Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Home of the Big Guy

Jim Gauthier's $1.395-M estate in East St. Paul is a real beauty

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SWINGING around the corner onto Highland Park Drive, it's hard not to drop your jaw open when you pull in front of No. 36.

Through the brick-and-iron fence, your eyes soak up a view of a stately peach-coloured brick mansion. White pillars soar in front of double copper doors and walls of tall windows curve on either side.

Not surprising, the approximately 6,220-square-foot home belongs to a man better known as 'The Big Guy.'

Listed at $1.395 million, the East St. Paul estate of local car dealership owner Jim Gauthier and his wife, Joyce, has the wow factor -- or rather, make that wow factors.

With the press of a button on the intercom, a gate swings open to let a visitor wheel up the u-shaped driveway and park under the pillared porch roof.

Of course, Gauthier also has a garage -- or two. One is a triple attached, the other a triple detached that currently houses some antique cars he's restoring.

Walking through the front doors of the 10-year-old home, it's best to prepare for a whiplash. Your head twists up and down and side to side taking in the focal points in the wide open, two-storey space.

At your feet in the grand entry is a grey-and-beige granite floor, while four tall, white pillars rise to the ceiling and frame the foyer area. Two sandblasted mirror panels run up about 6.7 metres on either side of the door, and if you look closely you discover a coat closet in each panel that opens with glass knobs.

It's the view ahead, though, that really stops you in your tracks.

Curving up to the second floor is two staircases, painted one of the home's many shades of taupe. A white carpet, the flooring for much of the house, cushions the stairs. It was on these stairs that the Gauthiers' niece had her wedding photos taken.

Above the staircases is one of the more unique elements of the four-bedroom home. A large, circular dropped ceiling design has recessed lighting that makes the feature glow at night. It can be seen from the street through the arched, approximately 5.4-metre front windows -- just some of the 55 windows in the home.

"We've had a lot of people say that it does look like a flying saucer sitting there," Gauthier says with a smile. "It throws off this peach glow, a flame-type colour."

Designer Linda Levit of XYZ Design International Inc. is known for her "signature" ceilings, he says. And indeed, it's a must to look up in every room.

The Gauthiers, who have bought a condo at prestigious One Wellington on Wellington Crescent in Osborne Village, found the award-winning, Texas-designed house in the first home magazine they flipped through.

They consciously chose to build in Highland Park off the river -- the treed lot is approximately 76.8x53 metres -- so they wouldn't have to worry about the riverbank erosion they experienced at their former home overlooking the Red River on Henderson Highway.

Gauthier says the home has a "Floridian" feel to it, which isn't surprising since he and his wife spend about four months of the year in their Florida home. They also summer at their cottage in Lake of the Woods, so moving into a condo was a choice that now fits their lifestyle.

"The area (Highland Park) is wonderful," Joyce says. "It's nice and quiet. You feel like you're living out in the country, but you're so close to everything.

"It was wonderful, but it's time for a change."

As the couple walk between the grand staircases, the 'wow' factors continue. The granite flooring by the front door expands into a circular pattern under the staircases until it meets white carpet.

Ahead are more pillars that mark the entrance to the great room at the back of the house. In the wide opening to the room -- it's used as a family room -- is a large custom-designed TV cabinet that's almost a piece of art.

The back of the black anigre wood cabinet, which faces the front of the house, is made up of three panels from a Chinese wall screen that have inset pictures made from 300-year-old jade.

The great room looks out on to the backyard through two-storey arched windows. A granite and copper-faced gas fireplace is set in a partial pillar wall and matches the granite and copper-faced curved wet bar on the other side of the room. The flooring includes a custom-made, inlaid carpet in white, black and taupe.

Standing near the doors leading to the deck and backyard, Gauthier points out an example of the detailed craftsmanship that went into the home. Near the baseboards at every corner where walls meet are cylinder-shaped, hand-made wooden mouldings about 20 cm high called soldiers. The tops define whether it's a female or male soldier, he explains. The male soldier has an oval-shaped top, while the female's is round.

