Homes Photo Credit: Robert Lemermeyer

Home Tour: Calgary Hilltop Retreat

With a rare view of both the city of Calgary and its mountains, this Sturgess Architecture home could do only one thing: capture it.

When you get a one-of-a-kind property like this one in Calgary, it’s clear what you need to do with the house. Perched on a high point in the city, and on a lot that manages to be a hill in two directions—sloping from north to south and also from west to east—a house can capture both downtown and mountain views in a city where just one of those vistas would be considered the jackpot. “It was really about trying to be as simple as possible, in saying it’s all about the view and about the sun,” says architect Jeremy Sturgess. “And that’s uncommon in the sites we work on.”

Sturgess and his team, which included project architect Anita Gunther, first met the homeowners nearly 10 years ago. “They were in no rush, and extremely diligent about the decision-making process,” says Sturgess. Design decisions were careful and deliberate, he notes, and often influenced by the couple’s travels—they’d find a new material or finish and excitedly share the idea with the design team.

Despite its urban location in one of Calgary's inner-city neighbourhoods, the home feels private and surrounded by greenery, thanks to its position on a hill that slopes in two directions.
Despite its urban location in one of Calgary’s inner-city neighbourhoods, the home feels private and surrounded by greenery, thanks to its position on a hill that slopes in two directions. (Photo by Robert Lemermeyer.)

The result is a thoughtful space with both large, voluminous rooms and more intimate, quiet spaces. “In Calgary, the sun is everything,” says Sturgess. “Unlike other places, you don’t have to protect from it—you want to exploit it. It’s one of our biggest advantages in this city.”

The main living space, with the kitchen, living and dining rooms, is double-height in scale (the ceiling is 24 feet above the floor at its peak) and features windows from floor to ceiling that allow that warming light to flood in year-round. An adjoining terrace features the same dramatic scale, with an outdoor fireplace to ensure the space can be used late into fall and early in spring. Solid handrails block out any views to the neighbours, allowing those on the balcony to enjoy just those rare mountain views.

The nearby study, however, is more intimate—“a more important room on a cold winter night,” says Sturgess—and its adjoining terrace is just one level high, mirroring the height of the indoor space. (An outdoor room adjoining the upstairs master suite provides the ceiling to this space, creating a porch effect.)

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While much of the colour palette here is neutral (the Roche Bobois dining table and chairs are quiet pieces that let the architecture sing, for example), when colour is used, it’s done so boldly. (Photo by Robert Lemermeyer.)

Those public and private spaces are connected (and separated) by a central staircase that actually starts outside—beginning on the street and snaking up to the house and the main floor before continuing up to the second level. An expanded metal mesh on the handrails is in keeping with the clients’ love of low-maintenance and simple industrial materials. (Exposed steel columns in the living room frame out the windows as well.) But there’s warmth here, too: wood ceilings and custom millwork throughout add an organic element that pays homage to the established trees outside the windows. (Sturgess’s team took care to preserve the trees during the building process, working only the land where the previous house had been to save the green on the property.)

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A spoon tub from Agape is positioned so that the bather gets his or her own unique viewscape. A dressing area is disguised behind the wall where the bed is positioned. (Photo by Robert Lemermeyer.)

And of course, nothing is as green as that back-painted glass in the kitchen—a trademark of Sturgess’s firm, which has long embraced bold, beautiful colour in designs, eschewing the neutral palettes traditionally associated with modernism. “The homeowners knew we were fond of colour,” says Sturgess, “and they were happy to work with it, too. The green adds warmth against that finesse of the stainless steel and concrete.”

At just 2,600 square feet, the home is relatively modest in size, and yet feels impressive, spacious—and right-sized for this couple. “It’s a house for two people, and so it doesn’t overwhelm,” says Sturgess. “It really celebrates how best to use the space, and fully exploits the space on such a beautiful lot. I really like the idea of a house that’s not grand in size, but it makes some grand gestures.”

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