How would you define a recreational cottage? What do those words conjure in your mind? This journalist sees a cozy cabin with a wood stove, beaten-up barbecue on the deck, fishing pole leaning against the picket handrail and canoe turned upside-down in the scrubby lawn that leads to the edge of the lake. But that’s just my take, based upon my experience – and my monthly salary.
To those of a more affluent persuasion the idea of a summer home, a weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of Toronto, means a house in Muskoka: a house that many readers of this newspaper couldn’t dream of affording as their main home, never mind a second property. But then again, that’s why many of us read the property pages.
And so to Kris and his wife Margaret, a property developer and financier who live in Toronto’s Rosedale neighbourhood. They used to own a cottage in Haliburton, but yearned to be closer to the larger lakes of Muskoka and the golf courses there that the craggy Haliburton Highlands do not afford. Their search led them to the shores of Lake Rosseau and a property that included a Cape Cod-style home that Margaret describes as looking like “Muskoka gone mad.”
While the house had a certain quirky charm, it was the overall property, which included a boathouse, tennis court – something Margaret had long set her heart on – and its proximity to those golf courses that really impressed the couple. And so, in December, 2012, they purchased the property, knowing there were some serious renovations ahead. Soon afterward, Kris contacted architect Peter Berton, partner with +VG Architects, whose work they had come across previously while boating in the area, and the trio began to work together to design the extensive renovation immediately.
Kris and Margaret (who did not want their surname used) wished to maintain the architectural charm of the original building but reimagine the house with a more contemporary feel. Mr. Berton’s answer was to retain the traditional multi-valleyed roof line but reclad the roof in matte brown metal panels, while below, the baby-blue clapboard siding and white trim was replaced by vast glazed façades and cool gun-metal-grey timber cladding.
Set on the original footprint of 1,500 square feet, the house feels much larger, thanks to the new panoramic views from many of the rooms and connection to large outdoor spaces, including a Muskoka room, numerous decks and patios. The cedar-clad cathedral ceiling in the main living area features a horizontal apron around its perimeter. This hides the accent lighting but, more importantly, it is at the same height as the external soffit, which meets the wall at the head of the glazed façade. The result is an internal/external ceiling line interrupted only by clear glass, so giving real connection to the outdoors.
This theme of connectivity with nature is pivotal to the overall feel of the place and is carried throughout Mr. Berton’s design. Glazed corners are frameless, even in the pantry; views from the four basement bedrooms are unobstructed, the large deck to the living area above being cantilevered to achieve this. And, while the house is screened from the lake by trees, the water can be glimpsed through cedar and maple boughs from almost every room.
The grey siding of the external walls not clad in glass complements the vast granite slabs that pave the way to garage and tennis court, behind the house, and boathouse. And it is outdoors where the couple and their adult son and daughter maximize the use of their “recreational cottage.” Above the garage, at the same level as the tennis court, is a games room. Pool and Ping-Pong are at hand, or if the family is feeling more sporty, there’s tennis, basketball hoops and a hockey net. Down by the lake, the boathouse, designed to co-ordinate with the main building, features an outdoor dining area and is home to a wakeboard boat, a Boston Whaler and a vintage Donzi, as well as an assortment of Sea-Doos, kayaks and canoes.
“I love spending time here,” Margaret says. “The property has everything I want, and it is so connected with my pastimes – golf, tennis and my yoga, which is just a Sea-Doo ride away. I’d like to live here permanently in the summer.”
With all of these frenetic activities going on outside, Mr. Berton has deliberately kept things cool, calm and collected inside. The main living space is open-plan, the blond oak floor stretching from cooking range in the kitchen to majestic stone fireplace in the lounge area. The walls are banded in horizontal white profiled MDF panels, accentuating the length of the space, and care has been taken to transition between areas seamlessly. For instance, the crisp whiteness of the Caesarstone island and countertops in the kitchen area is accented in occasional tables in the lounge area; the architect worked hard with the homeowners to create a place that takes them away from their busy city lives and immediately immerses them in the relaxation that urbanites crave when they drive into the countryside.
Margaret strokes her hand along the smooth surface of the breakfast bar and looks around her cottage. She pauses on the view toward the lake and smiles. “I sometimes can’t believe that this is ours,” she says. “The house is so wonderfully designed that it never feels cluttered; it calms me just to walk through the spaces.”
It is then Mr. Berton’s turn to smile. This Muskoka summer home may well be far more than many of us can imagine living in, but for this family it is their perfect antidote to city life. It is an exquisite, contemporary reinvention, turning “Muskoka gone wild” into a recreational cottage to die for.