Cottage Clan

This cottage enjoys five generations of family gatherings

By Martha Uniacke Breen
Photos by Barry Hobin & Associates

How do you design the perfect, idyllic family cottage? Barry Hobin & Associates’ design for an island retreat on the Rideau River system near Ottawa, Ontario carries on a family tradition that now spans five generations.

“The family had been patrons of ours for 30 years,” says lead architect Barry Hobin. “We had done the client’s father’s house, and other renovations to a heritage house they owned. Now the son is grown with kids of his own. So we wanted to create a whole classic cottage aesthetic – making the island [which is co-owned by the family and has several other cottages on it] truly inter-generational.”

The top priority was to relate the design to its beautiful island site, which faces a steep treed bluff overlooking the water and a slope leading down to the beach. “One of the wonderful details about the island being a family compound,” Hobin says, “is that there was already a back bay that’s out-of-sight for boats, so the view was completely natural and unspoiled.” There were already a couple of family cottages nearby, including the original cottage built by the client’s great-grandfather, putting the whole clan – which comprises an extended family of seven siblings and their various progeny – within short walking or boating distance of each other.

Family gatherings of 50 or more meet up for barbecues and other events, so the cottage needed to be designed to accommodate a large numbers of visitors. “A major initiative was to make it truly a country property. So that guided the use of materials such as stone and cedar shingles, and an indoor/outdoor feeling,” Hobin says.

The front doors open into the main space, that includes a large open living and dining area with glazing across the back and a vaulted white-painted plank ceiling. To the left, is one of the best features of the cottage, (apart from the view) – an indoor/outdoor screen room with its own fireplace, operable windows and a slate floor, under another vaulted ceiling placed crosswise to the main space. Folding glass doors allow the screen room to be opened completely to the living/dining area or closed down for more intimacy.

The living room is a bit more formal, perfect for gathering by the fire on chilly nights. Since it faces east, it’s also particularly lovely for stretching out with tea and the Sunday New York Times in the morning.

The kitchen, with its uncluttered Craftsman details and cool grey cabinetry, is accessible from the main floor gathering area, the dining area directly in front of it, and the screen room and living area. As the hub of the house, it fits perfectly visually and spiritually into the overall composition of the main level.

The house is situated on a slope, so Hobin and his team were able to place the master suite on the main level and the kids’ rooms on the lower level. Apart from making the master bedroom a retreat from the hustle and bustle of family life, there’s a long-term aspect to this as well. “They’re young now,” explains Hobin, “but they’re thinking of the future as well.” The master shares the eastern view over the water with the principal areas, and enjoys the idyllic morning light.

In fact light, he says, played a very large role in how the general floor plan and what he calls the disposition of the cottage was conceived. It is open and features such expansive windows, that the role of sunlight, cross-breezes and the view were all prime considerations. “The east, which faces the water, was as open as possible to allow views from every part of the house.”

But, on the western side, which brings in solar gain and the harsher light of late afternoon, mature pines and other trees filter the light, creating a softer, nostalgic feeling. Since this is a cottage, the emphasis was on low-tech, natural air conditioning, such as ceiling fans and screened, operable windows. The screen room’s glazed windows can be closed in cool or inclement weather, and opened up for a true indoor/outdoor feeling on warm summer days.
The back of the cottage, facing the water, is as open and expansive as the front is welcoming and cozy. A wide terrace occupies fully half of the rear elevation and can be accessed from the main level. It features glass railing, allowing nothing to block the view from inside or out. Under the terrace, a covered walkout from the lower level provides another sheltered spot to sit outside or take refuge from the rain.

“The house is ‘drawn along’ to the light and view,” Hobin says. “No rooms need to borrow light from each other; every one has its own share of natural light from the outside.”

“I like the craft of it,” he says. “A cottage like this has details you don’t find in other types of houses. The locally quarried sandstone blocks, the grain of the natural wood doors and transoms – which have an old-fashioned cottagey touch on their own – the dark-grey kitchen, and where the sun falls in the house. The more you pay attention to details like this, the further you get from any notion of style or trend. This is a cottage that will endure for their whole lives and longer.”