Tuesday, March 01, 2022

Northern vision

A remote retreat brings all-season luxury to Long Lake

For many people building a cottage in Ontario, minimizing the dreaded cottage commute is a big deal. After all, who wants to spend more time than necessary on a cramped highway every weekend? But for intrepid souls who crave nature, heading farther north is worth the extra mileage. Stephen and Eva Taylor, who recently built their dream cottage with Beaver Homes & Cottages in a remote area outside of Sudbury, Ont., fall into the latter camp, and they love the land so much that they decided to make their new build an all-seasons retreat.

For the nature-loving couple, the northern landscape and its wildlife were a big part of the draw. Particularly in the early spring, it’s common to see moose trot through the roadside brush along Highway 69, while black bears poke their heads above the jagged granite walls that line the blacktop. “It’s true wilderness,” says Stephen. “It’s got the pine and the granite and the birch trees and all the wildlife that’s characteristic of Northern Ontario.”

The water and its wild surroundings provide plenty of opportunities for embracing the outdoors, and the Taylors and their five children and eight grandchildren routinely partake in standup paddleboarding, canoeing, kayaking, or fishing for bass off the end of the dock. “Between the canoes and the kayaks, we spend a lot of time on the water,” Eva says.

While the “hidden jewel” of Long Lake might feel remote, the Taylors also love being a short drive from Sudbury’s restaurants, street festivals, and farmer’s markets. “We’re about 15 minutes from a pretty major city,” Stephen says. “So even though you’re away from it all, you’ve got all the amenities of being back in civilization.

During the day, the couple’s towering windows might overlook a spectacular lake lined by conifers and rugged granite, but for Eva in particular, it’s after sunset that the remote region’s true beauty emerges. “The night sky is amazing up here. One of my favourite things to do is go out on the lake at night and float on my back and look up at the Milky Way. When you see that enormous wave of stars over your head, it’s really quite something.”

But a love of nature wasn’t the only reason the couple chose Long Lake. They both had a history that they wanted to preserve, not just for themselves, but for their family. “We brought our children here as babies,” Eva says. “And now they’re bringing their children here as babies, and we’re getting to enjoy the whole process all over again.”

“The property here has been in our family for about 65 years now,” Stephen says. “My dad bought it in the mid-1950s. At that time, the original camp that was on the site had no electricity, no running water, and literally had a wood-burning stove and an icebox where they delivered blocks of ice to keep things cool.” Add to those amenities kerosene lamps for lighting and, of course, a trusty outhouse in lieu of indoor plumbing, and you’ve got the quintessential cottage experience that many Canadians grew up with. But after Stephen inherited the rustic “camp” in 2013, he and Eva envisioned a way of honouring it while creating something fresh that they could enjoy well into the future. “The plan was to demolish it and rebuild to do something that suited the property,” he explains.

To bring their vision to life, they needed to enlist the right team. At the Spring Cottage Life Show, they met Jeremie Sally, the Beaver Homes & Cottages Design Consultant at Evan’s Home Building Centre in Sudbury. After a glance through the Beaver Homes & Cottages Design Book and a deeper dive into the models on their website, Stephen and Eva knew they’d found their team. Taking the Ashland model as a starting point, they were able to play around with its design features, bringing them closer to what they had in mind for the property. “The really nice thing about the design book is that they can pick features from different models,” Jeremie says. “Then we can pull all of those elements together and come up with a customized design for them.”

Aside from helping people choose the design features that suit their property, Jeremie also assists with the project’s various contractors and ensures they have the right supplies. “When I first met Stephen and Eva, they had a good sense of what they wanted from their cottage, but they weren’t familiar with the local builders and contractors,” Jeremie says. “Our philosophy at Beaver Homes & Cottages is to provide quality skilled help for our clients. We have builders that we work with day to day on multiple projects, so our clients can be confident that whomever we suggest is going to be a quality builder.”

