Beachy Keen

Generations of family memories make this cottage a true labour of love

By Lisa Bendall
Photos supplied by Dusk to Dawn Interiors

Maureen and Alf Cividino snapped up their new cottage, when it became available for sale 18 months ago. For them, it wasn’t much of a gamble. The cottage is on Sunnyside Beach, 20 minutes east of Thunder Bay, Ontario, and came with 100 feet of prime frontage on beautiful Lake Superior. “It’s a lovely piece of property, on a nice, protected bay on Lake Superior,” says Maureen. “I’m biased, but I do think it’s the most gorgeous place in the world.”

They also have longstanding links to the beach. Just steps away is another cottage the couple have owned for years, not to mention Maureen’s parents all-season home. “My mother went into labour with me on Sunnyside Beach – that’s how connected I am!” Maureen says. And with three grown sons who may one day start families of their own, the Cividinos, who currently live in Dundas, Ontario, are thinking of the future. A second cottage on the beach made sense to them. “We wanted extra space,” Maureen says. “We’re both physicians and we’re thinking of retirement.”

With busy jobs and a home 1,400 kilometres away, the Cividinos couldn’t be on site every day to oversee a renovation. They enlisted the help of Theresa Russell, a Thunder Bay-based interior designer and owner of Dusk to Dawn Interiors.

The couple asked Russell to oversee the contractors as well as look after the design, giving her a certain amount of latitude for making decisions. “I’ve done many jobs like this for clients who live out of town,” Russell says. The Cividinos took care of certain other details on their own. They sourced a cherrywood dining table and chairs from Expressions in Wood in Stoney Creek, Ontario, then had the company custom-supply a thick, live-edged cherry countertop for their built-in buffet and hutch. Throughout the project, Russell kept in regular contact with the Cividinos, emailing them photo updates and fabric or tile samples.

A priority for Maureen and Alf was to make the most of the outdoor vistas. “There are the things you don’t want to compromise on, and for us it was to have a view of the lake from as many different rooms as possible,” Maureen says. That priority shaped a number of outcomes, like installing an en suite bathroom window where there wasn’t one before, and using a low bench along one side of the table instead of high-backed dining chairs. They also raised a hanging chandelier by a few inches so there could be clear sight lines from the kitchen island to the windows.

The original house featured a large, walled-in laundry room in the centre that effectively divided up the place, cramping the other rooms and blocking the lake view. With this room and its walls removed, Russell was able to create an open space that joins together areas for cooking, dining, entertaining and cozying up to the fire. “It just gives it so much,” says Maureen of the design. “It feels so much airier. You don’t feel confined. At the cottage it’s nice, when you’re inside, to almost feel like you’re outside.”

Even support posts are strategically placed to not obstruct views. These are incorporated into the kitchen island, for example, and hidden between two side-by-side sliding glass doors in the dining area.

Despite many changes, the design pays homage to the original materials and local geography. “I did try to maintain as much of the original cedar walls as I could,” says Russell, “while still updating it, and giving it a good balance of wood and painted finishes.” Where changes to walls and ceilings had been made, new wood was expertly stained by the painter to match the existing, naturally-aged cedar.

But, they drew the line at wood flooring. “The floor was a challenge. A wood floor would be too much,” says Maureen, adding that she dithered on floor materials, worrying that ceramic tiles would be cold in winter – and slippery for future grandchildren. Eventually they settled on large vinyl tiles throughout the cottage, with the exception of the two bathrooms. “I wasn’t sure I’d like this product at all, but I just love it. It’s warm, it cleans like a dream, and it looks really sharp,” Maureen says.

The original granite fireplace looks stunning and fits the new design to a tee. A cooking grill inset on one side was converted into a handy wood box. A mason was hired to replace the hearth stone, which had been inlaid with pink ceramic tiles that couldn’t be removed. “I had him install a new concrete one, which I left unfinished to let the stone shine,” says Russell. And shine it does, peppered with what Maureen calls “lots of hidden gems of deep purple amethyst.” She adds: “I’ve always loved granite. It’s a big part of Thunder Bay.”

Finishing touches included throw pillows and knick-knacks with bird and butterfly themes, and a gorgeous driftwood coffee table topped with glass. “We do really love nature, and love repeating that theme in the house. It feels very organic,” says Maureen. “I think Theresa got to know my taste.”

She admits the project came in over budget, but the Cividinos take that in their stride. “I’m very happy with it,” Maureen says. “I think it looks really inviting and clean. It’s understated, but elegant at the same time.”