An Architect Explores Villa Les Rochers
Video created by Karen Molson for The Canadian Heritage of Quebec
Informant: Nour Riyadh Gessoum, Architect, Maitrise en Aménagement, Conservation du Patrimoine Bâti, Université de Montréal
Date: June and July, 2017
Location: Villa Les Rochers in St Patrick, Québec
Music by: Benoît Poulin, bagpipe player
“An Architect Explores Villa Les Rochers”, a short documentary written and narrated by Nour Riyadh Gessoum, featuring contemporary photos and film as well as archival images.
Opening image is a wide-screen colour photo of Villa Les Rochers and surrounding trees.
A colour photo of the sign that advertises Villa Les Rochers as a Bed & Breakfast.
Black and white photo of Villa Les Rochers and surrounding land and shrubs, c. 1883.
Nour Riyadh Gessoum is standing in the living room of Villa Les Rochers, with the dining room visible behind him.
[Nour Riyadh Gessoum]: I’m Riyadh and I am an architect and I have a Masters in heritage conservation. I’m here working a summer job with the Canadian Heritage of Quebec.
Contemporary colour photo of the front entrance side of Villa Les Rochers (2017).
Moving colour film showing Riyadh serving a breakfast of pancakes and fruit.
Colour photo of a tidy guest bedroom at Villa Les Rochers. Colour photo of another tidy guest bedroom at Villa Les Rochers (both 2017).
[N.R.G.] I’m taking care of this house, I’m having guests, I’m the host of this house, I’m preparing breakfast, I’m making beds, all sorts of stuff, it’s really good!
Colour moving film of exterior view of house, back verandah, and view of river.
[N.R.G.] It’s serene, and like I said, so tranquil, and so peaceful, that you feel like you are in your own house.
Colour photo of living room of Villa Les Rochers, 2017. Colour photo of Villa Les Rochers as seen from the river, c. 1985.
[N.R.G.] Les Rochers, like I said, it shows you, every day is different, every day it shows you another image of its nature, it’s so beautiful that every day is new, and I like it here because you will feel yourself a part of this nature, and you return to your own nature by being in more relation to this nature.
Colour film of shoreline as seen from the river, with blowing grasses. Colour photo of sunset over the river, seen from Villa Les Rochers, 2015. Colour photo of view of the Saint Lawrence and a wicker chair on the verandah, 2017. Colour photo of glassed-in verandah, tables set for breakfast, 2017.
Moving colour film of Benoit Poulin in Scottish attire playing the bagpipes on the front verandah of Villa Les Rochers, July 2017.
Colour image of a watercolour of Villa Les Rochers painted by Gael Eakin, 1955.
Colour photo of a path, trees and a set of rock steps leading up to the back of Villa Les Rochers, 2017
[N.R.G.] My time at the “Gite” [bed and breakfast] Les Rochers is amongst the most remarkable experiences of my life.
Moving colour film exploring the front grounds of Villa Les Rochers, 2017.
[N.R.G.] The interplay between the environment and nature built into this structure reveals a sort of mixture of wellbeing, serenity, and familiarity.
Colour photo of the view of the Saint Lawrence River as seen through the windows of the glassed-in verandah at Villa Les Rochers, 2017.
Colour photo of a hand-coloured postcard of Villa Les Rochers, date unknown.
Colour photo of entrance stairs to the front of Villa Les Rochers, 2017.
[N.R.G.] And personally I find mostly in the forms of the different parts of the building, by the scent of the place, the colours of the building, the textures, the sounds and even the quality of the light.
Colour photo of stone steps and handrail leading up to the west side of Villa Les Rochers, 2017.
Colour film of welcome mat at the front door and looking up across the verandah towards the road, 2017.
Colour photo of flower arrangement on a table on the front landing at Villa Les Rochers, 2016.
[N.R.G.] At the same time we try to question the architectural and spatial quality of the building, we deconstruct and explain the real roots of theses sensations.
Colour photo of wooden armchairs arranged on the back verandah at Villa Les Rochers, 2016. Colour photo of yellow chair, table and flower arrangement on south-west corner of verandah at Villa Les Rochers, 2016.
[N.R.G.] The first impression of the residence of Sir John A. Macdonald, because of the neighbouring residences in old St. Patrick, our residence is the exception and is not visible from the rue Fraser but well hidden from view of the passers-by, by little forest which has taken over the land in the front garden of the property.
Colour photo of front of Villa Les Rochers which is barely visible through the trees.
[N.R.G.] As a result the little entrance in the fence gives the impression that we are in a secret garden.
