Friday, June 12, 2020

There's no place like Home

Every summer the town of Otter Lake increases in size eight-fold as it comes to life with cottagers and recreation enthusiasts. Visitors come for the abundance of lakes and outdoor activities.  It’s where the swimming is fabulous and the view is simply breathtaking. 

Butch and Sandra Lepack are not strangers to the area and have longstanding ties to Otter Lake. It’s Butch’s hometown and Sandra has been a regular visitor to the area since her teens. Their busy lives over the past years have involved living out of a suitcase. That’s what happens when you’re an IT consultant from Canada, like Butch, but working for a California company and travelling throughout North America. Fortunately, Sandra is retired and can travel with him during his California sojourns. Still, with adult children living in Texas and Toronto, much of their free time is still spent in transit as they visit during Butch’s time off. 

With all the travelling, looking ahead to retirement and having a dream home to come home to was a goal of theirs, one that was to become realty sooner rather than later. 

A peninsula of property caught their eye where it reached out into Farm Lake, surrounded by the Otter Lake community. They waited patiently until the opportune moment arrived – and the land was theirs.  Just northeast of Ottawa, it’s within an hour and a half of the Ottawa airport which is integral to their lifestyle. They’d found their dream location and now needed a dream home to match. 

Their first and only stop was to see Brad Dale at Dale’s Home Building Centre where the Beaver Homes & Cottages desk was a busy spot for those wanting a choice of designs and with the ability to adapt a plan to their needs. Brad has been part of the Home Hardware family his entire life.  Parents Bob and Grace have had their Home store since 1979.  Brad used to work there after school. Now he co-ordinates the Beaver Homes & Cottages Program.

As Butch and Sandra explained: “From the outset, we wanted to do something different, to build a home for all seasons, with a design that encapsulates the best elements of the past with an eye to the future. The Beaver Homes & Cottages program gave us the design, flexibility and price we wanted.”  

Brad speaks of a clear vision for this overlooked property, the quality of life it presented, a design concept that has resurrected the area. He began putting together a partnership between Beaver Homes & Cottages, Denis Paquette Construction, highly recommended and already in the throes of other Beaver home builds, and the homeowners that resulted in a seamless process. “Denis made it happen,” says Brad. “I knew he would be perfect for this and he was. It was a great three-way team. There were so many components to this project that made it a perfect showpiece for our program.”

Construction began in May 2018 with completion and final touches taking place in August/September following what Brad describes as “an aggressive time frame.” Key to the process was Home Hardware’s ongoing relationship with suppliers that enabled them to deliver supplies as needed without stockpiling them onsite. The property also had some tight access constraints, but due to Dale’s Home Building Centre’s versatility and specialized equipment for store-level and drop shipment requirements, deliveries were on time from beginning to end.  Due to their frequent absences, the Lepacks confidently relied on the Beaver team onsite to manage and execute the project and keep them informed.

With the keen insight and skills of Paquette and his team, the plan was revised to fit the footprint of the land while meeting all the setback requirements of a waterfront property. There were aesthetic revisions – such as the sizes of entry doors and windows to maximize lakeside views, and insulation upgrades as well. Inside, Paquette’s skills are also on display to incorporate cathedral ceilings throughout, even in the bedrooms. One bedroom was eliminated to expand the kitchen and living area creating a light-filled space for the family gatherings that are to come. It’s a perfect blend of rustic chic and refined elegance.

Different is what they wanted and different is what the Lepacks achieved. From its linear exterior with oversized windows facing the lake and wood-grained accents, it elevates the home from attractive to spectacular. It’s on view from its point on the peninusla where a flat roof rises up to reveal a raised basement level with walkout to the waterfront, a lower level that is a suite unto itself with bedrooms, bath and living area. Above, a wrap-around deck, modern in every sense of the word offers unobstructed views and a double pergola over patio doors at both sides of the deck. 

“It showcases a great blend of stock elements and the customization elements that are a hallmark of the Beaver Homes and Cottages program, as well as our ability to outfit a home from beginning to end,” says Brad.

