Martin and Cynthia Flewwelling first met on a crowded streetcar in San Francisco in 2003 when Martin offered Cynthia his seat. “From nearly the moment we met, we wanted to build a modern, white house on the water, keeping it as concise as we could,” says Martin. “The goal was simplicity,” Cynthia says. “Inside out and outside in.”
Martin, a New Brunswick native, is a multiple award-winning photographer, earning the Professional Photographers of Canada Association’s Photographer of the Year for Canada and the Yousuf Karsh Lifetime Achievement Award for Photographic Competition Excellence. Cynthia works alongside him at their Saint John studio, Photography Flewwelling.
At the end of 2010, the couple experienced a eureka moment. Friends spoke of a riverside property in Rothesay, N.B. with a house offset on a one-hectare lot. The Segamore Point lot had about 100 metres of beach frontage, 180-degree views of the Kennebecasis River, and sightlines of Long Island and the lofty cliffs of Minister’s Face.
“When the opportunity to purchase occurred, we thought, is this really happening?” recalls Cynthia. The timeline moved quickly. The couple purchased the property in January 2011 with the intention of subdividing it to sell the existing house on the land and build their dream home next door.
After three years of renovating the 35-year-old bungalow, they sold it in June 2014, and began excavating for their new home on the adjoining lot. With help from Fredericton architect Carl Smyth, the couple planned a contemporary 1,750 square-foot, single-level home. Their must-haves included a modern flat roof design, windows that maximized the river view, and a floor plan with high ceilings.
“The site offered tremendous opportunities with gorgeous views of the Kennebecasis River, so my design allowed every room in the house to enjoy that view,” says Smyth. “The main challenge was the topography of the site, which was sloping to the river.” He overcame it by constructing an earth bank on three sides of the house to form an elevated, stone-paved patio.
N.B.-based Atlas Structural Systems custom designed and manufactured the house. The company used pre-engineered, panelized construction, so the wood walls for the house were delivered to the site on flatbed trailers. “The crane for the lift was set up the night before,” says Martin. “As the flatbeds were unloaded, the crane lifted the panels overhead and down into place. Then the building crew’s air nailers erupted as the assembly began. I was spellbound watching it happen.”
Stanley Enterprises of Nauwigewauk, N.B. assembled the home. It was the first time owner Brent Stanley had used panelized construction. “It was fast,” he says. “The panels came off the truck in order. With a crane, the house was up in one day. It was a very smooth operation.”
The couple went with grey stucco for the exterior. “We initially considered white stucco, but realized it was obtrusive to the surroundings,” says Cynthia. They designed the landscaping, which features pine and boxwood topiary accents. The goal of blending the home with its natural surroundings carries on inside. Opaque glass panels surround the front entryway to bring the outside in.
Throughout the house, white walls and trim, and white hardwood floors are a blank canvas for the stunning river views. “The point was to keep it uncomplicated,” says Martin. “The best poem, the best music, the best art is that which is created with the least amount of apparent effort.”
The central room has a four-metre ceiling and shares space with the kitchen, dining, and living rooms. Pottery, paintings, and sculptures created by New Brunswick artists punctuate the space. “The art in our home accents both our space and reflects our varied interests,” says Cynthia.
In the great room, dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows, with remote-controlled built-in shades, frame the art only nature can create: four changing seasons set against the backdrop of the Kennebecasis River. “The windows bring the surroundings into the home, giving you a feeling of being part of the landscape,” says Brent Stanley. “It felt like I was building a new space into nature not confined by walls.”
The walls in the master bedroom feature paintings by Canadian artists Fred Ross, Tom Forestall, and Raymond Martin. A side table displays Cynthia’s orchid family, collected and nurtured since her arrival in Canada from California 12 years ago. “One of the most important features in the design of the home was that it be energy efficient,” says Cynthia.
The home uses LED lighting and a geothermal heat pump connected to the river heats and cools the space. The high ceilings and flat roof make proper insulation important. Huff n Puff Insulation, Stanley Enterprises’ sister company, provided high-density spray foam insulation along with traditional fibreglass and vapour barrier throughout the space.
The home’s south-western exposure takes advantage of the sun’s rays. “Using this natural resource, the solar energy gain sometimes requires opening windows in February to cool it down,” Martin notes. The couple is elated with their new home. “We framed this beautiful vista with windows and walls, and now it’s our home,” says Cynthia.
The Flewwellings named the property Elysium, a Latin word for a place or state of perfect happiness. “It is exactly as we hoped it would be,” says Cynthia. “We love everything about where we are and what surrounds us…It’s the joy of every day.” Martin agrees. “We arrived here through good fortune, determination, patience and the process of time,” he says. “Neither of us wished to compromise. We support each other’s highest end, and together we have created our Elysium.”