Moving colour film of the entrance in the fence on the south side of the property. Colour close-up of the cedar fence, 2017.
[N.R.G.] Between tall trees we see the first construction the house built upon a rock. This is the east wing of the house.
Black and white photo of Villa Les Rochers with many trees, c. 1910. Colour photo of large boulders upon which the basement structure is built. Colour photo of the front of Villa Les Rochers, looking up through the trees, 2017.
[N.R.G.] This is in fact a modest farmhouse with a two-sided roof, the roof follows the porch to form what we call a Quebec-style roof. We see an added dormer as an afterthought of embellishment.
Black and white photo of a newspaper photograph showing the front entrance and width of Villa Les Rochers, c. 1950. Colour photo of flowers blooming beside the front entrance stairs, 2016.
[N.R.G.] When we look at this part of the house, it brings on an immediate sober thought, this sensation is because of the forest ambiance and the shadows created by the trees on the site which react to create these effects.
Colour photo of large boulder and rock steps behind the house, 2017. Colour photo of front lawn of Villa Les Rochers, 2017. Colour view of Saint Lawrence River through trees, 2017.
[N.R.G.] The more we move forward into the garden at the front of the house, we discover the west wing attached to the first wing.
Close-up colour photo of daffodils and paperwhites growing at the front of villa Les Rochers, 2015.
Colour photo of the front of Villa Les Rochers showing where the two parts of the house join, 2017.
[N.R.G.] The two wings are almost the same height except that the west wing is covered by a mansard roof, which adds height and prestige and rhythm to the voluminous presence of the house.
Colour photo of the outside south-west corner of the house, 2017. Colour film of front verandah of Villa Les Rochers, 2017.
[N.R.G.] The west wing, for its part, has the capacity to evoke strong emotions in the observer.
Colour photo of bottom part of front inside staircase, newel post and spindles, 2017.
[N.R.G.] These are inspired by the reality and colours of the materials, by the richness of the sheer volume of this part of the house, but also by the transparence of the house in this part.
Colour photo of living room at Villa Les Rochers showing period furniture and fireplace, 2017.
[N.R.G.] This transparence is caused by the large windows both on the ground floor and the second floor.
Colour close-up photo of large casement windows overlooking the Saint Lawrence River, 2017. Colour close-up photo of another, open window showing curtains and distant view, 2017.
[N.R.G.] We remark also that the architect looked to introduce more solidarity to the whole by incorporating a wrap-around gallery which ties the two wings together.
Colour photo showing two angles of the Villa Les Rochers verandah, seen from the north-west corner, 2017.
[N.R.G.] As a result the introduction of the gallery serves to expose and bring the interior to the exterior and invite the viewer into the house.
Colour photograph of Villa Les Rochers, looking up from the south-west side, 2017. Close-up colour photo of a doorknob and keyhole, original to the house, 2017.
[N.R.G.] A general observation of the house with its two components reveals that the builder did not want to create tension with the immediate, natural environment, but on the contrary with time the building would fit into the landscape.
Colour photo of Villa Les Rochers from the front, with trees framing the view, 2017.
[N.R.G.]This is visible by the choice of materials and colours of the wood painted pale yellow and the black of the cedar shake roof, this choice of material is in harmony and integrates well with nature on the site and gives a better view of the house in the landscape.
Colour photo of back of house, from the perspective of the river, showing its surrounding trees, c. 1985. Colour photo showing a view of the road through the trees, from the front verandah. Close-up colour photo of a black-painted wooden door and handle, held open against a pale yellow wooden exterior wall. Close-up colour photo of yellow-painted metal hardware, original Victorian fittings to open and close the windows. Close-up colour photo looking down into the back shrubbery through the window glass. Colour photo of wicker chair on verandah. 2017.
Moving colour film taken on verandah at Villa Les Rochers, starting in front and moving to the back of the house and pausing to take in the view.
[N.R.G.] We often say that a building has a soul. The soul of the house of Sir John A. Macdonald resides well in its interior and its different owners, their histories, their wealth and social status, but also over time.
Colour photo of a Victorian full-length mirror near the interior entrance at Villa Les Rochers, 2017.
Colour photo of a black and white framed portrait of Sir John A. Macdonald seen through the staircase spindles at Les Rochers..
[N.R.G.] So, like the exterior, the interior is also divided into two.
Black and white photo of a bedroom at Les Rochers, c. 1950.
[N.R.G.] One wing is very modest which shows a spatial, functional division on the main floor as well as the second floor, with a narrow hallway, a straight staircase, small rooms and bathrooms and walls built of wood with no decoration.
