Moving Your Studio and Family to the Country
Finding a first home is not easy. But for David and Cloé and their little family, taking over the country property of a cabinetmaker helped them build the framework for a new life, a little closer to nature.
TEXT AND PHOTOS Catherine Bernier
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH
This is part of the Dossier First Home Stories.
Driving along Rang de la Rivière-Bayonne, past the supermarkets, the corner stores, and the generic restaurants, I find the peaceful town of Berthierville, surrounded by tall trees. I already understand why Cloé Paradis and David Bicari have chosen to build their post-urban life here, with their three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Louise, and their dog, Colette.
The couple were charmed by a house built in 1972, located an hour from Montréal’s vibrant streets, where both grew their careers—Cloé as a publicist and David as a multidisciplinary visual artist. The darkest days of the pandemic brought change to the young family. They were on the brink of losing their apartment, which was being repossessed by its owners.
Finding a new home in the midst of the housing crisis proved enormously difficult for two self- employed people. First, they had to secure a mortgage within a matter of months. Through a friend—an artist herself—Cloé and David learned about a first-time home purchase loan through the Caisse de la Culture, a financial cooperative 100 per cent dedicated to artists, artisans, creators, and cultural organizations and businesses, under the aegis of Desjardins.
Seventeen house visits and one case of love at first sight later, the couple had bought their first property!
On the stormy summer evening of my visit, Cloé, David, and Louise open the doors of their single-family home, already deeply imbued with their personalities. All the rooms are furnished with an amalgam of objects from different eras and works by artists that feed their creativity: passports to Expo 67 that belonged to Cloé’s grandparents; a futurist sculpture by Junko, an artist who gives a new life to discarded items; a Wu Tang Clan album; a Louisville Slugger baseball bat.
In the large sunroom, musical instruments— including a piano left by the house’s former owners, the Saint-Jean family—rub shoulders with Louise’s toys. The front room, formerly dedicated to laundry, ironing, and sewing, now serves as Cloé’s office space. Strangely, the oven is in here as well: just one of the small, charming eccentricities that come with a house built in another era. The late Mr. Saint-Jean, a cabinetmaker, left his signature all over the house: the kitchen cupboards are black cherry of the finest quality, and solid red oak plank beams make up the dining room floor.
Visible in that floor are rosewood studs, made of surplus material from the rhythm sticks the carpenter used to make for schools, according to his eldest son, Stéphane. Cloé and David learned these details about the house when they got in contact with Stéphane, in a fittingly unusual way. “My parents gave me a rocking chair as a welcome gift,” says Cloé. “To be honest, at first I wasn’t that impressed … until I saw the logo signed ‘Saint-Jean.’ It wasn’t just any chair, it was one built by the former owners! Since then, Stéphane and I haven’t stopped writing to one another.”
In the dining room, a Charles Turcotte painting and a massive marble table give a modern touch to the space. A bathroom with a view over the little garden and two facing bedrooms complete the first floor. In the basement, there’s a guest room and enough storage space to allow David to use the garage as a studio. In the self-contained universe of the studio, LeBicar—his artist name—transforms canvas, paper, and a wide variety of other materials with his distinctive curving lines and flowers.
After the tour, we sit down in the sunroom to chat. Louise takes the opportunity to cuddle her darling Colette.
You visited a lot of houses before falling in love with this one. What was it that charmed you?
DAVID We’ve always been drawn to mid-century design and architectural style, and also by the solid construction that goes with it. In other houses we visited from the same era, I felt like a giant in a doll’s house. Here, I feel like everything is solid enough to hold the heavyweight I am. [laughs] I imagine the work of Mr. Saint-Jean and his love for durable materials have a lot to do with this.
CLOÉ The backyard with its mature trees, including walnuts, which opens onto a crop field where Louise likes to play. We organize gatherings each season, sometimes with more than 60 people. David likes to cook for everyone. We love when people drive out from Montréal to visit us and stay the night with their kids.
What have you learned from buying your first house?
CLOÉ Not to settle for less, to believe in your vision, and not to let the pressure crush it. The wait is often worth it. During our search, which seemed never-ending, we sometimes tried to convince ourselves that we’d found THE house, even if deep down we weren’t 100 per cent convinced. Today, we are SO proud that we listened to our instincts.
Otherwise, I would advise looking at houses for sale with your partner long before starting the buying process. It can all happen so fast once you get in gear; if you don’t have to argue with your partner about needs, tastes, and other criteria, that takes a lot of the pressure off.
On the financial side, our advisor suggested that we start living as though we already had mortgage payments to make, even though we still had a year as renters. We were able to set aside a lot of funds for the down payment.
What new projects will the house allow you to undertake?
CLOÉ I’m working with David to develop a shop with products derived from his creations—candles, for example, or clothes and other household objects. We have a large space in the basement for inventory.
DAVID Our new space has an impact on my creation process. In the city, I tended to be distracted, always doing something with friends. [laughs] Here, I’m more focused, and I let myself be inspired by the colours of nature. My latest series is a departure, for the first time, from my habitual world of black and white.
How did you manage to transform the garage into a studio?
DAVID I think a space for creation can take different forms, and there are as many styles of studios as there are artists. It has to remain authentic and personal. That said, to transform the garage into a studio, I faced a few challenges, so here’s my advice.
The first thing is to really think through the household storage and make sure there are other options than the garage for large tools, bicycles, winter tires, et cetera. For example, we transformed part of the basement into a workshop and the outbuilding into a garden shed.
The second thing is to install good lighting. This seems obvious, but garages are often so dark! I also set up the space to be able to work with the doors open, when the weather allows.
The third and final piece of advice is to divide the furniture into stations according to your needs, without cluttering the space. For me, I thought about this in two sections: one dirty and one clean. On one side, I have a high table for drawing, painting, and drying works. On the other, I have an L-shaped desk for computer work and illustration projects, with a sitting area in one corner and a music station.
A car pulls into the driveway: it’s Stéphane Saint-Jean, arriving with a pile of old photos. Here’s his mother under the rose arch that separates the garage and the house, and there’s the backyard all set up for a family gathering—a ritual Cloé and David have carried on with their large circle of friends.
Stéphane invites them to visit Saint-Jean’s workshop nearby. In one room a series of rocking chairs are in the process of being manufactured; in another sits furniture ready to be delivered for displays at Christian Dior stores. Stéphane, on the brink of retirement, tells Cloé and David he’s planning to sell the workshop. Their eyes light up. Who knows, maybe this space will have a second life as well? To be continued …
Catherine Bernier is a creative director, a freelance writer and photographer, and the co-founder of The Parcelles, a seaside retreat for artists in residence in Nova Scotia. The influence of nature and culture on human choices and stories remains one of her core interests.
For over 120 years, Desjardins has been supporting its members and clients in their financial autonomy, putting money in service of human development. In summer 2023, the co-operative launched FSHA, a new registered savings account that allows people to save money tax-free to buy a first home. desjardins.com/celiapp