It started out as a bunkhouse—a place where the kids and grandkids could plunk down on a mattress and stay for the night. The lower level would be a kitchen/dining space and, for a few weeks in the fall, a cider house.
Adapted from an existing shed, the house would be Chas Mackay’s Ground Zero, a place where he could press apples and bottle cider while chatting with customers visiting his 1,200-tree orchard on the Kingston Peninsula. Overlooking the St. John River, Mackay Apple Orchard is about a 50-kilometre drive from Saint John, New Brunswick.
Chas and his wife Jennifer met with architects Monica Adair and Stephen Kopp, owners of Acre Architects in Saint John, who came up with a design for a sleek, two-storey structure. “I knew instantly this should not be a bunkhouse for the kids,” Jennifer recalls. “This should be a place for us.”
Living in Rothsay, N.B. at the time, the Mackays relished the thought of living in the orchard. “We always knew we wanted to move back here, it was just a matter of when,” Chas says. With the farmhouse on the property needing extensive renovations, and their youngest child of five, Joe, now in university, the empty nesters were ready to start anew.
Two and a half years later, Chas and Jennifer are sipping green tea on a rainy Saturday in their 1,325-square-foot riverside home. Over a roaring fire they talk about building a place for themselves in the heart of the beautiful orchard that’s been in the Mackay family for two generations.
It was the right time and the perfect location, says Chas. At the edge of the St. John River, surrounded by rolling hillsides, the site offers breathtaking views. “This is a whole new experience,” he says.
Coined Tinker’s Orchard by the architects as a play on Jennifer’s maiden name, the home has an open-concept living room, kitchen and dining room on the ground floor and a bedroom, bathroom and laundry on the second level. The adjacent 985-square-foot cider house doubles as a garage and storage facility, with an office for Chas (he calls it “the cave”) and overnight space for Joe.
The Mackay home is an elegant, contemporary take on the traditional farmhouse. From the property entrance atop a steep hill dotted by row upon row of apple trees—Paula Reds, Macintoshes and Cortlands, 19 varieties in all—you might mistake the home for a barn. With a metal roof and charcoal board-and-batten wood siding, it blends with the landscape.
Despite its small footprint, the home has a spacious feel. There is only one pullout door, between it and the cider house. Walls are a crisp white, with modern furnishings and fixtures punctuating the space. Heated by a geothermal unit and a modern fireplace, it’s also energy efficient.
Glazed windows on both levels offer expansive views of the St. John River to the west, and the orchard to the east. “The site’s incredible,” says architect Monica Adair, who aimed to highlight the river in the design. “Before, you were on the water but you never really saw it. We wanted to use the farmhouse to connect with that water view as well as the orchard.”
Painted black, the window casings act like picture frames, showcasing the outdoors. “Apple blossom season just ended,” says Chas. Jennifer says she expects her Cleome flowers to begin blooming in two weeks.
“To be in this home is to be in nature…I don’t like anything that jars the eye.”
The Mackays needed the home to ensure their privacy, especially during U-pick season, so the architects designed two large sliding panels as screens for the ground-level windows facing the orchard. Fashioned from five-centimetre cedar battens with 2.5-centimetre reveals, they complement the exterior and allow light to pass through.
In the kitchen, clean lines and bare countertops create a pared-down look. “To be in this home is to be in nature,” says Jennifer. “I don’t like anything that jars the eye.” Instead of upper cabinetry, three panels of marble create a stunning back wall that’s ideal for food preparation, cooking and cleaning. A four-metre matching marble island hosts 53 shelves and drawers, providing ample storage. A nearby pantry offers additional storage for dishes, pottery, wine and tea, as well as preserves, which Jennifer makes from the fruit trees on the property. “Jennifer is a great cook, up there with the best of them,” Chas says.
With five children, their partners and five grandchildren, “there’s often a crowd on Sunday afternoons,” says Jennifer. She bought the table, which seats 10, from a nearby private school that was refurbishing its dining hall. She keeps a second table of the same size in the cider house for bigger gatherings.
Chas displays his sculptures throughout the house. The cedar characters convey his light, humorous nature. One, outside Joe’s room, depicts celebrity Lindsay Lohan holding a handbag. She was meant for a friend’s gallery, beside the jewellery counter. A pole dancer with red nail polish and black stilettos adorns the couple’s bedroom. Chas also displays the characters in the farmhouse windows. “It sometimes freaks people out. They wonder if someone is watching them,” he says.
Art lovers, Chas and Jennifer collect works by several New Brunswick artists, including Darren Emenau, Cliff Turner and Sonya Mahnic, as well as Alexandra Flood, who now lives in the U.K.
Many details expand the orchard into the home. Door handles from Emtek resemble branch sections, and the main-floor bathroom features a tree canopy ceiling wallpaper by Flavor Paper from Brooklyn, New York. “You feel as if you’re looking up into the trees,” says Jennifer.
Inspired by an apple tree branch, the architects commissioned the light fixture above the kitchen island. Quispamsis welder Jason Martin of 4J Steel fabricated the piece, which further blends the space with its orchard setting.
A maple staircase leads to the second floor, which features the couple’s master bedroom, bathroom, laundry and changing area. A high peaked wall is a spectacular backdrop for the couple’s custom platform bed. White built-in cabinetry stores small items while a walk-through from the bathroom to the bedroom gives floor-to-ceiling closet space.
A recessed glass shower unit brings a modern, efficient touch. “I asked that it be long enough for me to stretch and do a push-up in,” says Chas. “It’s close.”
Decks on the second level give further views of the water and hillside, in addition to the farmhouse, the barn and a pergola that Chas built about 10 years ago for his daughter’s wedding.
The architects chose a stainless-steel Jakob cable railing system as a modern version of the wire mesh you would find on a farm. The mesh doesn’t block the orchard and river views. “Sometimes they are rendered invisible under certain lighting and up close, the detailing is elegant,” Adair says.
The Mackays hired local builder and pumpkin farmer Kevin Fullerton as their contractor. “He always said if I ever build, he wanted to do it,” Chas says. He did a wonderful job, the couple says, but there were some delays during pumpkin planting and harvest seasons. “We lost about seven to eight weeks,” says Chas.
After 30-plus years raising children and caring for an ever-expanding apple orchard, Jennifer and Chas could wait a couple more months. “Time wasn’t a concern,” says Jennifer. “Every detail was important. We wanted to get this right.”