Black and white photo of living room of Villa Les Rochers, with period furniture, c. 1950. Colour photo of Victorian settee in upstairs hallway, 2017. Colour photo of wood stove in kitchen, 2017.
Moving colour film of back stairway, descending to main floor, 2017. Colour photo of small bedroom in the east wing.
[N.R.G.] This wing from 1850 is in spite of its functional character, warm and welcoming, and this is because it’s a wing where the builder was able to retain the intimacy of the heights of the ceilings in the house, but also, because the composed dimensions of the house like the walls for example, are very well adapted to the addition.
Colour photo of interior ground floor at Villa Les Rochers, looking down hallway into the kitchen, 2017. Colour photo of front entrance staircase. Colour photo of front entrance, 2017.
[N.R.G.] Another element that gives special warmth to this house will be the quality of light that passes through the windows, pours into the house, and I believe the conception of these windows, their size, and their placement, that these windows are well adapted to allow great amounts of natural light into the interior of the house without affecting the intimacy on the main floor and the first floor.
Colour photo of glassed-in verandah and view through the windows, 2017. Colour photo of Nour Riyadh Gessoum standing in doorway of glassed-in verandah, 2017. Colour photo of upholstered sofa in living room, Villa Les Rochers, 2017. Colour photo of open casement windows with original hardware, curtains and wallpaper, 2017.
[N.R.G.] From the first step inside the west wing, we quickly notice that this part is very different than the first wing, as it is not modest, it is a construction built to display the prestige and the social class of its owners. And I believe that it’s a wing that is full of symbolism and tells many stories within each of its details.
Colour moving film of entrance stairway, front hallway and living room, Villa Les Rochers, 2017. Colour moving film showing main entrance and hallway, 2017.
[N.R.G.] Altogether, after observing some parts of the house, you can tell it’s an intentionally prestigious construction, visible not only by the look of the main entrance, a very large entrance, marked by the threshold, but also, the spaces where people move around in this wing are quite large, and we notice also that there is a generous height to the ceilings compared to the first wing. One sees also an abundance of interior decorations, also by the wallpaper used in the interior.
Colour photo of entrance stairway and entrance hall, 2017. Moving film exploring the interior rooms and furniture of the west wing.
[N.R.G.] The wish to make of the west wing a place where Sir John A. Macdonald could entertain his upper class guests led the builder to use techniques not often used in summer residences.
Close-up colour photo of living room fireplace mantle, showing artefacts and wallpaper, 2017. Photo of dining room at Villa Les Rochers showing table, chairs, carpet and mirror, 2017.
[N.R.G.] That is, techniques and structural elements which one would find more often in city houses, for example turned wooden spindles on the stairs, the winding wooden staircase, and also the application of wallpaper almost everywhere.
Close-up colour photo of wooden spindles on the stairs, 2017. Close-up colour photo of stylized wallpaper.
[N.R.G.] The wallpaper was different in each room to give a distinctive atmosphere separate from the other spaces.
Colour photo of sofa in upstairs hallway, Villa Les Rochers, 2017.
[N.R.G.] The variations in the wallpaper between one room and another give a specificity or a distinctive atmosphere to each of the rooms.
Colour photo of guest bedroom, 2017. Colour photo of close-up of another wallpaper, 2017.
Colour photo of two candles burning on a deep wooden windowsill at Villa Les Rochers, 2017.
[N.R.G.] The picturesque spirit of the 1883 west wing cannot be ignored, it is confirmed by the different structural elements of the house.
Black and white photo of Villa Les Rochers, c. 1883. Colour photo of Nour Riyadh Gessoum in the glassed-in verandah.
[N.R.G.] The size of the windows and their vast height give a wide view of the river and the natural environment around the house. This intention is further augmented by the low railings which give an uninterrupted view from the interior.
Moving colour film of Villa Les Rochers verandah and its low railings, 2017.
Colour photo of entranceway with hall and staircase, 2017.
[N.R.G.] With regard to the west wing, the house has aged very well. The traces of time through the different owners, its structural alterations, and also by the collection of furniture of the century.
Colour photo of Victrola and music stand at Villa Les Rochers, 2017. Moving colour film exploring the living room of Les Rochers, 2017. Moving colour film showing Nour Riyadh Gessoum placing a poster on a wall next to Sir John A. Macdonald’s portrait.
[N.R.G.] Together these elements create a feeling of wonder; one is moved by the beauty of the location, the richness of history and the deep spirit of the house, and notes, at the end of the visit, as much visual pleasure as one has taken in, there’s an equally deep sense of intellectual satisfaction.