After some calls, Jeremie suggested Sudbury-based contractor Kevin Radey. Of course, since the Taylors lived 400 kilometres south in Oakville, Ont., they could only visit the site every couple of weeks. That meant Kevin and Jeremie first needed to build trust.

“Trust is the most important thing when it comes to building a house for someone,” Kevin explains. Fortunately, that trust came quickly. “It was a great collaboration between Jeremie, who handled the design and the supply of the materials, and our builder, Kevin, who was responsible for the construction,” Stephen says. “Those two fellows worked hand in glove and did a great job of executing the project.”

With Jeremie’s and Kevin’s help, the Taylors laid out their hopes for the property. Part of that vision included a new cottage that would be fully winterized—and big enough to comfortably host their large family. A walk through the spacious interior reveals not only a keen eye for detail, but an understanding of how the cottage should function. The open-concept kitchen area serves as a hub for family and guests, and both the kitchen and the loft space above it offer stunning views of the lake through a wall composed almost entirely of windows. The kitchen flows into a seating area whose focal point is a stately, stoned-in fireplace, which warms both the main area and the four-seasons sunroom on the other side. Other details, like an ICF foundation, heated floors in the bathroom, body jets in the shower, and split-system heat pumps for heating and cooling, give the cottage both luxury and convenience. And above it all is perhaps the most awe-inducing feature: an expansive peaked ceiling of pine boards. Carefully placed lights embellish the wood’s natural warmth, while a 38-foot structural beam of BC Douglas fir completes the cathedral-like appearance.

So did the final product remain true to the Taylors’ original vision? “Eva and I had a clear idea of what we wanted—the warmth that we wanted to create through the use of natural materials—and the guys did a great job of executing that,” Stephen says. “And Kevin and Jeremie were really helpful in finding ways things could be improved or simplified. Sometimes it was cost savings; other times it was just about creating a better finished product.”

Perhaps most telling is that, while the gorgeous view of the lake is a focal point from within the cottage, the view of the cottage from the water is every bit as striking. “If you go out on the lake at night in a canoe, or even if you’re swimming and look in it, the whole camp just glows,” Eva says. “It’s really lovely.”

Building the dream

How one couple took a hands-on approach to customizing their dream home

When John and Susan Haley decided to move from Bracebridge to Orillia, Ont., to be closer to their families, they saw a spectacular opportunity in a two-acre parcel of land off of Lake Couchiching. But the lake itself, immortalized in a Gordon Lightfoot song of the same name, wasn’t the only factor. The charms of the nearby hamlet Washago also spoke to the couple. “It’s right on the cusp of Muskoka, but it’s still close enough to Orillia and Barrie,” says Susan, who loved the small-town ambiance. “There’s a canoe shop, a bakery, and a little restaurant called R Cottage that’s quite popular.”

After purchasing and clearing the heavily treed lot, the next step was to build the house of their dreams. And since they’d worked with Beaver Homes & Cottages on a previous build, they didn’t hesitate to make their new project a Beaver home. “It started with a visit to the Home Hardware Building Centre in Orillia. We had worked with them about eight years prior, when we built an addition and a two-and-a-half-car loft garage for our waterfront property,” John says. “We’ve always been junkies for the Design Book,” adds Susan. “We’d been looking at the layouts for years.”

For the couple, one of the key benefits of working with Beaver Homes & Cottages wasn’t just the ability to choose from dozens of models—it was being able to customize every nook and cranny of the build with in-house designer Bob Wafflemaker. “We had 210 feet of frontage, so we had ample room to build whatever model we wanted,” John says. “So we went through the book and looked at different models, and the biggest advantage with Beaver Homes was that we could take the basic model and then customize it to what we wanted”

It’s a process that Dave Traviss, a Beaver Homes & Cottages Design Consultant in Orillia, doesn’t just expect—he welcomes it. “We’d be disappointed if there wasn’t some amount of customization,” Dave explains. “We encourage customers to come to us at the beginning with 30 changes to the plan they picked out. And we’ll revise the design based on what they want. Sometimes we get it right the first time; sometimes we’ll go back and forth 15 times.”