There are 380 soldiers throughout the house. No, that's not a typo -- three hundred and eighty!

"I think it's a great home to entertain in," Gauthier says. "(It would appeal to) someone who really appreciates detail and quality. We didn't chintz any place."

The home was completely redecorated in 2001.

"In talking to a number of new-home builders, this house today would be somewhere between $2.2 and $2.5 million to build, excluding land and landscaping," says Royal LePage realtor Glen MacAngus.

The highest-priced home sold on the MLS was a Wellington Crescent mansion that went for $1.75 million in 1996.

Next to the great room is a luxurious library/den with a leaded stained-glass door. The walls are panelled in honey-coloured bird's-eye maple, a wood culled from specific trees for its distinctive, dot-like grain. The bookcases are also made of the same wood. A granite gas fireplace, two-storey turret ceiling, tall arched windows with wooden blinds and recessed lighting and sconces completes the refined room.

The main floor includes a living room and dining room at the front of the house on either side of the staircases. The open rooms feature two-storey arched windows that form curved walls and numerous pot lights in the ceiling that are used throughout the house.

Off the living room is the 7.3x6-metre master bedroom that's entered through one of the home's many sets of stained-glass doors. The room boasts a built-in bed and dresser on a platform that lights up. Behind the bed, the wall is upholstered in apricot-coloured silk. Chinese silk wallpaper covers the other walls. There's also a granite dressing table, a built-in TV cabinet in a revolving pillar and the coffered ceiling lights up.

The walk-in closet -- well, it's actually a number of small rooms -- includes built-in drawers, sky lights and a long section that houses a hand-controlled clothes conveyor that is like those at dry cleaners where you push a button and the clothes come to you.

The huge, six-piece ensuite has double stained-glass doors and a grey-and-blue granite floor with an inlaid marble pattern. Surrounding the two-person Jacuzzi are stained-glass windows and glass block walls. There's also his and hers granite vanities, a two-person ceramic shower stall with a seat, a toilet and bidet and step ceiling with vaulted inset.

A speaker system pipes music into every room in the house, including the master bathroom's shower stall.

To show great things also come in small packages, the powder room on the main floor is an experience, particularly at night. The totally mirrored black room has fibre optic lighting in the ceiling that produces dots of light overhead that change colours. Chrome faucets shaped like dolphins highlight the black lacquer counter.

A stroll to the other side of the main level takes you into the 7.6x5.8-metre kitchen through double stained-glass doors. The room has two islands, ceramic tile flooring, granite countertops and backsplash, two built-in ovens (one convection), a step ceiling and recessed lighting.

As befitting a car dealer, the bottom of the cupboards come with flip-down doors like a garage door, which hide anything on the deep counter like a toaster or coffee maker. The cabinetry has a white finish similar to mother-of-pearl.

Gauthier grasps the edge of the higher island, which has a bar sink, and points out the thickness of the granite top.

"My wife has very good taste when it comes to picking out granite," he says with a chuckle.

Off the kitchen is a four-season sunroom, with 18 windows forming a curved wall overlooking the backyard that's accessed by french doors.

A long hallway, with windows on one side, leads to the side entrance near the garages. Off the hallway is a powder room and laundry room. The laundry room has a skylight and so does the side entrance. All closets in the home have a light inside that turns on when the door is opened.

A foyer in the hallway features a spiral staircase leading upstairs and a curved stairway going to the finished basement.

Climbing up the stairs, you're led to a wing that could be a maid's quarters or guest suite. It has a bedroom, four-piece ensuite with granite countertop and a large sitting room. The wing is separated from the other two upstairs bedrooms by a door.

The hallway to the other two bedrooms and another bathroom looks down at the front foyer, living room and dining room and offers a stunning view of the front yard through the arched top of the two-storey windows. Part way down the hall is a pipe railing with glass inserts -- and pillars on each side -- that overlooks the great room and backyard.

"It has a warm feel to it," Gauthier says of the elegant home. "You don't come in thinking it's a museum."

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 8, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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