Island Kingdom

A cottage away from the Muskoka hotspots is just what this busy entrepreneur wanted


By Dennis McCloskey
Photos by Daniel Dutka

“A lake carries you into recesses of feeling otherwise impenetrable.”
-William Wordsworth

Michael King is a prominent globetrotter who adheres to the precept of 16th century English philosopher Sir Thomas More who wrote, “He travels best that knows when to return.”

Born near a lake in New Zealand, the Toronto-based entrepreneur/philanthropist lived by the water in Australia and also resided in Switzerland and Washington D.C. before settling in Ontario’s capital city on Lake Ontario, in 2003.

It didn’t take him long to seek out a waterfront vacation home where he could relax and unwind. “Having a cottage is a quintessentially Canadian thing,” says the head of Luxury Group International in a phone interview with Homes and Cottages from a Caribbean island in late spring 2013. “For me it’s a respite from the city; a place to de-camp and enjoy as a gathering place for friends and family.”

The retreat to which King takes flight is an A-frame cottage on tiny Chief Island in Kahshe Lake, southeast of Gravenhurst, Ontario. Stretching seven kilometres from stem to stern, the four-kilometre-wide Kahshe Lake is the fourth largest in the Muskoka region.

In 2004, King found a 900-square-foot, water-access cottage for sale that appealed to his lifestyle. He didn’t want to be on one of the ‘big three’ Muskoka lakes (Lakes Rosseau, Joseph and Muskoka) because they remind him too much of the city. The busy enterpriser says he was attracted by the privacy and quietness of the “charming” Kahshe Lake cottage on an island with just one other cottage.

He purchased the cottage with its 800 feet of shoreline and set a plan in motion to build a 1,000-square-foot addition to the existing cottage. “Out of respect for the history of the lake and the cottage, I wanted to retain part of the antiquity of the 1970s A-frame, so instead of tearing it down and building a brand new cottage, I retained the original structure and renovated and added to it.”

He recruited April Gadsby Drane, the long-time owner of Gadsby’s of Gravenhurst, an interior decorating/design and home staging business in a century home on Bay Street in the resort town.

Gadsby Drane, who is also a real estate sales representative of high-end homes and cottages, became the lead designer and project manager for King. “She has a place on the lake, knows everybody and had the skills and good design ability that I was looking for,” says King. “And she understood my vision.”

Working on a deadline to complete the project by August 2005 (and have it ‘move-in-ready’ by Victoria Day) work began on the addition in the winter of 2004. “Building on an island in winter is certainly a challenge with changing temperatures, snow and ice,” says Gadsby Drane. Before the lake froze, materials were barged across the water and footings installed. During the height of winter, Clydesdale horses were used to drag a trailer over the ice laden with building materials.

A new steel roof was installed, a deck was added and cedar shake siding gave the structure a unified and harmonious appearance. With the addition of two bedrooms and two 10X10-foot bunkies placed on the property – kits shipped in from Bali with rustic, thatched roof exteriors – there was now accommodation for 12.

Inside the newly-renovated, open concept, cathedral-ceilinged cottage, a fireplace that’s 30-feet high and nine-feet wide serves as the focal point of the structure. The double-sided gas fireplace divides the great room and dining area.

Gadsby Drane calls it the “piece de resistance” suggesting that “everything flows around it.” She explains that it doesn’t exert a lot of weight on the foundation because it came in panels of faux slate. A large burl wood sculpture sits in front of the fireplace while bleached antlers grace the imposing structure on the opposite side.

The fireplace, which the designer calls “the anchor” and “the dividing wall” is black which contrasts with the cottage’s white walls and roof which were sprayed by student painters. Mink-coloured, satin-finished hardwood floors were manufactured to give them a reclaimed appearance.

The great room is awash with light streaming in through multiple windows of various shapes and sizes on three sides that afford a spectacular view of the trees and water.

Under a Hampton Bay Heritage crystal chandelier are beige lounging sofas and chairs with white, cotton slipcovers. Surrounding this bright room are banquettes — upholstered seating much like a ledge or shelf — that are adorned with over a dozen throw pillows. The banquettes, upholstered by Silva Custom Furniture, can be used as extra sleeping space and storage space for everything from books and magazines to bedding. Rustic elements such as wood stools by Jalan also decorate the room.

The rustic look is carried into the kitchen that’s outfitted with an island that was custom-made to look like an antique, and covered with a granite counter top. Three log stools and exposed Douglas fir ceiling beams with visible nuts and bolts add to the austere, natural look. The dining room features a 12-foot-long trestle table with linen-covered Parson chairs.

Above the kitchen and dining area is a loft that was expanded to allow for a bedroom and seating area. An antique desk and leather chair are clearly visible from the main floor. An upstairs deck was built off King’s bedroom. The wood-railed deck overlooks the property and lake and provides a bird’s-eye view of the cottage’s exterior seating area and landscaping where lounge chairs are placed on a natural rock surface. On the deck are wooden Muskoka chairs and a table formed from a tree felled on the property.

When asked to describe how the owner’s vision ’jelled’ with her architect, builder and celebrity designers, Gatsby Drane says it was a “great team” because everyone had something to bring to the table. “Organically, it came together in part because Mr. King has a great sense of style,” she adds. “He is aware and sees the big picture, which is inspiring. He brings out the best in people and he upped my game.”

Speaking on the phone from the Caribbean island, King was looking forward to being at his cottage in a couple of weeks. The world traveller describes his time at the cottage as being in another world. He adds: “It’s a nice transition from the city to the lake and one that I make easily and often.”