Western Idyll

This home has a laid-back, unpretentious elegance, well in keeping with its role as a year-round escape from the rat race of the Alberta oil patch.

Written by: Martha Uniacke Breen
Photos by: Randy Fiedler

The Collicutt family’s gracious Craftsman-style cottage on Alberta’s Sylvan Lake may be only a short drive from their Red Deer city home, but it’s a million miles away in attitude.

The hamlet of Sylvan Lake is a few miles west of Red Deer, strategically located almost halfway between Edmonton and Calgary. Lorna and Steven Collicutt, who run a business associated with the energy industry, purchased a lakefront lot there in 1996, before approaching Bowood Homes to mastermind their dream cottage in 2000.

“We finally decided to build on it because our kids were growing fast – they were 13 and 15 at the time – and we realized it would only be a few years before they would be moving out,” says Lorna Collicutt. “We wanted them to build happy memories of the home before they were too old; to have a feeling, when they came here, of coming home.”

Susan Knopp, who with Boman Husted make up the principals of Bowood Homes, says, “They wanted to create a year-round cottage that maximized the view, designed for indoor-outdoor living and entertaining. This was a bit of a challenge, since while there is some slope to the property, it’s not really conducive to the traditional walk-out cottage. So instead, we designed a split-level layout.”

Interior designer Peggy Johnson also worked at length on the project.

The Collicutts also wanted the cottage to blend naturally with the leafy landscape and the older cottages that dot the waterfront on either side. With its fieldstone and cedar shingle cladding, greyed-teal and rust trim and Craftsman-influenced architecture, the home has a laid-back, unpretentious elegance, well in keeping with its role as a year-round escape from the rat race of the Alberta oil patch.

From the pretty wrought-iron gate at the foot of the driveway, the roadside elevation of the home features an old-fashioned veranda under a deeply sloping roof overhang. The front entry leads past a short hall to a cosy, self-contained guest area, and directly ahead to the stairs leading, by half-flights, up to the main floor and bedrooms, or down to the den and family room.

The main floor combines kitchen, living area and dining table into one amalgamated space, making it easy to chat with others in the crowd no matter where you’re sitting. The kitchen island’s keystone-style top expands into a round table at one end, more convivial for informal meals than the more expected bar-and-stools. “Everyone seems to congregate naturally in the kitchen,” says Collicutt.

Past the dining room, with its beautifully framed view of the lake, a doorway leads to the screened-in porch, with its overhead space heater and glass knee walls to banish chilled ankles. A built-in grill and range hood allow for great cookouts in comfort, and a pass-through to the kitchen allows a sous-chef to boil up corn-on-the cob or hot dogs and pass them out to partiers on the deck.

Back inside, the main stairs lead down a half-flight to the family room. Since it’s at grade, the lower level is awash in sunlight, thanks to big fir-framed windows that line the entire back wall. The door to the lawn and waterside is conveniently located right next to a well-appointed bar, complete with sink and its own fridge. “With this set-up, you can run in, grab a drink and head back out to the dock, without heading up to the kitchen,” says Knopp. It’s perfect for the sandy-feet/wet-swimsuit brigade.

A built-in media centre at one end, a modern take on a Craftsman-style mantel and built-in leaded-glass bookcases, dominates the seating area. In this case, a big-screen TV takes the place of the hearth, and the bookcases hold electronics, CDs and DVDs. Above, in place of the classic square windows that would normally flank a Craftsman chimney hearth, the designers installed a set of interior-lit leaded-glass cupboards designed to mimic real windows, right down to the gentle glow of light through pebbled glass.

From the main floor, the staircase leads up another half-flight – past a self-contained kids’ level, with bedrooms for each of the two kids and what may only be called a fantasy bunk room: four queen-size bunks, its own TV, and plenty of room for pillow fights and general kid mayhem – to the top floor, where the master suite enjoys the most elegant lake view in the house. There’s a vaguely Spanish feeling to the design of the master-suite window, with its arched centre pane and wrought-iron inserts. With its southwest-facing exposure, “It’s the perfect spot for watching sunsets,” says Knopp.

For the Collicutts, the home is much more than a cottage; eventually they foresee selling their Red Deer house and semi-retiring here permanently. But for now, the cottage is frequently host to hordes of family and friends, and summer passes lazily by, filled by day with boating, swimming and hanging out, and by night with bonfires on the beach and being lulled to sleep by the sound of crickets.

“We only live 15 minutes away, but it’s a completely different environment here,” says Collicutt.

“It’s about relaxing, but it’s also about the people. Every day someone is pulling up at the dock in a boat, or people are driving up to visit. The minute you open the gate to come up the driveway, you instantly relax.”