The Lepacks say they’d build a Beaver home again in an instant because of the ease of the process. “There were no unknowns,” says Butch. “The package included the materials, contractor and labour costs and all turn-key elements.” It was so easy that when Butch was at the Home Hardware counter talking to Brad, he turned to another customer and highly recommended the Beaver Homes & Cottages  program.

“We’re very proud of the house,” says Sandra. “We wanted to build something modern to suit us and we’ve achieved that with their existing plan.” They were able to keep the trees surrounding the home and even added new ones.

While they aren’t able to be there as much as they’d like, whenever they are, they call it home. With two separate living spaces they can offer comfortable quarters to guests or visiting kids.

Still to come, the Lepacks plan on adding beach sand and volleyball nets and a firepit to create a summer paradise. They’ve even included a 1970s fireplace and wine bar. In the winter, they will be steps to the lake for ice fishing, skating, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Butch and Sandra also have access to one of the largest networks of snowmobile and ATV trails in the country. Autumn brings with it radiant fall colours that can be enjoyed from the deck. When winter subsides, the loons on the lake announce the arrival of spring, and vacation season will begin again. But for Butch and Sandra, it will never end.

Cottage Converts

How a Canadian celebrity couple customized the cottage of their dreams and embraced life at the lake

Some cottagers are born into it. Others spend years looking forward to buying or building their first vacation home. But for Yannick and Shantelle Bisson, building a custom cottage was the last item on their agendas. “I got caught on the 400 Highway to Muskoka a few times and decided I was never going to do that,” says Yannick. “So this was a bit outside the box, having a cottage.”

It’s no surprise that time was a deterrent for the busy couple. Starring in CBC’s long-running Murdoch Mysteries meant 12-hour days and shoot-filled summers for Yannick, while Shantelle’s writing career required constant contact with her publisher. But their priorities shifted after a rare long weekend at a close friend’s cottage on Chandos Lake, Ontario. Though it was too late in the season for black flies, the cottaging bug bit them. And as chance would have it, the property next door was for sale. “Every night at dinnertime they had this stunning sunset,” Yannick says. “By the end of the weekend, we owned a cottage next to our best friends.”

After building their home in Toronto, the couple was familiar with the design process and eager to upgrade the existing structure on their new cottage property. “The cottage that was on here was very rustic and original,” Shantelle says. “We thought, ‘Let’s just do rustic chic.’” The plan seemed plausible, given Yannick’s history of framing houses between acting gigs. “He could build a house from the ground up,” she boasts.

But a closer look at both the cottage’s structure and their packed schedule bred doubts. “Sprucing it up wasn’t going to work, so we started looking at the possibilities for building remotely and getting the quality that I expect,” Yannick says. “I’ve always had my hands on everything I’ve ever built, so finding the right people was the next task.” That new course steered them to Beaver Homes and Cottages. “Our best friends’ cottage we were visiting was a Beaver Homes cottage,” says Shantelle. “So they hauled us down to the Home Hardware and put the design book right in our hands.”

A conversation with Beaver Homes and Cottages’ building consultant Adam Dragisic inspired the Bissons with possibilities that extended well beyond the large catalogue of available models. “Right from the beginning, Adam told us we could mix and match and bring our own design ideas to it,” Yannick says. “So we had already been brainstorming.”

It started with a simple photograph attached to an email, recalls Adam. “Yannick sent me an inspiration picture that was just the front view of the building,” he says. “They wanted to build a contemporary dream home cottage, where they could enjoy it with family and friends and live life on the lake.” Of course, Adam’s role, beyond customizing designs and coordinating local contractors, was to ensure that everything the Bissons wanted could be accomplished according to code. “We have to think from a functional standpoint about the amount of snow and rain we get here,” Adam says. “Plus, local building codes in Ontario don’t always let you do the things people see in inspiration pictures.”

