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Maison Melba: A Passive House in Canada by Atelier L'Abri


Maison Melba, a place of place of life, creation, and exchange, was designed by Atelier L'Abri in harmony with the landscape and rustic heritage of the Village of Frelighsburg in Canada. Anchored in preservation and sustainability, this unique architectural project tells a story: that of the sensitive and sustainable renovation of a rural building nestled in the heart of the meadows and orchards emblematic of this agricultural region of southern Quebec.

Embodying the new owner's values of sharing and hospitality, the former 1970s automobile garage has been transformed into a living space that is open to the community and the development of collaborative projects. Inspired by the fertile ecosystem of Frelighsburg, Maison Melba now houses a residence, a work studio, a workshop, and a culinary production and meeting space. Outside, the small plot of land also includes a greenhouse and a garden dedicated to small-scale vegetable production, with the majority of food production to be consumed or processed on-site.

The building plan features a prominent interstice at its center, with a skylight and natural stone floor creating a seamless transition between indoors and out. Understated but warm, the open-plan interior features Dinesen Douglas Fir flooring, lime-coated walls and white oak furniture, while large wooden windows with beautiful linen curtains frame the landscape.

On the workshop side, industrial-grade materials in neutral colours blend subtly into a bright canvas that invites collaboration and creativity. Both the residential and public sides feature modular kitchens by Vipp and each space showcases a stunning curation of lamps.

The exterior exudes a timeless charm, designed to blend in with the countryside. Beneath the large weeping willow tree, the long horizontal structure of the former garage will age quietly in the landscape of native plants. Overall, the design embodies a sensitive approach to architecture, integrating harmoniously with nature and surroundings.

To age well, a building must first be well-designed. In accordance with L’Abri’s Passive-House approach, Maison Melba will soon be LEED Platinum certified, the highest level of this reference standard for sustainable buildings. The process begins with careful dismantling of the existing envelope to preserve the original wood frame, followed by the construction of a new double-stud wall structure for increased insulation. Natural materials like cellulose fiber insulation and recycled wood fiber cladding are used, along with PassivHaus certified triple-glazed windows, promoting passive-solar principles. Achieving an exemplary air tightness rating ensures exceptional energy efficiency performance, securing Maison Melba's place in the Frelighsburg landscape for years to come.

L’Abri's holistic design approach blends beauty, functionality, and longevity to deliver truly timeless architecture. Driven by values shared with the project’s founder, the sustainable transformation of Maison Melba is an inspiring demonstration of this ideal, and the result of an integrated design process led by the design-build team of Atelier L'Abri and Construction Modulor, as well as the exemplary execution of the entire project team.

The project's design integrates and celebrates the exceptional work of a long list of suppliers, manufacturers, designers, artisans, and consultants. The architectural language of Maison Melba highlights the material richness of the Kebony wood cladding, artisanal lime plaster, Dinesen wood floors, and Bisson Bruneel textiles. The carefully selected furniture features pieces from international design houses such as Vipp, Dinesen, Frama, Santa & Cole, and Ligne Roset, alongside works from talented local designers and makers like Clara Jorisch, Kastella, Atelier Vaste, Mark Krebs, Montauk, and Ema ceramics.

The landscape design was carried out by Écomestible, a firm specialising in ecological, edible, and regenerative landscaping inspired by permaculture principles. Écohabitation supervised the LEED certification process of the project. Finally, the project was captured through the attentive eye of photographer Alex Lesage, who remained on site for several days.

Project Credits

Architecture: Atelier L’Abri
Project team: Pia Hocheneder, Vincent Pasquier, Nicolas Lapierre, Francis Martel-Labrecque
Engineers: Robert Harvey Ing.
LEED Certifiers: Écohabitation
Landscape: Écomestible, Braska
Photography: Alex Lesage

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