The Wheel House

This cottage makes the owner feel like a captain

By Dennis McCloskey
Photos by Discovery Dream Homes


When John King had a new cottage built on Pigeon Lake, east of Bobcaygeon, Ontario, one of the features he wanted was a large, custom-made, circular window on the second floor of the 1,100-square-foot cottage overlooking the lake.

Now that the cottage is completed, King will sometimes stand in front of the ‘wheel house window’ and imagine that he is captain of a paddle wheeler, or riverboat – the type that can be seen steaming down the Mississippi River. “I can see a lot of water from up there,” says the 68-year-old retired log home builder/entrepreneur. On an exterior elevation there is an aluminum pipe pointing towards the sky that serves as the cottage’s chimney, which further gives the appearance of an authentic paddle steamer.

A tall, skinny tree on the property partially blocks King’s view but that doesn’t matter to him or his wife Grace. “We did not want to cut too many trees,” he says. “And we wanted to keep the property as natural as possible, with no lawns to cut and just wildflowers growing. We’ve seen partridge roaming the property.”
The two-bedroom timber frame cottage sits at the front end of a long and narrow two-acre island in one of the largest lakes in the Kawartha Lakes Region. King and his wife have also had a permanent home recently built on the same lake, on 200 acres. He describes it as a modest, log and timber frame home with some stone and a cathedral ceiling. The new home is just 30 minutes by boat to the family’s Wheel House cottage.

When he speaks fondly and proudly of the cottage, King explains that he has been married three times and has eight children. “As families grow apart, the cottage becomes a rallying, or gathering spot,” he says. “It’s a focal point where our family members can get together at various times. It brings everyone closer together. We all get along so it’s a place where we can all feel at home: barbecuing, canoeing and sailing.”

A printer by trade who did carpentry on the side, and the former owner of an excavating business, King and two partners bought a highly respected log home company in 1979. King helped to pioneer the manufacturing of log homes and over the next two decades they grew the business to be one of the leading log home manufacturers in North America, before selling to his son, Raymond, and two partners. In 2003, Raymond wanted to go out on his own so he and his father started Discovery Dream Homes to design, manufacture and market high quality log, timber frame and post and beam products. John retired in 2013 but remains a silent partner.

King says he has always owned solid log homes and his new home on Pigeon Lake has components of log, but with the Wheel House cottage he wanted a total timber frame structure with structural panels on a tight, well-insulated frame. So, he and Grace naturally turned to their son to design and build their home and cottage.

As president and principal, Raymond is a leading expert on log and timber frame construction. He knows that log homes have a rugged beauty that appeals to people who love the idea of building with wood, and what you see on the outside is pretty much what you see on the inside. But with the more flexible timber frame, the homeowner can express his or her style differently externally, while allowing the true rustic beauty of timber to show itself inside the home where the beauty of exposed heavy timber is revealed.

“Log and timber frame is a big market and we build the complete package – from planning and custom design, to final construction,” says Raymond. “We have a $1 million machine that that can be programmed to each individual house that cuts angles, notches and holes in heavy timbers.” He estimates that 90 per cent of the hard timber work is done by the machine as the frame’s material is precision fitted, numbered, taken to the job site, and erected. “There are no bad weather issues on the job site,” he adds.

Timber for the Wheel House was pre-cut in the factory and brought by barge to the island where a crew assembled the shell in 2011. Over the past two years, father and son and Raymond’s two sons, Austin, 16, and Hunter, 13, worked on the interior. “My boys don’t like to hang out at the mall,” says Raymond, who built the cottage’s solid kitchen table with help from his sons. “They look at this cottage and know they did something worth doing.”

Raymond, 44, describes the cottage location as “majestic” and even though the site is uneven and a part of the Canadian Shield (a broad region of Precambrian rock), no blasting was done in order to preserve the natural setting. It was built on piers – some as high as eight feet and others two feet – because it was easy to bring cement blocks to the island on the barge, which was also used to bring a cement mixer, Bobcat, and other heavy items such as fridge and stove.

A main floor deck surrounds the cottage on three sides and a smaller second floor deck fronts the wheel house window. A zero-maintenance steel roof was installed with a ‘Widow’s Watch’ jutting out from the centre of the roof. The family has dubbed it the ‘Eagle’s Nest’. Heavy, 20-foot-long rafters on the sides and back of the cottage were installed by hand using a scaffold. Thirty Elite windows and four glass doors were installed on the four sides of the building to afford maximum views of the surrounding landscape and lake.

Inside the cottage on the main floor is a kitchen, dining room, bathroom and two bedrooms, one of which protrudes from the back of the building.

Pine siding was used on the interior walls and whitewashed to give the cottage a bright ‘beachy’ look. The ceiling is pine paneling and pine around windows is treated in a dark stain. Flooring is a wide plank pine. Raymond says, “We finished the flooring ourselves on-site to give it a rough, rustic and distressed look.”

The top floor is wide open with multiple windows providing a four-sided view. The second floor – which is used mostly by the younger generation – has chairs, a pull-out couch, bed, and TV for watching videos. Because the cottage is about 30-feet-high this expansive room is above some of the trees, so the kids call it “The Tree House.”

The Discovery Dream Homes boss refers to a “beautiful breeze that comes from the lake and creates a constant temperature” and there are several ceiling fans, so no air conditioning is needed. The four-season cottage utilizes a heat pump in winter to draw water from the lake, and a wood stove is used for heating the cottage in the colder months, along with electric baseboard heaters in the bathroom and water pump room.

Like everything in life, the cottage is different things to different people. Builder and family member Raymond says he likes the location and the memories the cottage evokes as he sits on the dock on a beautiful sunny morning with a diving board and floating raft in front of him. Grace likes the location’s quietness and beauty and the deep water of the lake and King likes that it is a gathering place for “all in the family.”