A client once told me that they could hardly remember how long their project took to complete, or even how much they'd actually spent, but they loved the result. Now that the cottage I built for my family is finally done, I can tell you, I definitely know how painfully long it's taken - and every single penny I've spent! I set myself a $1-million budget for the three buildings and docks; it has cost over $1.5-million.
I also have vivid memories of moving the furniture across the lake on two barges in a cold rain. The six movers were a great crew, though there was some grumbling about empty stomachs. Maybe I should have packed them all a lunch - and brought some dry socks. I just smiled and asked who was in charge. Surprise - I was! I just told myself: I've got to keep positive.
I suppose that's true of the whole project. The process of designing, building and decorating the cottage on an island in Stoney Lake has been a long but ultimately rewarding journey. It may have taken longer and cost more than I first thought, but in the end I achieved the level of quality I wanted and the functionality I required, and I feel truly satisfied. I stood out in the rain overlooking the rocky, pine tree-dotted landscape now sprinkled with new blue buildings and I could have broken out in song: "I am Woman, Hear me Roar!"
The new cottage feels like a breath of fresh air. The interiors are a sparkling bright white, which makes my furniture pop and complements the deep blue trim of the windows and doors. The blue lake and the 360-degree views truly take your breath away. Each time I visit, I almost have to pinch myself.
So why did it take longer than planned to get to this point? For one thing, I was without my usual crew, the time-tested professionals I count on to execute my projects in the city. But I also had to contend with the slower pace of things in cottage country. Up here, getting help in ice fishing season is like trying to round up workers in Toronto during the World Cup.
But going in, I knew some of the problems I might face. The fact that the property was located on an island was certain to complicate the project, and milder than normal temperatures might interfere as well - we were counting on being able to drive to and from the building site over the frozen lake for most of the winter. Sure enough, mild weather cut into our schedule. I also increased the level of detail in the interiors which again slowed our progress.
And what caused my budget to max out?
Well, I am a firm believer in investing in design and materials; if you spend more now, you won't have to rip it out and start again later. I also know that compromises have to be made and that you can't always spend your budget at will.
In cottage country, you're pretty much at the mercy of the local trades. They are crucial during construction, but you will continue to have to count on them for maintenance and emergencies. You've got to think ahead to that fluke storm years from now when you'll have to make a late-night call to a local tradesperson to go and check the cottage. It's in your own interests to keep relationships positive and make sure that when you need to make that panicked call there's someone who will answer the phone.
It is hard to control costs in that kind of a dependent situation. I'm not naive - this is my second cottage at Stoney Lake and I know I'm seen as a city person. I'm treated differently. But it's important to look at the scope of work and the context. At the end of the day, everyone shakes hands and is proud of the job done.
A perfect example is my kitchen countertops. The massive island that our millwork company constructed had to be built in three parts. As the job grew more complicated and detailed, it became clear that the amount of Caesarstone required was becoming too costly. At that moment, I realized that my main contractor was planning on bringing in his fabricator from the city anyways. So to make the gorgeous island more wallet-friendly, I brought in my guys from the city and used a more affordable Bianco Carrara.
Even though we have now moved in and are ready to enjoy the cottage this summer, I know that I will be evaluating certain elements of the cottage and will add more details down the road. Take the pergola for instance. Right now the heavy stone columns and douglas fir beams provide a structured yet airy feel. I may toy with the idea of thickening up its presence with added purlins. I really can't help myself - I only know it is done when my eyes tell me so.
The window treatments are another unfinished project. The views are just so beautiful that I could not bring myself to cover them up just yet. Maybe I'll take a cue from my mother who loves to live with the "living landscape," as she calls it.
But right now, I can take a moment to sit back and enjoy my new summer home and be thankful for the opportunity to create a lasting legacy for my children, a fifth generation at Stoney Lake. Then, it's back to work. There's the landscaping to attend to, then there's the boathouse to fine tune, and then, well, we'll see.