursts and, if you’re lucky, birds and critters of all description, including their black cat.

Since participating in a garden-club fundraiser in 2000, the Ueffings have kept their formidable gardens open to the public. Visitors can drop by and bask in the offerings, from hostas and native perennials to exotic offerings like palms, yuccas and succulents. Sweet, pale pink Asiatic lilies are among the blooms poking up beside a gorgeous waterfall and pond.

“When we started this was basically woods and we have literally carved this out,” says Susan. “What you see is 22 years worth of work.”

Several years ago, Joop stumbled across a young couple who had crept into the yard for a private moment (No, it’s not what you think). “It was nine o’clock on a Saturday morning,” he recalls. “I came around the corner and she was sitting here, on the bench, and he was on one knee, proposing.”

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East Coast Living