Huntsville Hideaway

This executive-style cottage in Huntsville, Ontario enjoys views of two lakes.

By Dennis McCloskey

In 1869, when Captain George Hunt first settled on a short section of land on the Muskoka River, connecting Vernon and Fairy Lakes, no doubt he enjoyed the peaceful surroundings of his log cabin and happily shared his property with such wildlife as deer and wild turkeys.

Much has changed in the intervening 139 years in the nearby town of Huntsville, Ontario – named after Capt. Hunt – including a burgeoning population of nearly 19,000 people who enjoy world-class theatres, fine restaurants, sophisticated entertainment, good schools and fine medical facilities. But just 10 minutes from town, in the midst of the beautiful Muskokan landscape that’s known as a four-season retreat with golfing, skiing, fishing, boating and hiking, you’ll still find peaceful surroundings on secluded properties with cabins (now “luxurious vacation homes”) that share the land with…deer and wild turkeys.

One such estate is an executive-style cottage in the hills east of Huntsville, a two hour drive north of Toronto. It is set on 4.26-acres and nestled among the trees with an expansive view of Fairy Lake and Vernon Lake on one side and Peninsula Lake on the opposite side of the house. Captain Hunt would love it.

It’s part of a 500-acre development near the luxurious Deerhurst Resort. Woodland Heights, by Alliance Homes, has sold out two of its four planned phases. Built in 2004, this particular three-level retreat has 5,300 square feet of living space including a finished basement with walk-out. The owner (who wishes to remain anonymous) is from Hamilton, lives and works in Bangkok, Thailand for much of the time, and uses the home as an extended-family gathering place while in Canada. It will also serve as a retirement home.

Alliance Homes Project Manager Chuck MacDougall says his team of architects and builders “took the house to drywall and my wife did the rest.” Chuck’s wife is Kristine Brigden, a talented designer and principal of Kristine Brigden Design, who lists commercial and residential design, staging, special events, and custom millwork and furniture among her specialties.
The owner of the secluded Woodland Heights cottage gave Brigden a substantial budget to set up the home and have it completed by December 6, 2004 – right down to stocking the fridge and setting the table.

“He told me he likes leather, and he wanted it to look old and lodgy,” Brigden says during a tour of the home. Those were the only instructions she received. He had seen the interior of MacDougall and Brigden’s house nearby on Deerfoot Trail and he liked how she decorated it. “I trust you,” he told her. He gave Brigden carte blanche to choose paint colours and flooring, purchase furniture, artifacts and appliances, and build stairs.

Such sparse instructions from a homeowner might give the average interior designer nightmares, but Brigden is no run-of-the-mill home stylist and she was able to turn the four-season cottage into a dream home. Her deft touch, attention to detail, and versatile flair is evident in every square foot of the open-concept house.

The large, custom, open kitchen features an eye-popping island with laminate countertop. Yes, laminate. “I got the look without spending $17,000,” she says of the impressive island with squared-off edges, high-gloss finish, wine fridge, and unobtrusive compost hole on top of the counter. “I figured I could change it later if the owner chose to do so,” she says, while noting her design philosophy: “Spend the money now on things you cannot change later.”

The island is free-floating, and it’s built on feet because, with an open-concept home, the designer wanted it to look like part of the furniture.

The kitchen island sits on a floor of one-inch tongue-and-groove white pine that comes “clean and undisturbed” in widths ranging from three to 11 inches. It was purchased in Collingwood, and Brigden says she had people walk on it to mark it up, then stained it and gave it about five topcoats to make it look old. “The more you bang it up, the better it looks, and it’s very low maintenance,” she says.

Adding to the aged look is a column that separates the kitchen and breakfast nook and is decorated only partway up (to give it a foundation appearance) with cultured stone from Mohawk Rock. A return air vent in the column is fitted with an old grate to give it an authentic look. “A stainless steel grate would not create a ‘lodge’ feel,” Brigden says. Next to the column is a chair with a cushion containing the family’s monogram. The living room’s focal point is a fireplace of the same cultured stone.

“It’s a brilliant product,” says Brigden. “It looks so legitimate.”
A small table with four chairs is set in the spacious breakfast area. Upon closer examination, one learns the table has three leaves and can be extended to seat 14. It was purchased in a local antique store. A nearby harvest table was made by a local artisan. The chairs are antique chairs, not reproductions. “I strip them down and have them rebuilt and re-upholstered,” says Brigden. “It’s not about the cost of an item, it’s about perception and quality. A piece of furniture can be of good quality but not expensive.”

Eclectic artifacts, ranging from a Buddha statue to the ubiquitous loon, permeate the house throughout – on the recessed library shelves at the main entrance, in rooms in the five-bedroom house, and even outside where there’s a giant stone Inukshuk in the driveway entrance. Inside, a distinctive narrow spiral staircase was built around a pole that rises from a main-floor office area to the second-floor master bedroom. Another open pine staircase contains recessed side lighting along the steps.

Upstairs, the designer’s artistry abounds, even – and especially – in the bathrooms. She used commercial “subway” tiles on the wall in a guest bathroom, and in both bathrooms the flooring is sandstone granite that was hand-carved by a mason. There is a doorless walk-around shower, and individual his and hers vanity cabinets are eye-catching with their ornate wood design.

All of the home’s ceilings are nine feet high and the walls are painted with a rainbow of Benjamin Moore paints that vary from a Decatur buff in an upstairs bathroom, Tumeric in the guest bedroom, Sea Urchin for the trim and ceilings, and Hasbrouck semi-gloss chocolate brown for doors. There are Sussex Green walls for a “mossy earthy” effect, and the office is painted in Chelsea Grey, a kind of mushroom colour.

A games room in the lower level basement has a bar, pool table, leather chairs and sofa, fireplace. An exterior 360-degree wrap-around synthetic no-maintenance deck surrounds the house. The home’s exterior cladding is Hardi Plank, a concrete fibreboard that looks like wood.

As Chuck MacDougall was explaining to a visitor how the material was installed by using a special saw blade, a wild turkey emerged from the nearby woods. Earlier a deer had been spotted. Captain Hunt would have felt right at home.