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Designed by Meaford, Ont. furniture designers Nathan Buhler and Evan Bare,
Designed by Meaford, Ont. furniture designers Nathan Buhler and Evan Bare,

A big idea for flex space on a smaller scale Add to ...

There’s snow and freezing rain in the forecast. You can muffle up as snugly as possible, but the icy wind still finds ways to get through all the layers. Winter is full upon us, and many weeks will pass before we can confidently stow away boots and mitts once and for all.

Which makes this a good time of year to lay plans for the spring and summer that lie beyond the glacial months. Whatever the weather outside, we can dream about swims on warm days in cool lakes, about barbeques and long evenings on the deck, about opening up the cottage for another season.

Interior view of a triple bunkie. All photos courtesy The Bunkie Co.

Speaking of the cottage: Is it still big enough to accommodate your growing family and circle of friends? Is there ample room to pursue your new-found interest in yoga, or painting or wood-working?

If it looks like the cottage will indeed be too tight this summer, and if you’re not inclined to expand the existing structure, buying and installing a small hut or shelter – what Canadians call a bunkie – might help solve the space problem.

But not all bunkies are created equal. While always enclosing an area less than 108 square feet, to avoid expense and bureaucratic hassle – building anything larger in Ontario requires an official permit – bunkies range in style from very plain and shed-like to quaint or rustic, to egregiously tacky. Their construction is, or appears to be, usually rough and unrefined. Though occasionally one comes across a bunkie manufactured with considerable attention to detail, and even a dash of modern flair.

For examples of the latter sort of bunkie, take the products on offer from The Bunkie Co., which is based in Meaford, Ont.

Crafted by Canadian furniture designers Nathan Buhler and Evan Bare, the four models are artistically sharp and sleek, and free of nostalgic trim and finishing. They feature expanses of glass, instead of the mean windows typical of this building type, and they can be customized to include a queen-sized bed, or a dining table for four, and various combinations of built-in shelving. An ethanol-burning fireplace is available.

Mr. Buhler said that, in addition to providing sleeping quarters for Uncle Sam and Aunt Ethel, or for a whole tribe of children, the bunkie could be put to work as a yoga or art studio, a gym or office, a playhouse, a dining pavilion or even a “motor bike shop.” Its wall-sized glazing makes it suitable for any activity that requires lots of light,

Bunkie installation at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.

The floor area of each model is 106 square feet, just inside the size beyond which a permit is customarily required by Ontario’s cottage-country townships. The distance from the floor to the peak of the pitched roof is a roomy 11 feet 6 inches.

If your basic bunkie is framed by timber uprights, the fabric of The Bunkie Co.’s structures is composed of plywood, precision-cut by a computer-driven machine into pieces meant to lock tightly together, like parts of a Chinese puzzle. This sturdy envelope is then clad with weathered barn boards, out of what Mr. Buhler calls “sympathy for the landscape” in rural Ontario.

He estimates the production takes about nine weeks from the time the bunkie is ordered until it’s assembled by The Bunkie Co. on the site. Prices for the least costly model, which is also the one with the least amount of glazing, start around $22,000. The top-of-the-line version, with its saucily postmodern profile, is on the market for just under $30,000, though custom enhancements could push the cost up to $40,000.

To anyone who’s been in the bunkie market lately, these figures will surely seem steep – $4,000, for example, will buy you a cheap, very ordinary one. I have seen an extravagantly fancy bunkie – a real little horror – going for about $13,000, fully installed, or $9,000 for just the kit.

What The Bunkie Co. is selling, however, is pitched to cottagers who know sound, serious contemporary design when they see it, and who are prepared to pay extra for craftsmanship and imagination. If Torontonians can be discriminating about a little thing such as a bunkie, they are likely to bring good judgment to bear on the design of their homes and offices, and of the city. So it is that I’ll be following the career of The Bunkie Co. with interest, since I think its success will tell us something worthwhile about the quality of thinking among those who’ll be off to cottage country on the other side of this long winter.

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