After sitting vacant for over twenty years, Kincora Lodge, in Chelsea, Quebec is once again welcoming guests. The most important step in rescuing any abandoned historic building is to find a compatible new use and an owner who will become its guardian. CSV Architects, working with Isabelle Bradbury Architect, has now rehabilitated the lodge as a boutique hotel, transforming the 1930’s structure into a retreat for relaxation, wellness and appreciation of nature.
Kincora Lodge was constructed in 1930 as the summer home of Ambrose O’Brien, a wealthy businessman and industrialist from Ottawa. Located in the Gatineau Park and surrounded by a forest of hardwoods and majestic pines, the house sits atop a granite outcrop with a panoramic view of Meech Lake.
O’Brien selected the well-known Ottawa Architect, Werner Noffke to design his country home in the style of a rustic lodge. O’Brien named the house ‘Kincora Lodge’ after Kincora Castle, the Royal seat of the O’Brien Clan in County Clare, Ireland. Kincora Lodge, also known as the O’Brien House, is a ‘Recognized’ Federal Heritage Building.
Noffke carefully considered the siting of the house to capture the spectacular views and also to create a dramatic arrival sequence. The house rises organically from the landscape with foundations, chimneys, terraces and a sweeping curved entrance stair all constructed of granite quarried from the site. The ground floor of the house is clad in wood siding milled to resemble logs, with the second storey clad in wood shingles. The steeply pitched, hipped roof with cedar shingles, gables and dormers, “seem to echo the nearby rugged shoreline and hills surrounding the lake” Canada’s Historic Places.
The O’Brien family sold Kincora Lodge, in 1964 to the National Capital Commission. The house was later occupied by a caretaker and used as a conference centre. Kincora then sat vacant for over twenty years. Now, the house has been restored and rehabilitated as a country hotel with eleven guestrooms, two dining rooms and two outdoor terraces.
CSV Architects established the objective of retaining as much as possible of the original layout and re-establishing the character of a rustic lodge. It was also important to retain as much as possible of the original fabric, and to create faithful replicas for elements such as windows and doors that could not be retained. It was decided that new interventions would made be subtly distinguishable. Throughout the house, many original elements are visible, including six stone fireplaces with their original mantles. Hardwood floors on the ground level, and some doors and light fixtures were also reused.
The building exterior remains largely unchanged, with the exception of reproduction windows and French doors. The main entrance, identified as having high heritage value, retains its arched-top wooden door, decorative wrought iron hardware and overhead lantern fixture. The stone masonry of the curved entrance stair has also been restored and original flagstones have been reinstated for the steps.
The design team was faced with the challenge of how to make the house fully accessible to the public including an aging population and the disabled. Located picturesquely at the top of a hill, the main entrance was only accessible by a long flight of steps. Once inside, the ground floor was divided into three distinct levels separated by steps.
The accessible design process was guided by heritage principles that call for interventions to be subordinate, compatible and distinguishable. The first interventions proposed were a new exit stair and an elevator. These were placed together in a location that minimized changes to the original layout. The elevator was placed close to the front entry in a location where double-sided access would permit circulation between the entry level and the sunken living room.
In order to make the main entrance accessible several exterior options, separated from the house, were considered. These included a platform lift, an inclined lift, an enclosed elevator pavilion and a ramp. The final solution was a 100m long ramp in the form of a woodland boardwalk, which follows the route of an original pathway. The new boardwalk and elevator provide Kincora Lodge with four accessible levels. This is supported by accessible parking, an accessible entry, one accessible guest suite and an accessible public washroom.
Another major challenge of the project was finding ways to carry out the new work without harming the natural environment that makes this location so unique. The presence of an endangered species of bats and chimney swifts meant that construction could not begin until the end of the nesting season. A tree inventory was carried out to identify endangered butternut trees and to determine which trees could be removed to create a parking lot. An historic dump was discovered on the site and needed to be remediated. Exterior lighting was designed to be full cut-off, to minimize light pollution. A new water treatment system was installed based on the findings of water quality testing. As the house is constructed on the native granite, high levels of radon needed to be mitigated.
Kincora Lodge was originally constructed as a retreat where Ambrose O’Brien and his family would entertain their guests. Today O’Brien continues this tradition of welcoming guests as if in a private home. Guests will be transported back to a different era as they enjoy a meal in the dining room, admire the lake from the terrace or warm themselves in front of a wood-burning, field-stone fireplace.