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Need some cottage inspiration? Check out John de Jong’s rustic family boathouse

John de Jong shows off his boat house cottage bedroom on Lake Joseph in Ontario.

John de Jong shows off his boat house cottage bedroom on Lake Joseph in Ontario.

J.P. Moczulski for The Globe and Mail

Feeling anchored

The rustic family boathouse of jewellery designer John de Jong is a mix of old and new, writes Anya Georgijevic

Despite his glamorous job as a high-end jewellery designer, John de Jong feels most at home in his historic boathouse, situated on his family's private island on Muskoka's Lake Joseph. The designer, who splits his year between Toronto, where he keeps a shop at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and Lausanne, Switzerland, spends most of the summer at the boathouse where he hosts an annual Rocks on the Docks two-day trunk show. It was here that he launched his JdJ jewellery line 20 years ago. The boathouse is one of three situated on his family's Sunset Island estate, along with the main house. All the properties were built in the 1880s and restored when his family purchased them 35 years ago. "My father was very careful to preserve the character of the cottage," de Jong says.

To the Lake pillow cover, $39.50 at Indigo (www.chapters.indigo.ca)

To the Lake pillow cover, $39.50 at Indigo (www.chapters.indigo.ca)

The designer's beloved boathouse was in bad shape, with decaying interior panelling and a crumbling staircase. His family rebuilt the stairs, replaced the dark wood panels with lighter, warmer pine, and painted the ceiling white. The rest they kept as it was. "The floors are worn from the old ship cleats that are used as doors stops, the shingles and windows are weathered and chipped here and there, but it has a lot of character. And we get a lot of weather blowing through, so it does get a beating," he says.

Cotton herringbone throw, $243 (U.S) at Brahms Mount (www.brahmsmount.com)

Cotton herringbone throw, $243 (U.S) at Brahms Mount (www.brahmsmount.com)

The decor, however, has evolved since de Jong's teenage years. De Jong's sister Liz, of de Jong Designs, gave the original boathouse furniture a refresh by painting it white. They added a few pieces like the antique Irish chest, and the bed made out of Port Carling peaks and rafters was purchased at Muskoka Living Interiors about a decade ago. More recently, Jason Forbes of Jason Forbes Design gave the boathouse a contemporary facelift. Forbes reupholstered the original, antique daybed in white fabric and added the matching ottomans. The striped curtains were chosen for the nautical feel. "I like the blue and white because it speaks to the water," de Jong explains. The rest of the furnishings continue that theme: a navy blanket from Ralph Lauren, blue handmade herringbone throw from 31 Westgate in Chester, N.S., and towels from Hermès for lounging on the dock.

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Alston striped curtains, $129.95 to 139.95 at Crate & Barrel (www.crateandbarrel.com)

Alston striped curtains, $129.95 to 139.95 at Crate & Barrel (www.crateandbarrel.com)

Unlike his Toronto atelier, de Jong's boathouse doesn't display photos of his glamorous clientele (a more recent fan is Sophie Grégoire Trudeau) decked out in his jewels. Instead, he opted for a black-and-white photograph of a Toronto esplanade and an oil painting of the Gstaad train station by naive artist Barry Stokes: "[It's] my other favourite place where my family has spent many winters since I was a child. It's a simple painting, but I love it."

Slipcover ottoman, $529 to $779 at Pottery Barn (www.potterybarn.com)

Slipcover ottoman, $529 to $779 at Pottery Barn (www.potterybarn.com)

For a designer of glitzy jewels, working in a rustic cottage may seem odd, but de Jong takes inspiration from the surrounding nature. "The morning sun hits the far shore, and it's the first thing I see when I wake up," he says. "Then in the afternoon, the light floods in, reflecting off the water. The lake sparkles all the way up the channel – it's magical."

Maison dresser, $1,595 (U.S) at Restoration Hardware (www.restorationhardware.com)

Maison dresser, $1,595 (U.S) at Restoration Hardware (www.restorationhardware.com)

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