Luckily, the design features that mattered to the Bissons were perfect fits for the location—and fairly easy for Adam to incorporate into their design dreams. “It was no hassle whatsoever to get the design that we wanted by working with Beaver Homes and Cottages,” says Shantelle. “We said to Adam, ‘Look, we’re very particular. We’ve gone through the catalogue. We like elements of this one, and we like the size of that, and we like the deck on this one. And we have our own idea for a roofline and the kind of windows we want.’” Given Yannick’s experience in the building industry, he was astonished that he and Shantelle could bring their own ideas to the table—and that Adam and the Beaver Homes team could customize a design to suit their wishes. “I was shocked,” Yannick says. “I thought, man, I’ve died and gone to heaven.”

At the top of the couple’s list was making sunsets a focal point, just like the fateful sunset that inspired the couple to become cottagers in the first place. Other important features included hydronic radiant heating in the floors, giant windows, an outdoor fireplace, and subtle, functional touches like a pull-out spice rack on one side of the cooktop and a concealed knife block on the other.

Adam recalls their choice in windows being a unique feature. “They wanted drywall returns on all the windows,” he says. “In traditional cottage construction you see a window with trim around it, but on the inside of their windows, there’s no trim. It’s just finished drywall right to the outside corner. Their look is very modern, especially with the black windows against the white paint.”

Beyond a slight slope down to the lake—something Adam and his team are used to dealing with in cottage country—nothing on the Bissons’ list posed a real challenge. Even the distance between Adam and the Bissons was par for the course. “It was actually kind of funny, because they were away in California,” Adam says. “I don’t think I physically met them until we started framing.”

Needless to say, the early stages of the process required a hefty amount of emailing—and a ton of trust. “It was still easy,” Adam explains. “Because where we’re located in Apsley Ontario, most of our clientele comes out of the Greater Toronto Area. So we do a lot of stuff through email for the design process in the initial stages.” But after that first in-person meeting to see the framed cottage, it was clear that everything was on the right path. “At first, when we all walked on site, I thought, ‘I hope they like it,’” Adam says. “But it all worked out. They’re very visual, so they were well versed in what to expect.”

From that point, the build was smooth sailing, and the Bissons were enjoying their cottage by mid-July. “One of the beautiful things about working with Beaver Homes and Cottages was that it was like being in a relationship with them,” says Shantelle. “We felt comfortable because it’s a big company behind us, and we knew we could rely on them.”

Part of that trust came from Beaver Homes and Cottages’ long history of working with local contractors, which is one of the reasons the Bissons chose them. “By buying everything from Home Hardware and Beaver Homes, we knew we would reversely integrate into the community,” Yannick says. “We’re very proud to be Canadian,” Shantelle adds. “So when we build a project, we want to use Canadian cabinets, we want to use Canadian floor manufacturers, and we want to buy Canadian furniture. It means a lot to us to support our country.”

For Adam, working with local pros was business as usual. “We specialize in building local,” he says. “Each Beaver Homes Design Consultant has extensive experience in their area, making it easier for the homeowners to understand local processes and products. This gives our clients a better experience and overall finished product.”

So did the finished cottage live up to the Bissons’ design-savvy standards? “It honestly couldn’t have been more seamless,” Shantelle says. “This cottage turned out far better than I ever imagined it would and better than my idea of how it should look,” Yannick adds. That leaves just one final item on the Bissons’ agenda: setting aside some precious long weekends to enjoy those spectacular sunsets.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

New Home, New Baby, New Beginning

The Hartland plan was perfect, not only for their growing family but for their future. As a farming family they wanted this to be where they would raise their family and they knew they would be here for years to come.

From Andrew and Heather Towns’ kitchen window, the neighboring dairy farm is in view while the land they farm and nearby fields spread as far as the eye can see. They’ve just said good-bye to family and friends who gathered here for the holidays and Christmas dinner. This is their dream home where they love holding family gatherings... but it was only two years ago that the family farmhouse standing on this very spot and everything they owned was lost in a fire.

It’s been a whirlwind of changes for this young family who have come full circle in 24 months from the fire, to the birth of their son Landon, to the rebuilding of their home and their lives.

Heather and Andrew lived in the family farmhouse in Norwood when fire struck taking almost everything they owned. Everything, except the support of family and friends and a whole community.

