The Summer House

When you think “cottage” in Ontario, the image that comes to mind is of rocky shores with towering fir trees. This Lake Huron cottage, a classic Ontario summer home in most ways, has a different feel, with a broad, white sandy beach and tall grasses. It's an understated beauty that feels more like the Hamptons than Lake Huron.

Tucked tidily into the landscape, with a low profile instead of perched high on a rocky rise, the building seems to have been here forever. The truth is, this family cottage was taken down to the foundation and completely redone. The design firm of Barnard & Speziale were central to this redesign project, and worked closely with owners, Doug and Pat Phillips, to achieve the look and feel of a summer retreat that felt like it had always been home.

“Doug and Pat wanted to make this longtime family retreat into a larger more liveable space,” Jan Speziale tells me. “But they did not want to lose that feel of an established and well loved cottage. It has been the family getaway place for close to 40 years, and they wanted to keep that traditional atmosphere, but also wanted more space and new amenities.”

Barnard & Speziale achieved that by working in close tandem with the Phillips', adding vintage elements that helped to keep the space from looking too showroom new.
Together they determined the best course was to start from scratch to avoid having to make compromises, and to add the extra space needed for their family. They kept the original garage, refacing the exterior to match the new structure and renovating the upper level sleeping quarters.

A wide, partially covered deck now runs the length of the lake side of the main cottage.

There's also a private balcony looking out to the lake from the master bedroom. A fire pit and deck chairs in the sand create a perfect place to watch the sunsets over Lake Huron.

The interior main floor has a natural flagstone entranceway, and the rest of the flooring is all hardwood, stained a rich dark chestnut colour.

Because the Phillips' love to entertain, the kitchen and dining room areas were important. White cabinets, a 48-inch integrated fridge, a professional style range and two sinks make this a kitchen that works well for both family get togethers and large group entertaining. The island, with its blue base and wooden counter, doubles as a workspace and casual eating area. Natural stone was used for the peripheral countertops and a large dining table seats 10 to 12 guests, and can be extended.

The main cottage is a light-filled space with clean lines and an abundance of natural details. In the great room, a large display unit is recessed into the wall to retain the openness of the room and filled with collectables, many of them treasures saved from the old cottage.

A vintage vibe is reinforced by a patterned carpet in soft colours, an antique clock and balustrade table. Textured fabrics and linen accent pillows add an organic feel. A natural stone fireplace anchors the room.

The L-shaped sunroom looks as if it has been added on, with an interior wall surfaced as if it were an exterior one that was enclosed. The floors here are pine, stained dark to match the rest of the floors.  The ceiling is finished with tongue and groove, and the furniture is indoor/outdoor wicker, upholstered with Sunbrella fabric, which is fade and mildew resistant. It's a three-season room with windows that open up completely and virtually disappear, making it comfortable to use in shoulder seasons. The dining table and chairs from the original cottage provide an area for casual meals with a view of the water.

Also on the main floor are two guest bedrooms, where the dark floors and blue and white colour theme create the perfect cottage feel. The main floor bathroom is finished in three-quarter tongue and groove panelling painted white, with the added comfort of in-floor heating. A small den is a cozy retreat, home to a treasured roll-top desk, and  the TV.

The warm and light-filled décor continues on the second floor, where the master bath is also panelled in white tongue and groove and has in-floor heating. The master bedroom has a fireplace and television, as well as windows that open onto the balcony. It is a quiet retreat with spectacular views. The bed headboard has a removable linen cover that can be changed seasonally. Window coverings were kept minimal, here as well as throughout the house, with blinds for sun control, and light, unlined curtains in linen, linen blends or cotton.

There's another guest bedroom on this floor as well as a laundry room.

Exterior details echo the low maintenance and natural aesthetic of the interiors, with a cedar shake roof, all weather siding and simple landscaping ““ nothing fussy or over-manicured.

 Natural stone, grasses and a water feature help the home to blend seamlessly into its

“The Phillips' wanted this to be a gathering place for family and friends, but it was important that it didn't feel like a big shiny brand new structure,” explains Speziale. “They wanted the comfort of age with the addition of extra space and new amenities. We accomplished that by adding texture, organic and natural elements and vintage accents.”

“Barnard & Speciale made our cottage everything we wanted it to be,” says Pat Phillips. “They gave us a larger space with all the design features we dreamed of, and yet they managed to keep it feeling homey and warm.  They were a joy to work with.”

Tips for redecorating or refreshing the cottage
1. Keep it family friendly. Never forget your reason for loving cottage life, its ease, its comfort. When the cottage becomes too fussy, that comfort is compromised.

2. Remember to select things that will stay low maintenance. Gardens and lawns are lovely additions, but they require an investment in time on a regular basis.

3. Hot for cottages right now (and frankly for many soft furnishings in high traffic areas) is Sunbrella fabric. Not only are they durable and stain and fade resistant, they now come in a range of gorgeous colours and designs. The Sunbrella fabrics used to be stiff and flat, but they're now much better textured with really beautiful patterns for both indoor and outdoor applications.

4. Sometimes starting from scratch is the best idea. Old cottages may carry sentimental value, but often the structures are not well built and problems may have developed over the years that are too costly to fix. And renovating often means compromise. A clean slate means you can design without constraints.

5. Sliding barn doors are a new design feature that is both attractive and practical. They can be used where the swing area of a door is compromised, and the many styles of hardware ““ from antique blacksmith styles to ultra contemporary ““ means they can suit any decor.

6. Need a facelift? Paint something! Don't be afraid to be bold. Paint the drawers of a basic bureau a different colour from the case and it becomes a focal point. Odd dining chairs can be painted the same colour, or a range of bright colours. Paint is the least expensive and most effective tool in your decorating toolbox.

7. Lighting can create a whole new atmosphere in a room. Updated fixtures and lamps can transform the feel nod character of a space.

8. Stay away from wall colours that are too dark. Cottages should always be light places, summery spaces that let the light in.