Joie de Vivre on the Lake

For a Francophile like myself, walking through the front door of this lakeside home in Oakville is a Romeo & Juliet moment ““ love at first sight. This is a home which is classic, clean-lined and soothing to the senses. It is a house that doesn't chase trends but rather follows the timeless elements of good design. While “˜classic' can sometimes read as cold, this is a welcoming warm place that embraces the visitor with its quiet beauty.

And while the interiors are beautiful, they never upstage the view of the lake. On this morning, the waves are silvery cold but edged with bright sunlight. It is a view for which the house was designed to take full advantage. French doors open to a terrace room, where comfortable seating and a second dining area look out through three walls of windows providing a panorama of the lake.

The first thing you notice in the interior of the house is the consistency of the colour palette. Walls are soft grey (Benjamin Moore Collingwood, applied at half strength) trimmed with cream (Benjamin Moore Steam) with hits of white, pewter and biscuit. The floors continue the subdued theme with pale ash hardwood in most of the rooms, and cream marble-like heated porcelain tiles in the terrace room. For interest and texture, areas of high traffic ““ in front of the stove in the kitchen, for example ““ are inset with carpet shaped areas of tile.

Owner Stephanie is a hands-on decorator with a particular love for all things French. The vision for the design, and many of the placements, plans and details are hers. Michele Jalbert of Snuggle Up Design in Etobicoke helped her put it all together.

“Michele immediately understood the look and feel I was after,” Stephanie explains. “She was lovely to work with, and we became good friends in the process.”

Perhaps the reason the interiors feel so comfortable is that, mixed in throughout the home are pieces that Stephanie found on trips to Europe, or in thrift shops, auction houses and consignment stores. She has refinished and painted many of the furniture pieces herself, like the two French pieces in the main hallway. Large pieces like these that could look bulky and massive in a dark wood finish are softened and seem less weighty when painted in light shades.

The dining room boasts a large table with painted base and natural wood top and painted sideboard topped with a large mirror, reflecting the lake and adding to the feeling of spaciousness. Stephanie's collection of Champagne buckets lines the buffet, between white painted lamps. French touches, like a Paris sign and French cushions, continue the theme. Painted paneling adds detail, height and light.

In the formal sitting room next to the dining room, a wood-burning fireplace contributes to the homey comfort. A French chair with silver gilt finish is softened by an exquisite grey silk cushion  with rows of coquettish rosettes. The ceiling treatment includes a custom decorative plaster oval, created by Design Plaster Mouldings in Oakville, as well as deep plaster cove ceiling trim.

The adjacent library room is a snug place to relax, with another fireplace, lots of family photographs and books and a sliding library ladder to reach the upper shelves. Four large faux-silk chairs invite you to linger.

The kitchen is a cook's dream, reflecting Stephanie's interest in cooking and entertaining. “This is a house that is perfect for entertaining, and we often have family and friends here. With the French doors open, people can circulate easily.”

The kitchen is large and airy, with white Calcutta marble countertops and backsplash and cream toned cupboards. It was installed by Top Notch Kitchens of Oakville.

The two elegant beaded crystal chandeliers in the main kitchen catch and reflect light and above the side window, in cursive script, hand painted by Rod Valenzuela, is what could be Stephanie's watchwords, “Joie de Vivre.”

There is an abundance of workspace in the kitchen, including a large cutting board set in to the marble countertop. An L shaped counter and a second island provide room for food preparation and serving while a long counter along the side wall can also be used.

“I love the second island. It's the “˜social island',” Stephanie says. “Guests tend to gather around it, leaving the working areas of the kitchen less crowded. It serves as a buffet table, and is close to the wine and bar area and wine fridge.”

This is a well-designed kitchen, set up to please the serious chef. It has every up-to-the-minute device you can think of: Wolf in-counter deep fryer and steamer, two Sub Zero fridge drawers and ice maker, built in Miele coffee maker, drawer dishwashers, Dacor drawer microwave and three sinks with brushed nickel finish Graff taps.

The piece de resistance is the gorgeous stove, an imported French beauty, a Lacanche cooker, the Rolls Royce of stoves, handmade in France by a single craftsman, with a wok burner, regular gas burners, a convection oven and a warming oven. Even if you don't cook, it's handsome just to look at. A moveable faucet provides water for filling large pots by the stove.

A separate part of the kitchen works as a servery, where caterers can work when there's a party. Here there is a large Sub Zero fridge, Gaggenau double  ovens and another drawer-dishwasher. There are convenient shelves to store part of Stephanie's large collection of cookbooks.

In a small side room, with a frosted glass door that reads Garde-Manger, is a kind of scullery or utility pantry for storage and jobs like cutting and arranging flowers and for difficult clean-up jobs.

The guest bathroom on the main floor has the feel of a European hotel, with delicate wallpaper, a crystal chandelier and white painted mirror. A basket full of menus from all around Europe, that the owners have collected on their travels, underlines that impression. In the main hallway, another elegant chandelier can be lowered by remote for easy cleaning. Many of the lighting pieces came from Prima Lighting in Toronto. The staircase has been widened, with new icanthus leaf decorated newel posts, handrails and steps. The airy staircase leads to the upper floor rooms and master bedroom.

The upper floor continues the light and open flow of the main rooms. In the master bedroom, a large sideboard salvaged from the Salvation Army for $99 and painted, serves to store electronic equipment and speakers. Louvers on the balcony windows, which open up to the lake and offer views of the sunrise, operate on a remote control.

There are two walk-in closets and a large master bathroom with a heated marble tiled floor and walls painted in “˜pale oak.'

There are two counters and sinks ““ his and hers ““ a deep slipper tub with air jets, a heated towel rack, and a marble clad shower with body sprays and  steam unit. The wall lamps are from Prima, and look like little jewels.

All the rooms in the house flow smoothly, with no abrupt transitions or quick changes. It speaks of a definite and unified vision of the overall design.

The most notable elements of this home are its gentle harmonious colour scheme and its lack of clutter. That probably explains why it feels so serene ““ nothing shouts at you or clamours for your attention.

It just whispers, with a French accent.