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Ben Rahn/A-Frame

The rustic counterpoint

In certain ways, Toronto architect Tom Wilson, associate partner at +VG Architects, designed this Niagara escarpment boathouse as an antidote to the cottage on the same site. The word cottage is somewhat misleading here, as the main lodge is a modern home with soaring glass walls, an infinity-edge pool and statement-making lawn art (the property is 90-acres large, including the private lake).

Because the cottage is in no way pastoral, Wilson’s clients – a husband and wife who work in finance and retail, respectively – wanted the 1,600-sqaure-foot boathouse to be the exact opposite. There was already a dock on the site, “but it was sinking into the lake,” notes Wilson.

And it is the opposite. Mostly. The digs are still pretty luxurious. There’s a games room, a small kitchenette used to serve and prepare midday drinks and snacks and a rooftop deck with a diving board (the water drops off steeply immediately offshore). But there are no oil paintings and Eames loungers as there is in the main building, and the walls of the living room are lined in simple, round logs.

Ben Rahn/A-Frame

The furniture fits in with the rustic story. It was all sourced through the Toronto-based store Made, which specializes in Canadian designed and manufactured decor. Lumberjack-plaid prints, Coleman wall sconces and tree-stump stools all add to the sense of wilderness and warmth.

But for all the decor and architecture, the view from within is the most spectacular part (“It’s pretty easy to spend a day there,” notes Wilson, “looking out over the lake”). It’s as unspoiled and lush as a Group of Seven painting – a luxury that simply can’t be designed or built.

Get the look

Akin to the stump stools in the +VG boathouse, Hinterland’s Little Gem side tables (from $1,100 each through are hand-carved in B.C. from reclaimed western-red-cedar logs.

Want an instant hit of classic Canadiana? Toronto-based Made, which sourced all the furniture in the +VG boathouse, designed these Canuck-themed feather-filled pillows ($125 each through

Defined by its cast-aluminum cage frame, Troy Lighting’s Wilming ton outdoor wall sconce ($346 through has a nautical look, making it ideal for a lakeside refuge.
5468796 Architecture

A sleek retreat

For some, the idea of a rustic wooden boathouse is romantic. To others, though, it’s a high-maintenance nightmare, involving stripping, sanding and staining on a regular basis. That’s why architect Ken Borton of Winnipeg’s 5468796 Architecture built an all-metal steel-and-aluminum boathouse on Storm Bay in Lake of the Woods, Ont., not far from the Manitoba border. Even the walls are steel, though some have a fine perforation, so they appear translucent.

The clients, an entrepreneur and his wife, who works in health care, were particular about the upkeep being minimal; they prefer to spend their time hosting the family’s four generations, not washing and repairing. (The decking requires a power hose to clean it and not much else.) The owners entertain their kids and four grandchildren throughout the summer, when the boathouse is a hub of activity.

There are docking ports for two boats and a sauna on its lower level, near the water’s edge for cold-water plunges. The party, though, is on the upper level, where there’s a lounge with a couple of barbecues, a sink and some serving tables. To ensure easy access, a set of stairs rise up from the dock and a bridge links the structure to the main house (it’s used to transport the client’s elderly mother via golf cart).

5468796 Architecture

But as effortless as it is to maintain, the building was a challenge to erect. Most docks in the area are seasonal; they sit in the lake during the summer and get raised out of the water in winter. The ice buildup buckles, warps and eventually destroys most structures, wood or otherwise, if left in place. Borton’s boathouse is fixed (another no-fuss feature) and the engineering that made that possible is intricate, involving the addition of hefty cross-bracing that was hidden within one of the boathouse’s most distinctive features: a two-storey slide right off the lounge. The grandkids love it.

“From what I understand, it’s a pretty fast ride,” Borton says. “It’s made out of slick steel, after all.”

Get the look

Resembling the 5468796 boathouse’s textured walkways, German-based KYMO’s MNML 101 rug (from $3,200 through is woven from the type of polyester straps commonly used in high-Alpine climbing.

It would be hard to find a more resilient lounge chair than this sculptural cast-concrete seat by Kelowna, B.C.-based Mode ($4,000 through It would basically take a jackhammer to put a dent in it.

Artemide’s outdoor Ciclope standing lights (price on request through not only cast a bright glow (their illuminated discs are lined with LEDs), but they don’t emit ultraviolet light, making them friendly for nocturnal animals.

Peter Fritz

Rooms with two views

At first glance, there’s something backward about the boathouse designed by architect Christopher Simmonds in Ontario’s Muskoka region. It’s because of the porch: It faces the wrong way. Rather than looking out to the expansive open water, it points toward the small bay in front of the main house.

The reason is strategic. Simmonds wanted to create the illusion that his clients’ summer home sits on its own private pond. So he massed the boathouse – a large, two-storey structure with 600 square feet of living space, including a kitchen, sitting area and guest quarters, all lined in Douglas-fir plywood – to block the view of the neighbouring cottage. He then placed the terrace so the owners – a couple from Toronto – can sit out and gaze back across the shore at their own house. The two structures are like siblings, both clean-lined, crisp and modern.

But while the view is well edited, the architecture isn’t entirely self-referential. Inside, a large picture window in the living room looks out over the main lake (a pretty spectacular scene). And the whole thing sits lightly in its surroundings.

Peter Fritz

“I like building in the landscape,” says Simmonds, who is based in Ottawa and works all over Ontario. To that end, he limited to the footprint of the boathouse to that of the rotting structure that was there before – he didn’t want to go beyond it so as not to disrupt the local ecology – and rebuilt the foundations with locally grown, sustainably sourced hemlock timbers (any other material, such as stone or concrete, would have been harder on the lake bed). Inside, the sustainable features continue. The lights are all low-energy LEDs and the heat source is a woodburning stove. So even though it might point backward, the whole thing is forward-looking.

Get the look

The Vision line of seating by Toronto’s Andrew Richard Designs (from $1,295 for an ottoman through is upholstered in marine leather (the fabric you’d find in a powerboat). The pieces look indoor-appropriate, but are tough enough for wet swimsuits.

Designed by Belgian-based Stûv, the sleek 30 stove (from $5,500 through features a central drum with a rotating cylinder that either contains the flames behind glass or opens up entirely for indoor marshmallow roasts.

Modern but made of cottage-friendly plywood, Offi’s Mag Table ($199 through offers maximum flexibility for a small space, tripling as a magazine rack, a seat and a side table. (It also flips on its side to become a laptop stand.)