Peak Performance

A rocky perch is the magnificent site of this popular cottage

By Lisa Bendall
Photos by John O’Brien Photography for Discovery Dream Homes

How do you install a magnificent 6,000-square-foot cottage with wraparound deck and boathouse on a pristine, rocky lakeshore while respecting its natural setting? It’s all about good design.

When Tony Atkins (name changed to protect privacy) bought four acres of property on a quiet, spring-fed lake an hour north of Peterborough, he was pulled in by the sense of peace and serenity that its landscape offered. But, with four active teenagers and plans to use the site as a summer home, he wasn’t exactly counting on a tiny log cabin in the woods. “We have a big family,” Atkins says, “and sometimes our kids have 20 friends over. And we like to entertain.” The family would need space, and comfort.

The result: a five-bedroom, five-bathroom timber-framed cottage – with another two bedrooms and extra bathroom over the three-car garage – that blends surprisingly well into the landscape, despite perching on the rocky granite peak of the property. Atkins pointedly selected a neutral colour for the exterior so it would be difficult to pick out his place from a distance. “It’s given us an incredible opportunity to be at the top of the hill and overlook the lake,” says Atkins. “We see the weather changes. When most people walk in, they say right away, wow, your view is amazing.”

A bit of rock-blasting made a difference, with the main floor nestled into the granite instead of raised above the crest of land. Because of the steep slope, part of the basement includes a walkout while the rest is no more than a crawl space.

Atkins wanted a design that would suit their needs and wishes, but would also be completed within a reasonable time frame. He’d learned hard lessons with his previous cottage, which had taken about four years to build. “We became anxious by the end of it. It just took far too long,” he says. “I wanted this to be quite simple.” After all, his kids are growing up fast: “I wanted us to really enjoy our time up there.”

He put careful thought into the team he assembled, which included builder Roger Glover of RKG General Contractors in Lakefield, Ontario, and designer Chris Nolan of Discovery Dream Homes in Peterborough, Ontario with landscaper Steve Gillespie. “We chose Discovery because they use a lot of prefabricated materials,” says Atkins. The company works with factory pre-cut, pre-assembled, numbered frame pieces. Although Atkins knew this would speed up construction, he also didn’t want a cookie-cutter cottage. But Discovery uses 3D modeling software to customize their designs for clients, who are able to access the designs over the Internet and discuss changes remotely. “This saves endless travel and time out taken for meetings,” says Nolan.

When you’re working with prefab, it’s all the more important to add creative touches. For instance, interior pine planks were placed horizontally instead of vertically. It’s just one detail, but it creates a more contemporary look for a post-and-beam design. The decking is a composite plastic material, which means it is maintenance free – and the homeowners won’t be stuck washing and varnishing a 1,300-square-foot deck every spring.

It’s worth the walk down to the lake. The build included a boathouse over the water with patio, upper deck, three-season sunroom, wet bar and chemical toilet. Like the main cottage, this building is designed to be unobtrusive. It’s built on steel stilts drilled into bedrock, instead of a solid foundation that could interfere with lake plants and animals. And here, too, much consideration was given to the muted exterior hues of the building. Now, Atkins says, “When you look across the lake, you can barely make out the boathouse, whereas other boathouses painted white stand out.” He and the kids spend full days down at the water; evening finds them back up at the house, enjoying their view.

The family’s admiration for the outdoor environment is obvious in other ways, like the overabundance of windows. “It’s so beautiful to look at nature and what’s happening with the seasons. We put in as many windows as was possible,” says Atkins. “The living area is all surrounded by glass.” The interior colour palate is extremely pale, chosen so it won’t compete with the light pouring in from outdoors. “It’s always so much more uplifting to get into a home that’s bright.”

The ceilings are high and the central staircase open to provide a feeling of space. The bonus? Summer heat rises to the top of the structure, so the air doesn’t get stifling and the homeowners can flip on a ceiling fan instead of the air-conditioning. The open design also means it’s easier to keep track of four teenagers! “Our living room, dining room, kitchen, everything runs together. An open concept is more conducive to family living,” Atkins says.

The estate may sound expansive, but the decor is down to earth, from whimsical moose-head wall décor, to glass-topped side tables with tree-branch pedestals, to the large harvest table that’s made from a single slab of oak and easily seats eight. The living is laid-back, too. “I’ve had friends with cottages that had crystal chandeliers and marble surfaces. It’s just not cottage life,” says Atkins. “At the cottage you try and collect more natural things, a representation of what the area is about.”

All in all, Atkins and his family were pleased with the experience. They hope to enjoy the cottage for many years to come. “Hopefully it will be a place for everybody to get together, and maintain that kind of family spirit,” Atkins says. “I think the place we built will do that – for us today, and our kids and their families tomorrow.”