Best of

Best of 2023: Maclean’s top Habitats

A tour of the country’s most creative living spaces

A Toronto townhouse painted to look like a rococo French palace. A climate-conscious mountaintop home in B.C. designed to withstand wildfire. A chic and modern tiny home on wheels. This year, Maclean’s featured homes as unique and surprising as the people who live in them. Here, our top Habitat features of 2023.

10. Habitat: How a N.S. physician turned artist put down new roots on family land

(Photograph by Steven Rankin)

“One side of the house is an expanse of welcoming windows that looks out to the water and a cluster of diminutive islands in Seal Cove. In summer, stone paths snake through tangles of bright blooms and a fledgling orchard of apple, plum, peach, cherry, pear and apricot trees that Samson planted. ‘In Europe, you’ll walk down the street and see huge stone walls with giant doors, but behind them are gorgeous courtyards. I like that there’s a beautiful, private surprise once you get past the front door,’ he says.

Inside, a gallery wall stretches the length of the home to showcase pieces from his art collection, which contains several thousand vintage photographs. His current obsession is the work of Bob Mizer, a mid-century photographer whose playful images of loincloth-clad men influenced the work of Robert Mapplethorpe and David Hockney.”

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9. Habitat: A Toronto couple ditched their condo for a 260-square-foot custom RV

“Lee’s friend Payam Shalchian approached him with a business idea: they could construct compact, wooden, permit-free cabins and sell them as temporary alternative living spaces. Given Canada’s exorbitant housing prices and the increasing popularity of sustainable living, the pair figured that an cost-effective home with a small footprint could be a popular product. They founded the company Instead Tiny Homes, and Lee agreed to spearhead the prototype development on one condition: that he could move into it with Rebecca and their baby when it was finished. ‘We thought: ‘If we’re bringing this concept to life, let’s live in one and test it out for ourselves.’”

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8. Habitat: A former pro snowboarder built a dream chalet outside Quebec City

(Photograph by Citizen North)

“The family had to figure out how to make the chalet feel bigger than it was. There are some much-needed space-saving hacks: the stove is only 60 centimetres wide, and the main floor connects to the upper by a small steel ladder instead of a staircase. With their indoor layout so limited, they took advantage of the outdoor space with a 30-metre patio and large glass windows. In the winter, the doors stay closed and the family enjoy a panoramic view of the snow-capped forest by the outdoor wood-burning stove. Come summer, the doors open back up, and they grill moose steaks on the barbecue.”

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7. Habitat: This vintage Ontario home combines retro space-age glamour with 21st-century perks

(Photograph by Revelateur Studio)

“In 2013, Tina Fetner and her husband, Lane Dunlop, were visiting a friend in the leafy Westdale neighbourhood of Hamilton, Ontario, when they stumbled across a for-sale sign on the lawn of a space-age-looking mid-century stucco bungalow. Hambly House—named for its first owner—was built in 1939, one of four remaining art moderne buildings in the Hamilton area attributed to designer Edward Glass. (Art moderne, a cousin of art deco, is known for its curves and horizontal lines.) Fetner, a sociology professor at McMaster University, and Dunlop, a retired music executive, discovered that the house had been sitting empty for a year in a state of shambolic disrepair. But its whimsical character attracted them, even though they weren’t looking for a new home. ‘The house just fits our personality,’ says Fetner. ‘It’s a little bit sassy, just like us.’”

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6. Habitat: An Ottawa couple built their dream treetop getaway in Quebec

(Photograph by Scott Norsworthy)

“In 2007, architect Paul Kariouk set out to build a remote weekend getaway home. He and his husband, Antonio Gioventu, the executive director of a non-profit, lived in a loft-style studio apartment in Ottawa. They wanted their new home to be nearby, preferably somewhere quiet, so they acquired a 17-acre lakeside lot in La Pêche, Quebec. ‘In a world where everything is buzzing, beeping, humming and ringing, silence is the ultimate luxury,’ Kariouk says.

He immediately began mapping out a compact, three-bedroom, 900-square-foot residence that could serve as both a refuge and a calling card to show clients what he could do with a limited budget.”

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5. Habitat: This small-town Quebec home is a retro lover’s paradise

(Photograph by Renaud Lafrenière)

“Built in 1968, their home looks like a tiny bungalow from the outside and a 1970s fever dream on the inside. The decor emphasizes a retro brown and orange colour scheme, which fits well with the mid-century aesthetic Dumas and Beaupré had already cultivated in their Montreal apartment. They moved in most of their old furniture, and the rest, including the orange couch with chrome detailing in the living room, was left over from the previous owners.”

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4. Habitat: This sustainable Nova Scotia home is a coastal refuge

(Photograph by Meghan Tansey Whitton)

“Terry Appleby and her husband, Keith Dwyer, had already toured the South Shore of Nova Scotia in search of the perfect property, but none of the cottages for sale appealed to them: the lots were too small and the buildings too run down. So they switched gears. After months scouring for vacant beachside land, the family finally bought a nearly four-acre property shrouded in tamarack and spruce trees in Shelburne County, two hours southwest of Halifax. Located barely 100 metres from the Atlantic shoreline, the lot peered over the secluded Louis Head Beach and a kilometre-long stretch of white sand.

The only thing left to do was build a home. Her friend Nova Tayona, who specialized in contemporary architecture and loved working on coastal projects, decided her friend’s story sounded like a great challenge. ‘If you’re up for it,’ Tayona said, ‘I want to make this idea come to life for you.’”

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3. Habitat: This remote, fire-resistant Okanagan home was modelled after the mountain beetle

(Photograph by Grant Harder)

“Paul, a geological engineer, and Tina, a retired tax consultant, bought the remote plot of land on the park’s border, high above Okanagan Lake, in 2018. They’d been living in Squamish, B.C., and took trips to the Okanagan to mountain bike and rock climb. Ready to move away from the lower-mainland crowds, they asked a realtor to show them a few Okanagan lots where they could build their own home.

She first brought them to a cheaper parcel of land lower on the mountain. It wasn’t for them, but they hiked to the uppermost lot, which was out of their budget, to have a look anyway and to take in the view of the lake snaking its way south through rugged, pine-dotted mountains. ‘We sat on a rock and looked down the valley, then looked at each other and went: ‘We’d be insane not to buy this.’”

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2. Habitat: This charming Nova Scotia home was built by a Victorian-era sea captain

“The building isn’t protected under UNESCO protocols, like those in the Old Town, but Inglis and Bakker wanted to preserve its historical character. They didn’t touch many of the original features, like the built-in mirrored bar in the living room, which they’ve complemented with two mid-century portraits of elegant smoking ladies, and the kitchen’s walk-in pantry lined with dozens of handcrafted cabinets and drawers. ‘I wouldn’t change them,’ Inglis says. ‘Everyone who has owned this house has heard her soul say: ‘Don’t you dare.’”

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1. Habitat: This opulent Toronto home looks like a 17th-century French château

“Gordon hand-mixed every shade and repainted the man with a book five times because she couldn’t get his posture right. She still has more projects in mind, like changing the colour of the dining-room ceiling and staircase walls, but the house is mostly finished. ‘Everything is so modern and contemporary these days, but I’ve gone the opposite way,’ she says. The rooms are decorated like a 17th- and 18th-century paradise, with sparkly chandeliers and ornate mirrors. She even sourced original Louis XV chairs. Instead of traditional sofas, she opted for English daybeds upholstered in gold and grey hand-printed Venetian Fortuny fabrics.”

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