A look inside the High Acre, a boutique inn in Dundas with a spa in every room

A look inside the High Acre, a boutique inn in Dundas with a spa in every room

Former National Ballet of Canada dancer Brett van Sickle transformed a 150-year-old Victorian manor into a wellness-and-relaxation haven

After 10 years dancing with the National Ballet of Canada, Brett van Sickle wanted to build a wellness retreat—like the ones he loved in Costa Rica—here in Canada. Before his dance career took him to the United States and Europe, van Sickle grew up 10 minutes away from a 156-year-old farmhouse in Dundas, Ontario, and he used to bike up to it as a kid to visit his dad, who lived next door. It felt right to build the retreat in a place that already felt like home.

Since 1867, when the Victorian manor was built, it’s been owned by just five families. The inn’s four suites—which can accommodate two to three people each—are named after the previous owners, as a homage to the building’s history. Van Sickle maintained the original structure’s exterior and focused on updating the interior while preserving the original staircase, beams and wood flooring. For details that couldn’t be salvaged, van Sickle took samples to a local plaster craftsman, who recreated crown mouldings, and to a nearby Mennonite community, which replicated missing trim.

Van Sickle took the lead on the interior design, with help from his neighbour, Sara Wood. A ceramicist by trade, Wood made three-quarters of the inn’s light fixtures at her in-house studio. Local clinical aromatherapist Marianne Toupalik created a custom eucalyptus essential oil spray for the private hammam (steam room) in each suite, and van Sickle’s partner, Anthony Berlingeri, a meditation teacher, provides breathwork and meditation sessions to guests via QR code.

Berlingeri gave van Sickle the idea to build an infrared sauna in each suite, which is now one of the inn’s main draws. Berlingeri’s sister Lauren is the co-founder of wellness brand HigherDOSE, which provides the infrared saunas as well as red-light-therapy face masks in each room. Accompanying the saunas are a hammam and a free-standing soaker tub for a full self-catered spa experience. Other in-room wellness amenities include an essential oil diffuser, a massage gun and bath salts. 

In the backyard, a pool, hot tub, patio lounge and hammocks encourage guests to slow down. Unlike some wellness retreats, which can be overly prescriptive, van Sickle encourages guests to spend their time however they please. “If you want to lie in bed and watch Netflix, that’s fine too,” he says. For those seeking a more active wellness retreat, there’s daily morning yoga in the wellness studio, and the Spencer Gorge Conservation Area’s hiking trails and waterfalls are just a 10-minute walk away. 

While the inn is full of local craftsmanship, the design was inspired by van Sickle’s time abroad. “My vision was to create a little Europe,” he says. “Whenever I couldn’t make a design decision, I’d think, What would France do?” In the two bedrooms on the main floor—Grightmire and Eastman—the original French doors were replicated, complete with cremone handles. And all four suites feature kitchens stocked with coffee, tea, eggs and ready-to-bake croissants, giving the guest rooms a Parisian pied-à-terre feel. 

The reception bar greets guests upon arrival. Van Sickle spray-painted vintage bar stools in a dusty rose to complement the gold accents and black walls for a moody, sophisticated vibe. He used timber from walls removed during the renovation to make the bar top and the house’s old French doors to construct the sides. 

Next to the reception is the lounge, which contains an eclectic blend of old and new, setting the tone for the rest of the house. The old-world mural, found on Etsy, and black fireplace mantel, a reproduction of an old French mantel, are juxtaposed with a modern light fixture and contemporary furniture. There’s also a record library, and each room has its own record player and collection of records, which have been donated by van Sickle’s friends. 

Grightmire is the largest guest room in the house. Van Sickle kept the design simple, with neutral colours and a variety of materials—double-panel curtains, layered blankets, and a linen couch and headboard—to create a feeling of comfort. Delicate textures are contrasted with statement pieces, like the sculptural Crate and Barrel desk by the window, which weighs roughly 180 kilograms.

In the Grightmire kitchen, van Sickle chose gallery rail shelves instead of cabinets to maximize light from the small window. When he struggled to find the small oval table he envisioned for the space, he made his own by combining the top of a low oval coffee table with the legs of an old French pedestal table.

To make the large bathrooms feel less empty, van Sickle installed infrared saunas and turned them into their own spas. He converted the showers into hammams, designed for functionality and comfort with curved benches, matte tiles and sloped ceilings to prevent condensation from dripping down.  

Having practised “contrast bathing”—alternating between hot and cold water—for over 20 years, van Sickle figured that the saunas and steam rooms could form part of a therapeutic circuit when combined with ice baths. While it’s not hard to find spas that offer thermal circuits these days, guests here have the rare opportunity to experience them in their own personal spa facilities.

The other suite on the main floor, Eastman, is van Sickle’s favourite. “It has a really cool blend of old and new, masculine and feminine,” he says. Van Sickle achieved this yin-yang balance by making the main room—which includes the bedroom, living room and kitchen—light and bright and the bathroom completely black. 

To avoid having the small room feel cluttered, van Sickle opted for less furniture and focused on statement pieces and original details, like the original ceiling medallion and fireplace, which was dug out and relined with a gas insert. A French bistro dining set with a marble table creates a perfect photo opportunity in front of the French doors. 

Upstairs, the Stotnick suite is the smallest in the house. To maximize the natural light, all of the walls were painted white. The curved black iron bed from West Elm adds movement to the space in the absence of an original ceiling arch. A vintage church pew sourced from Kijiji, paired with a little stool, creates what van Sickle describes as one of the suite’s many “cute vignettes.” 

Another vignette is found in the spa, where the bathtub is placed under an arch by the window, composing what van Sickle calls a “bathtub theatre moment.” From the tub, guests can admire the two-way fireplace, which connects the spa to the bedroom and makes the room feel larger. 

The other upstairs suite, Hudson, has van Sickle’s favourite kitchen. With an arched window and muted color palette to match the rest of the bedroom, the space is quaint and calming. “It feels like you’re in France, like you can look out the window and see the Eiffel Tower,” van Sickle says. 

He chose a cane bed for the bedroom, to allow light to filter through from the window behind it. At the bay window, a family heirloom loveseat was gifted from Sickle’s neighbour, Wood. She designed the light fixture hanging over it.

Van Sickle chose a deep green colour for the spa, which is complemented by a white tile floor he personally designed. The light fixture hanging over the bathtub—van Sickle’s favourite in the house—was designed by Wood.