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This coastal Nova Scotia cottage was designed by Halifax-based architect Omar Gandhi.

Greg Richardson

Take note, weekend warriors: The hottest cottages right now are extremely comfortable and impeccably designed, but far from ostentatious. On the contrary, retractable walls, expansive windows and rooms that blur the line between inside and out make them one with the landscape.

Here are three of the most innovative.

An earthbound 'tree house' in rural Quebec

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When Anne Maheux and Greg Hill head to the woods – to their cottage on a small lake in Val-des-Monts, an hour outside of Ottawa – they leave it all behind: There is no Internet and no TV.

"It's incredibly peaceful," Maheux says. "We do a lot of walking, swimming and reading."

Their small three-bedroom retreat is, in many ways, a classic cabin, modest in size and without many frills. "The interior was supposed to be Zen," Maheux says, "and the contemporary architecture really lends itself to that kind of atmosphere."

In part, that's because the design defers to the landscape. The building, by Ottawa designer Paul Kariouk, is set among the trees on top of a bluff; it has so many large, well-placed windows that it feels, even from the inside, as though it's part of the forest.

"There's very little barrier between the property and the house," Maheux explains. "When you walk in, you can't help noticing that it feels like [you're] outside."

Large windows dominate every room – two bedrooms in one wing, a kitchen and living room in the other. The large, enclosed porch, however, is where Maheux spends the most time in the summer, reading with Hill and their daughter, Madeleine.

"The porch doesn't have glass," explains Kariouk, who teaches architecture at Carleton University. "There is a very fine screen for the evenings when you need it. In the mornings, you roll it away and you're completely outside."

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Another of the building's inside-out features was driven by the family's youngest member, who insisted the cabin include a loft, which Kariouk designed as a curvaceous pod, spanning the building's two wings. Its floor curves up to one side to meet the ceiling, creating an unusual space with broad views of the landscape. It is a favourite Maheux says, among the children who come to visit, a private tree house inside a house in the trees.

A sustainable haven in southern Ontario

For a couple who lives in downtown Dallas, the hills of Ontario's Niagara Escarpment – rugged and richly forested – make a bucolic getaway. Hilton and Barbara Tudhope spend their summers in the township of Mulmur; for them, the experience is about recharging.

"You're in nature," Barbara says. "It feels like you're attached to the earth." She could mean that both figuratively and literally, given that the pair's two-bedroom cottage is set right into the hillside.

Designed by the Toronto architects superkül, the long, low dwelling sits on a south-facing slope next to a large, spring-fed pond. Each of its rooms – the bedrooms, an office, a kitchen and a living room – overlooks the water through cedar-framed windows.

"We gave superkül the mandate that we really wanted to bring the outdoors inside, and they did that," Hilton says. "Obviously the windows on the pond are spectacular – they're 90 feet long by 14 feet high – but the windows at the back of the house bring the forest in."

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The area's natural environment is both beautiful and fragile, and the Tudhopes, who spend about four months of the year in Mulmur, wanted the building to be as sustainable as possible. It is highly insulated and boasts a green roof, a geothermal system uses the pond to exchange heat and the windows are triple-glazed, giving them an extremely high insulation value. All this makes the house eligible for a gold or platinum rating from the LEED environmental rating system, a designation that is rare among single-family houses.

And while the outdoors invite them to be active – the hiking paths of the Bruce Trail are nearby – the cottage itself is an unusually healthy environment. For medical reasons, the couple requested extremely high air quality indoors, so some walls were covered in a natural plaster that requires no sealants or paint, the white-oak cabinetry was finished with natural lacquers and the interior has very few horizontal surfaces, so there are fewer places for dust to settle. You can feel it, Hilton says. "As soon as you walk in, the feeling of the air is as refreshing and rejuvenating" as it is outdoors.

A wraparound refuge in coastal Nova Scotia

Keith and Rosemary Hamilton's oceanfront cottage on Nova Scotia's South Shore is the couple's favourite place to gather with their children and grandkids. There, they spend their days on the lawn between the house and the water, where the land forms a bowl shape, a natural hub that inspired Halifax-based architect Omar Gandhi's design for the dwelling.

The building features two wings that wrap around the central lawn, resulting in a compound that is both intimate and wide open to the sea.

One wing contains the Hamiltons' master bedroom, along with an open kitchen and living space fronted by two-storey windows lined with sunshades. The other houses guest rooms. In the middle, where the two wings meet, is a covered porch enclosed in a panelled glass wall that can fold away, turning the space into an outdoor room. As Keith describes it, "the flow to the outdoor deck is seamless."

This central area features a contemporary fireplace that hangs from the ceiling, along with an unusual twist on the hearth: strips of granite set into the floor, interspersed with planks of wood. "The stone heats up and becomes a beautiful warm mass that carries the warmth long after the sun goes down," Gandhi says.

While the building is quite unlike the traditional-style cottages that are common in the area, its design makes a fairly subtle statement. Wrapped in white-stained cedar siding and shingles, the cottage's view from the road is quiet. But "on the other side," Gandhi says, "it opens up toward the sunlight and the water, where all the action is."

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