Set on a wooded lot overlooking the mighty Saint John River, this light-filled home blurs the line between inside and outside.
When Sarah and Andrew Craik decided to build a new home for their growing family, they knew just where to look. “We’d been trying to convince my parents to sell us this piece of property for years and they finally said yes,” Sarah says.
The half hectare of undeveloped land, just 10 minutes from New Brunswick’s riverside capital of Fredericton, held sentimental value to Sarah. “I actually grew up on this property,” she says. “My parents owned a house just farther up the road.”
As parents to Ali, 16, Benjamin, four, and Simon, two, the couple thought the wooded property, with nature aplenty for the kids to explore, would be an ideal setting for their new home. “I always said to Sarah, ‘If your parents ever decide to sell some land to us, I’d like to build something special,’” Andrew says.
Setting their sights on building a new house, the couple sold their Cape Cod home near downtown Fredericton. Sarah is a busy mom while Andrew works in the city as an investment advisor.
Nature is not far from the front door of their new home. Dense forest surrounds the house and an abundance of woodland animals call the property home, including birds, squirrels, foxes and deer. The wooded, meandering road leading down to the house crosses over the Trans Canada Trail, where the family loves going for walks.
Sarah designed the original house with a draftsman. “My mother is a retired interior designer,” she says, “so I have an eye for plans because they were always around our house growing up.” But the couple wasn’t sure the design took advantage of the views of the majestic Saint John River.
Andrew enlisted help from his friend John Leroux, an architect with Acre Architects, a Saint John-based collective of designers led by Monica Adair and Stephen Kopp. The firm offers full design and architectural services in New Brunswick and surrounding regions.
“John was tied up writing a book, but he worked with Stephen Kopp and Monica Adair on some designs for us,” Andrew recalls. “They gave us things that were different—a little out of the box.”
Naming the project River Run House, Adair and Kopp set to work incorporating the river and the property’s rugged setting into the home’s overall design. “We were interested in how to merge the contemporary design with the rustic nature of the Saint John River and the traditional vernacular of the area,” Adair says.
They stayed true to Sarah’s wishes for a four-bedroom, four-bath home, complete with a natural fireplace, a clutter-free entry, a pool, a playroom for the boys, a double garage and a large, functional kitchen.
The river view is a focal point of the design. It was a challenge to position the house north to overlook the river, yet not block the sunlight and views from the south. To overcome this, the architects split the 2,965-square-foot house in two.
A glass entryway joins both sections and provides a view of the river before entering the home. Overlooking the entryway on the second floor, the river sightlines continue in the master bedroom bridge. “We worked with the contractor Urban Farmer [based in Fredericton] who have a loyal, skilled building team that aren’t afraid to try new things,” says Kopp.
Kopp’s aim was establishing a strong entrance that would create a sense of arrival. “[It] gives the house an element that is unexpected and adds a grand moment to when the family or visitors arrive,” he says. “By planning a meandering landscaped road down to the house, visitors are directed toward the entryway and get a glimpse over the pool to the river just beyond the backyard.”
The two sections brought together by the entryway are narrow and allow southern light to penetrate the home, flooding it with natural light. “We never have to turn the lights on during the day,” Sarah says. Exterior materials wrap into the interior space, making the Craiks feel like they are between the two buildings, even when they are inside. “This breaks down the lines between architecture and nature on the site,” Adair says. “Having the exterior materials enter the interior helps to blur that edge.”
Just off the bright entryway is a mudroom that has cabinets for each family member. “It’s a really great thing for us, to keep everyone organized,” Sarah says. A large, sliding custom-built barn door separates the garage, guest bath and mudroom from the entryway. “We loved the barn door so much, we asked the builder to make baby gates in the same style,” says Sarah.
The architects took extra care when designing the kitchen for Andrew and Sarah, who both love to cook. A simple, elegant design with a hidden pantry nook and a large granite island grounds the space and connects it with the dining room. Large glass globes from Pottery Barn, hung from alternative heights, illuminate the island.
The eight-seat dining-room table, from Valley Ridge Furniture in Fredericton, is made of distressed, reclaimed wood. Sarah sourced the chandelier hanging overhead at Restoration Hardware. The Craiks went with ceramic tile in the kitchen and in all four baths, and maple hardwood floor in the rest of the home.
The kitchen opens onto a grand living room, with a huge wood-burning fireplace, accented by three brass cage lamp fixtures and custom shelves. Two paint colours dominate the house, Wild Mushroom, a soft brown colour, and Louisiana Hot Sauce, a spicy orange-red hue, both by Benjamin Moore. “I decorated the interior of the house myself, with my mother’s help,” Sarah says. “I happen to really like her taste, so it worked out!”
Large windows throughout the lower level and the upstairs serve as picture frames for the natural vistas outside. From the master bedroom, the window offers up a green canopy of treetops, highlighted by a vivid splash of blue from the river beyond. “Any window you look out, it’s peaceful and quiet and nature is right there,” Sarah says.
Interested in green technology, the Craiks decided to heat and cool their home with a geothermal heat pump. The clay on the property was ideal for installing a geothermal system. The house exceeds R-2000 standards, takes advantage of passive ventilation strategies and uses water-reducing fixtures.
The pebble stone-like pool, just outside the dining-room door, enhances the home’s connection to the river by creating a vanishing edge. The pool house in the backyard mimics the home’s contemporary farmhouse design.
The Craiks chose a metal roof for longevity, as well as beauty. “We love the look of it,” Andrew says. “The old farmhouse I grew up in had a metal roof and we used to love listening to the rain,” Sarah laughs. “You can’t hear that now because of all of the insulation but the idea of it is nice.”
Sarah and Andrew also enjoy the unique design of the south-facing covered veranda. Highlighting the builder’s craftsmanship, its roof dissolves over the kitchen windows and its wooden slats bathe the kitchen in southern light.
Upstairs, the children’s rooms and a home office are on one side of the house, while the south-facing bridge over the entryway leads to the master suite on the other side. The kids’ rooms feature Ikea cabinets. Sarah and Ali collaborated to decorate Ali’s room. “It’s a fun, girly room,” Sarah says.
Besides the amazing views from their bedroom windows, Sarah and Andrew wanted their master bedroom to have a full walk-in closet. It keeps the bedroom free of clutter and doesn’t interfere with the spectacular view of the water. The closet ceiling is low, so it feels like you’re in the same room as you move into the master bathroom.
Ultimately, it’s the connection to the natural landscape that makes this house so unique. “The relationship with the river and the nature that exists throughout the house was deliberate,” says Kopp. “We wanted to extend the feel of the house towards the remarkable surrounding landscape.” “We love this house, especially the view,” Andrew says. “When I picture our future here, I see our family enjoying the beautiful fireplace, the big yard, the pool and the hot tub. I see us entertaining friends, indoors and outdoors, with the river as the backdrop.”