That level of customization might take longer than a cookie-cutter approach, but for Dave, it’s worth the extra time to get things just right. “For up to 70 percent of our customers, this is their ‘forever home,’ so they want to get everything exactly how they want it. We do everything we can not to rush them.”

From their dog-eared copy of the Design Book, the couple chose the Inglenook for its farmhouse-rustic appeal. “But it doesn’t look anything like the Inglenook in the book,” John explains. “It had cathedral ceilings, which we really liked. But the cathedral ceiling only covered half of the living room space, and with Beaver Homes & Cottages, we were able to extend it to the full width of the house. We actually changed the whole roof structure and how it was positioned, and at the end of the day, they did it exactly the way we wanted.”

They also reimagined the flow of the home by moving walls and opening up the layout. “The open-concept living space is where we spend most of our time,” says Susan. “We wanted everything to look out to the backyard because we do have a nice forest back there. So you can have a great view whether you’re in the living room or kitchen area. And it turned out beautiful.”

Through all the changes the couple suggested, function was as important as fashion, particularly when it came to storage. Since the house was on bedrock, a basement wasn’t in the cards, so John and Susan replaced the existing one-car garage with extra living space and worked with the Beaver team to add a three-and-a-half-car loft garage to the plan, along with a third building that John uses as a workshop.

The durable and stylish steel roof was another important feature for the couple. “Within the pricing package, Dave was able to give us an upgrade price for putting steel roofing on all the buildings,” John says.

While some customers are content to let Beaver Homes & Cottages’ network of contractors do the heavy lifting, John and Susan were keen on playing a more active role in the build. “John’s a very hands-on guy, and there was a lot of stuff that he did himself. Both of them did, actually,” Dave explains. “In fact, Susan painted the entire house. She did a marvellous job. There are some people who just want to invest the sweat equity. And at the end of the day, I think the Haleys wanted to be able to say, ‘We had a hand in building this. We didn’t just buy it—we participated in it.’”

Of course, the couple’s almost daily participation throughout the project meant there wasn’t a “big reveal” moment at the end, but the sense of accomplishment was worth it. “When we were there that final day, you could tell how proud they were of the home they’d helped build,” says Dave. “And for us, just seeing that smile on their faces is what it’s all about—knowing that we’d helped them build their dream.”

Friday, February 26, 2021

Living the dream from home


Working from home became the new normal in 2020, but for Gary Hewitt, it’s something he began earnestly working toward in 2016. A contractor with many skills under his work belt, Gary had just been involved in building a custom home for himself but now it was time to aim for the stars and build his dream home. That’s where he could showcase his lifetime of craftsmanship and skills in a home that would serve as his resume for future clients.

 Designing a home from scratch seemed like reinventing the wheel so he started researching plans and packages. It wasn’t long before he discovered the perfect partner was Home Hardware’s Beaver Homes & Cottages program. With a vast collection of plans to choose from, and then access to tried and true suppliers and a top-notch delivery system with a guaranteed package pricing strategy, it was a match made in heaven.

John Oliver at J&K Home Building Centre, Brantford, became Gary’s right hand man as they went through numerous architectural revisions, part of the comprehensive package. J&K is one of a trio of Home Hardware locations under the umbrella of Dealer-Owner Jesse Buchan who has brought together locations in Brantford, Burford and Paris. It puts a range of expertise within reach of customers when they need it.

Learning from his stepdad who harkened back to the Beaver Lumber days of 40 years ago, John Oliver had a history of thinking outside the homebuilding box, which made him a perfect partner for Gary’s project. All begin with a sky-high limit of dreams so that plans can be drawn and then amended to meet budgets and needs. “Then there are no inhibitions,” says John. “We know what the goals are from the beginning.”

Waiting in St. Thomas, there was a gorgeous piece of property on a ravine lot that stepped down toward a valley while absorbing the phenomenal view beyond, just waiting for Gary’s perfect house.

