An entrepreneur created a tropical paradise in Quebec

(Photography courtesy of Sotheby’s International Realty Québec)

Montreal entrepreneur Denis Dumas doesn’t tackle projects half-heartedly. He spent 18 years transforming a 2,800-square-foot, California-style house with 360-degree views into a mini beach resort. He calls it “Cuba in Quebec”: a vacationland with a karaoke stage, a full cabana and tiki bar, an indoor cocktail station and even palm trees.

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Soon after purchasing the property, Dumas took a four-year work hiatus to address severe job burnout and moved to the house full-time. “I was a workaholic and needed a place to chill out,” said Dumas, who is 59 and semi-retired from his job as general manager and founder of Sommeil Davantage, a bedding store. “This started as a simple refuge from work, and then it morphed into something special.” Back then, the home had none of its southern themes: it had a modern design and easy access to the nearby slopes. Then, in the early 2010s, once moved back to Montreal and returned to work, Dumas listed the house on Airbnb and kept it there for two years, where it became a hit with Montrealers and Ontarians looking for a weekend escape. In 2014, he delisted it and started using it as his own. Around that time, he was making frequent trips to and from Cuba to sell adjustable beds, and fell in love with its tropical aesthetic and lifestyle. “I became obsessed with wanting to recreate that atmosphere right here for my partner and friends to enjoy.”

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Dumas hired a grounds crew to flatten the mountainside yard, which was slanted 45 degrees. The crew packed the terrain with sand and stone to lift it 14 feet and compressed it all with a roller. They covered most of the backyard in concrete tiles and installed a badminton court and a hardwood platform that holds a tiki bar, which flanks a massage table and room. Near the back hedge, he built a sauna and a concrete hot tub with a waterfall, and installed hammock-style chairs that face an in-ground pool surrounded in hot rocks.

He finished the yard by digging nine scattered holes, all four feet deep, and planting 10-foot artificial palm trees, each of them costing up to $14,000. The yard revamp, after paying on-site workers and a building manager, cost Dumas more than $500,000; an amount he said was well worth the monthly summer pool parties with friends and neighbours that spanned afternoons.

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Dumas also renovated parts of the home’s interior to match the Cuban theme. He transformed the family room into a cabaret-style lounge that connects to the backyard and has an elevated stage and full surround sound for karaoke nights. The stage faces a bar with a row of stools and a recessed blue quartz backdrop. Left of the stage, a spiral staircase twirls upward to the bedrooms and a second-storey porch that looks over the yard. Beyond the dazzle, the home also has the bones to suit a family: a double garage, a full chef’s kitchen with a marble countertop and backsplash, and a gas fireplace to keep the home toasty in the wintertime. 

Over the last decade, the Dumas dwelling became a frequent gathering hub for his family and friends, who come in crowds as large as 50 for his Big Smoke birthday party every July 8. Year after year, the bonanza involved Mediterranean eats, free massages, custom cocktails, a karaoke competition, a live orchestra playing well into the night, and the main event: a pig roast. 

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But last year’s party may well have been the last one Dumas will spend surrounded by Quebec palm trees. As he approaches retirement, he has chosen to swap his Cuban-inspired casa for the real thing, spending much of his time in the island country so he can learn more Spanish, watch more live jazz, and have an occasional mojito. Still, putting the home up for sale was a tough decision for Dumas. He says that, for all its extravagance, what he’ll miss most about the place are its simple pleasures, like sitting on the west-facing deck’s Muskoka chairs and watching the sunset. 

Meanwhile, he hopes the next owners appreciate it to the fullest. His realtor, Stephane Larrivée, says the listing is already attracting significant interest from people in Toronto, where $1.2 million can buy little more than a regular townhouse; as well as from companies and businesses who want to buy the place and use it for corporate retreats. Dumas has a hunch that it will fall into the hands of an entertainer who, like him, has a thing for tropical themes and general eccentricity.

“I’m regretful to see it go, but I’m so proud of this project. It became a great source of enjoyment away from work, and a way to connect more deeply with my family and friends,” he says. “Now, it’s time to give someone else that luxury.”

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