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'The Birdhouse' is basically an elongated barn with roughly 3,000 feet of floorspace.doublespace photography/Doublespace Photography

When Meg Graham, a partner at the Toronto architecture studio Superkül, was an eighties teenager in Mississauga, she’d spend lazy afternoons watching the light change in her bedroom. “I was a dreamer,” she says. “I’d lie on the floor listening to Kate Bush or Siouxsie and the Banshees and track the sun as it moved across the ceiling.” She noticed how light (or its absence) can alter interior space – compressing it at noon, elongating it at dusk, obliterating it at night. “Architecture is static,” she says, “but when you use light to fill the volume, it becomes dynamic. You feel that you’re part of a larger environment.”

These thoughts were on her mind when, in 2017, Superkül got commissioned to design a lakeside cottage in the Kawartha region of Ontario. The owners – Monica Shin a senior manager at BMO Capital Markets and her partner, a senior manager at TD Securities – had fallen in love with the property at first sight. “It has a perfect location,” Ms. Shin says. “It’s a peninsula with over 600 feet of shoreline. Most Ontario properties have 50 to 100 feet at most.”

In their design, Ms. Graham and the team rejected the clichés of Ontario cottage architecture – the wraparound decks, the chunky trusswork, the interior cladding of knotty pine. They opted, instead, for a cleaner, more sophisticated abode, but one that still feels rooted in place. The structure – called “The Birdhouse,” and inspired by the many simple birdhouses that adorn the property – is basically an elongated barn with a metal gable. It has roughly 3,000 feet of floorspace, and it runs lengthwise, linking the woodland side of the peninsula to the coastline.

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This journey from shadowiness to light is the central concept around which the architecture is based. The building, clad in charred cedar, is so dark it almost disappears into the landscape. “Boaters will sometimes come right up to the dock just to get a look at the house,” says Ms. Shin. If you come correctly, though – by car, that is, as an invited guest, not surreptitiously by boat – you’ll arrive on the woodland side and enter through a covered walkway, which runs lengthwise along the house and is separated from the outdoors by slatted cedar. This pathway then delivers you into the centre of the home – a cozy vestibule, clad in white oak panels, with guest bedrooms on one side and a principal bedroom on the other.

Suddenly, constriction gives way to expansiveness. From the vestibule, an open-tread stairwell carries you down – following the topography of the landscape – to the great room on the lower floor, where wraparound windows offer panoramic views onto the lake. Sliding doors open in two directions, making the space feel more like a covered terrace than a living room. The surrounding coastline is so steep it erases the perceived middle distance between the house and the water.

  • The Birdhouse, summer cottage in Ontario's Kawartha region by Meg Graham, a partner at the Toronto architecture studio Superkül.Doublespace Photography

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That sense of proximity to the lake is perhaps the best thing about the birdhouse: it may not be a standard Kawartha vacation home, but it is as firmly situated in its environment as any place could be. True, the materials – polished concrete on the floors, blackened steel on the fireplace – aren’t typically associated with Southern Ontario cottages, but perhaps they should be. Concrete is made of stony aggregate, not too different from the granite bedrock on which Ontario sits. As for steel? It may be the most local material imaginable. There have been steel mills in the Great Lakes region longer than there have been jet skis or motorboats.

The simple materials give the building a sense of gravitas, says Ms. Graham, in a region where vacation homes are often indecorous and loud. “We wanted to create a house that felt demure,” she explains, “because of the silence of the site. There’s a sense of majesty to the building, but it’s a quiet majesty.”

In the absence of noise, there’s still light. Ms. Shin has noticed how the morning sun entices guests to the breakfast table near the eastern windows, and then southward in the afternoon, into the main part of the living room. In the evening, the light draws out the shadows beneath the stairway risers, and it lands on the steel fireplace, lighting it up in iridescent colours. “No matter where you’re looking, you can still feel the western sunset,” Ms. Shin says, “because it bounces off the surfaces of the home.”

“It pushes you toward the fireplaces,” adds Ms. Graham, “where you find a different kind of warmth.”

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