Not your standard Beaver home, Gary had definite ideas of what to include and was able to revise and revise and revise again to design his own version of the Thompson, a one-bedroom, one bath home with a wrap-around deck over a lower walkout. Taking the existing A-framed front, he made it four feet wider, added a two-car garage with a two-level master suite above. It was now the chalet-style home he’d been envisioning. And at the back of the house a two-tiered deck; one level for barbecuing off the living area, and one level for hot-tubbing.

But there were a few challenges. The ravine setting posed some delays. The site was within the Kettle Creek Conservation Authority so, although Home Hardware has its own in-house Architectural Solutions Group, local engineers were brought in to view the site, design the foundation and liaise with the conservation authority.

And while the foundation would have been a two-week building process in the early spring, the municipality’s road construction delays took them into the fall. And then the rain came. Through the delays, Gary was able to focus on staircase design and all the finishing details within the home – flooring, fixtures, trim -- decisions clients normally rush through on an as-needed basis. And then he went shopping -- accumulating his finishes and fixtures in a storage locker so he’d be ready.

With Beaver Homes & Cottages on call, they held back materials when there were delays and provided prompt delivery as soon as the project could move ahead.

There would be no guesswork involved in estimating exterior materials and lumber right through to the framing, siding, roofing, decks and stairs, and then to interior finishes that include drywall, doors, paint and trim. When each stage was completed, even through delays, supplies were delivered on time for the next step. The site had space limitations so supplies needed to be delivered more frequently, and the customized roof trusses needed to be lifted over existing power lines so a larger crane was brought in.

“I got more than I expected and I’m really glad I went with them,” says Gary. “If you’ve got plans and can’t follow through with suppliers and deliveries, you lose clients. They have the resources that most people don’t even know they need – architects, engineers. It’s all included.” As a contractor, Gary found the supply estimates were right on the money.

With his own renovation experience, Gary upgraded much of the interior finishes. He called on his own resources while relying on Home Hardware for other finishes like trim packages (with custom work done by the same supplier). For the wrap-around deck, now a double tiered deck, the glass panels and railing were provided by an existing supplier. John Oliver explains, “Our suppliers were pleased to step outside the box to take it up a few levels to show the range of their offerings.” Gary included details like LED lights along ceiling mouldings, and customized barn door sliders. There’s a waterspout for pots right above the custom gas stovetop, elliptical windows and the details go on.

“It really increased my passion for building to see so many others invested in this project,” says Gary of the experience. He forged an even stronger bond with the Home Hardware family as his company, Sunset Dreams Home Building Services, has partnered to have his services offered as a project manager/contractor for those embarking on their own Beaver custom home. He’s even got a travel trailer outfitted and is ready to set up on-site to be hands-on for these builds.

With the unavoidable delays, this was a 16-month timeframe. But this was a dream home, on a dream piece of property and worth every minute of the process. Any regrets? Anything he wished he’d done differently? Not a thing, says Gary. When you’ve spent your life working toward your dream home, you’ve got every detail memorized.

The Thompson is a perfect example of a home that showcases the ideas of one client and combines them with the flexibility that Home Hardware offers to all of its customers.

Home Team Advantage

 How a hockey couple built their lakefront dream house with the help of Beaver Homes and Cottages

There’s no escaping it. All cottage owners—and even their guests—have entertained the same thought while gazing out over the water on a summer weekend: I could live here. But could it really be that simple to go from “cottage” to “home” and build a life at the lake? Rob and Heidi Wilson dreamed of rebuilding their cottage on Chemong Lake near Peterborough, Ont., into a year-round family home for their two daughters and son. And they discovered that building their dream home in cottage country was easier than they could have imagined.

While many cottagers have jobs that tether them to the big city during the week, Rob’s career as head coach of the OHL hockey team the Peterborough Petes put full-time lakefront living within grasp. “I bought a cottage up here about twenty-five years ago,” Rob says, “We had a lot of great years in it, and we always knew we wanted to build a home here. Heidi absolutely loved it on the lake and thought it was the most beautiful place.” For Heidi, the community was just as important as the cottage. “Every day, people are out on the lake doing yoga in boats, or they’re walking their dogs in big groups,” she says. “It’s like a mini village.”

