Sunday, March 17, 2013

inside an Arctic home: paradise cottage at the top of the world

I've been browsing at home showcase websites lately, like Apartment613's Apt Crush, and Buzzfeed's 30 Most Gorgeous Living Spaces In The World.  I honestly feel like I could make an argument that our house is one of the most beautiful homes in the world.

We're a newlywed couple that decided to start our marriage with a different kind of adventure, when we packed up everything we owned and moved to an Arctic community.  In a town without night clubs, coffee shops, bars or restaurants, we often have to find our own entertainment, giving our days a bit of a "cottage life" feel. We play board games, solve jigsaw puzzles, stargaze, play our guitars along with our record player, chat with the occasional Inuk artist that comes to our door to sell carvings, invent new salad dressings and bake our own bread from scratch.  Our home reflects our lifestyle.

Location (location, location)

We live in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, a fly-in only community that is about 800 kilometres north of Yellowknife. We live well above the tree line and well within the Arctic Circle, with 24 hours of daylight in the summer and 24 hours of darkness in the winter.

From the outside, our house is admittedly unremarkable. Besides the colourful paint jobs, the houses here are built to last the harsh weather, and aesthetics come second. We live in a snow-covered, single storey two bedroom house painted green. Our house is located in what the locals consider to be "the suburbs" - it takes ten minutes to walk into "downtown" instead of the usual five.  For someone that is used to the minimum hour long commutes of downtown Toronto, I think we've got a pretty good location.

What I also like about our location is that this is the view from our living room window.

We live right by the bay that leads out into the Arctic Ocean, which is completely frozen in the winter. Every morning I can see from my window the sun rising over the frozen ocean.  At night, we can see the northern lights from our window, which not a lot of people in the world can boast.  You have to admit, that's quite the location.

Our interior style: Cottage life

Before we moved to Nunavut, we were living in a quaint but tiny one bedroom top floor apartment in Westboro, Ottawa. It was a great location, and a cute place with an adorable street name ("Robin Lane"), but a cramped space for two working professionals. Now we've got a gorgeous living space.  With extra high nine foot ceilings and an extra bedroom, we have almost more room than we knew what to do with.  However, we had quite the task figuring out what to do with the space.

Before we moved in, the house was used by pilots, temporarily residing there until their next flight out.  The furnishing was a random mishmash of whatever belongings the last pilot left there.  Three beer openers, no forks. A broken desk and a broken lamp. When we moved in, we had the original furnishings removed so we could move ours in. We had quite the task ahead of us.

moving in

It took quite a bit of time and muscles, especially for my husband, who has the eye for design in this household. But we were quite pleased with how everything finally came together.

We've found that the modern ultra sleek style of interior decoration doesn't really suit us.  We want to feel like we're living at the cottage: a collection of vintage furniture passed down by one's grandfather, old fashioned china tea sets inherited by one's grandmother. We like the warm look of wood, which is why we adore the fake wood panel flooring and the wooden kitchen cupboards. We like our spaces to look lived in by real people. We don't want our space to scream luxury or wealth; we want it to whisper "comfort" while handing you a hot cup of crowberry tea.

our living room - note the board games under the coffee table. also featuring a beautiful quilt handmade by my friend Meg's mom, who is really awesome.

A decent sized TV is essential for video gaming. Plus inspirational posters of Bruce Springsteen, because who doesn't love that?

This kitchen is where the magic happens.

A big spacious kitchen. My husband is a professionally trained chef, so ensuring we had a nice big working space for him was important. The extra high ceilings mean that we've got extra storage space on top of the cupboards too. 

This dining table is where the magic is eaten.

bathroom, where Keith Richards watches you brush your teeth.

master bedroom, with the quilt I made for my husband when we were dating. Yes, that is a Chinese cat lamp, a great gift given to me by my awesome friend Neha Chugh

The master bedroom is still a little bare because the wardrobe that we had shipped up was shattered while being delivered. Once we replace it, we'll start putting more art on the walls. Still, I like that the bedroom manages to look brightly lit despite all the hues of blue that my husband wanted to keep as a theme there.

Last but not least: our pride and joy is the second bedroom, which we've converted into a jam space.


My husband and I are both musicians, so having a comfortable place where we can play loud music is one of the most important features for us when it comes to finding a home. This is the reason why we'll never be able to live in a small downtown condo in the city. We need a big space where we can make a lot of noisy rock and roll without bothering other people.

Meet Herbie, the Honeywell Humidfier. He's super important. Because the Arctic desert climate is so dry, Herbie helps keep enough humidity in the air so that our instruments (particularly the acoustic guitars) don't warp.

As if this room wasn't sexy enough, this room also doubles as a fitness room. Because we can't just go for a run ouside when it's 40 below, we've hooked up our treadmill so we can watch the Band's The Last Waltz to pump us up while we exercise.

Inevitably our home tends to take on some Asian elements as well, given my Korean background and Rob's relatives living in Thailand who send over beautiful artwork.  The mix of cottage-life-meets-the-Orient is a theme that I grew up with in my own immigrant home as a child.

a lantern we bought from the night market in Chiang Mai during our honeymoon

Thai temple rubbings and a handmade print made by Rob's uncle

A fancy rice cooker (we're talking a couple hundred dollars) given to us by my parents

Arctic housing features

Besides the thick blackout curtains to block out the midnight sun in the summer time, there are certain unique features of houses here to help deal with living in the Arctic.

The mud room.

As you might expect, you need an entire room to store all of your outerwear, including the big bulk Canada Goose Snow Mantra, the thick sturdy Baffin boots, and five hundred or so scarves.

The cold room.

This is an extra room outside the mud room that acts as one more buffer from the cold outdoors.  The inside of this room is lined with snow and frost, so it really isn't warm enough to do anything but stand and smoke in.

A raised bathroom

Our bathroom is raised by a half story because the septic tank runs underneath. As I found out one day when I ran out of water, the ground is too frozen to install sewage pipes.  Instead, the running water is delivered by truck, and the sewage is carted away by a different truck. So in our house, the bathroom is raised from the ground so the sewage tank can be stored underneath.

Lots of storage space.

Because you never know when you're going to be snowed in by a bad storm for weeks, and because of the expensive price of groceries in Nunavut, many of the residents order their supplies in bulk by ship barge once a year. You need a place to store your year's supply.

ALL THE LOTION IN THE WORLD: it's pretty dry up here.

Unsurprisingly, there is no Korean grocery store here, so I had to bring my own.

This switch.

I'm still not sure what it does, but I'm not going to play with it. Yet.

The sign on the bathroom door.

Can you tell pilots used to live here?

You know, the rest of the world likes to make jokes about Canadians living in igloos. We don't live in igloos, not even the Inuit, anymore. But we've gone quite a long way to protect ourselves from the harsh outdoor elements of nature, and as you can see, it can be quite comfortable.