But to make it work, they knew they’d need to rebuild—which can be a daunting task when you’re trying to combine the charms of a cottage with a functioning home for a busy family. Luckily, they started off on the right foot. “We were looking around at a lot of companies, and a friend mentioned that Chemong Home Hardware Building Centre is just up the road from us,” Rob says. “So we went in and saw some really nice designs in their design book.”

“The design book is the perfect starting point for the process,” says Wayne Sellars, the Beaver Homes & Cottages design consultant at Chemong Home Hardware Building Centre. “It gets the creative juices flowing, and from there you just have to ask the right questions. What’s your style and budget? What don’t you like? What is your land doing? You might love a bungalow look, but then you realize your land is sloped off and you have a natural walk-out.”

Once they had an idea of what they wanted in their new home, the couple began collaborating with Wayne on how to make the best use of their lakefront property. “When I first met Rob and Heidi, they already knew they wanted to tear down and rebuild,” Wayne says. “So I went over and sat with them on their deck one afternoon, and we started brainstorming. They had already gathered some pictures, so we started designing and pulling things together.”

Right away, Wayne suggested a Beaver Homes & Cottages design that combined everything they had in mind. “We had just introduced the Caribou model at that time,” Wayne says. “I showed it to them, and they fell in love with it, so we started working together to modify it and change a few things inside.”

The ability to customize is a key part of working with Beaver Homes & Cottages. “With a lot of other companies, it’s more cookie-cutter,” Wayne says. “They have a model and they can maybe move a couple of walls, but the footprint’s the footprint. But Beaver Homes & Cottages has a lot more options and can basically customize anything you want.”

For Rob and Heidi, who had specific ideas for the flow of their home, that process was surprisingly smooth. “When we first saw the design, we loved everything about it,” Heidi says. “But we also wanted to change the floorplan a little bit and make it our own. We had our own ideas for little things we wanted to do, like vaulted ceilings.”

“We loved the outside of it, especially from the lake when you first see it,” Rob adds. “It really stood out and had that wow factor. And then Heidi did some of the designs inside, like moving the fireplace and making it more of an open space.” Keeping bedroom choices civil between three kids was a crucial part of the design process. “The girls wanted their bedrooms facing the water, so we had to make their rooms exactly the same, not one centimetre difference,” he says.

The ease of adjusting the Caribou model’s floorplan wasn’t the only thing that impressed the couple—they were just as floored by how foolproof the building process was. “You hear a lot of stories from people who say it was one of the most difficult things they’ve ever done,” Rob says. “They had a builder who wasn’t great or a designer who didn’t work out. But we can honestly say that our process was very simple. We were pleasantly surprised with how smooth everything went.”

For Wayne, the only challenge was the distance between him and the Wilsons during the initial stage. “Rob was coaching hockey overseas for most of the design phase,” he says. “So most of our communication was through email.” But when it came time to finally build, Rob and Heidi couldn’t stay away. “We work close by,” Rob says, “so we were literally here every day. I’m sure we were annoying, but they accommodated us really well. It was fun because we’d get excited about every little thing, whether it was a new door or a finished closet. But the initial feeling when everything was done and we first walked in was—wow.”

One of the main reasons that building with Beaver Homes & Cottages is such a smooth operation is their management of the end-to-end process, which meant Rob and Heidi didn’t need to worry about juggling different contractors or buying materials. “The lumber and all the pieces are covered by your package, right down to your doors and trims and hardware,” says Wayne. “We have contractors who’ve changed their whole business model because of us, because we do the managing, we look after the ordering, and we make sure everything’s on the job site on time. It’s a one-stop shop.”

Thanks to that organized approach, construction took six months. And were they happy with the final product? “It couldn’t have been any better,” Heidi says. “The people at Beaver Homes got everything that we wanted, and they made this perfect home for us that suited everything we asked for.”