Norwood is a small rural farming town just northeast of Peterborough, where everyone knows each other by name. In the spirit of a barn-raising from decades past, the community banded together to help this family in need bringing everything from food and blankets to toothbrushes. “One neighbor even offered their farmhouse to us to live in... we received unbelievable support. It was such a humbling experience”, explains Heather.

When the smoke settled they knew it was time to rebuild. Andrew, a long-time fan of Beaver Homes & Cottages, knew where to find the plans for their home. Almost instantly, their hearts settled on the Hartland. It was so similar to their lost farmhouse that there was no question this would be their new home. Even the artist’s rendering setting it in farmland, surrounded by pastures, reflected their own property in the countryside of east-central Ontario in Peterborough County.

Their first and only call was to Chemong Home Hardware Building Centre in Peterborough where the Beaver Homes & Cottages Program is offered. Consultant Wayne Sellars was there to answer their questions and walk them through the home building process.

They developed an immediate rapport and a bond of trust with Wayne. He put together the package with one price, which was especially helpful with budgeting and when dealing with insurance issues. Standard features were impressive and considerably upgraded from what was expected, making them perfect for their needs. They customized their home by adding pine trim for a rustic look and Chemong Home Hardware Building Centre designed the kitchen as well. By May, construction had begun.

With decades of experience building homes and working with families under many different circumstances, Wayne remembers the Towns’ very well. “They’d lost everything right before Christmas and yet they had such a positive attitude and just wanted to move forward. They were a breath of fresh air.”

The Towns’ hired all their construction trades from the local area. “We wanted to give back to the community for being so supportive of us.” The entire process was seamless. Supplies were delivered by Chemong Home Hardware Building Centre as needed. The Beaver Homes & Cottages’ capability to send product in stages was key so there was no downtime and no storage issues, ensuring construction remained on schedule.

“We work with the same suppliers and know their lead times so we’ve got our finger on the pulse when it comes to ordering supplies. That keeps everything right on time,” explains Wayne.

Heather and Andrew agree that building their home themselves through Beaver Homes & Cottages and Home Hardware Building Centre was one of the best experiences of their lives. Another past customer of Wayne’s passionately agrees that building with Beaver Homes and Cottages is as stress-free as it comes.

The Hartland plan was perfect, not only for their growing family but for their future. As a farming family, they wanted this to be where they would raise their family and they knew they would be here for years to come. With this in mind, the main floor master suite and laundry were ideal. “We can age in the house so it can accommodate our needs years down the road,” says Heather.

Tough decisions along the way? Not a one. “Wayne, Beaver Homes & Cottages and Home Hardware Building Centre made it so easy for us.” Andrew’s parents live and farm from the neighboring property where they stayed during construction, making it convenient for Heather to take on the role of general contractor. She had a great vantage point and was always accessible for instant decision-making.

“We loved the plan as it was so we didn’t have too many changes,” says Heather. One request was for a walkout basement. “Wayne said it was ‘not a problem’ and drew in the change within five minutes.” Since it changed the elevation of the back of the house, he suggested adding a porch to the master bedroom and a new balance was achieved. Other minor changes were also made, something that is frequently done and is included as part of a Beaver Homes & Cottages Package.

The Towns’ now enjoy this modern re-creation of the home they lost but without the creaks and squeaks of their previous farmhouse. This is where the Towns family have farmed the land for decades past and will continue on for years to come. Giving her stamp of approval is Andrew’s grandmother, matriarch of the family and of the home that was lost. “She loves it, and that says a lot,” says Andrew.

By the end of the year, every special occasion had been hosted by Andrew and Heather, with plenty of space for overnight guests. “It gives us a great feeling to be able to host all these family dinners in this wonderful home,” says Heather. “Most family members talk about moving in or building their own Beaver Home. In fact, Andrew’s parents are looking through plans right now, with talk of moving in with the ‘neighbors’ while it’s being built.”

Cottage Country Couple Make Their Retirement Dream a Reality

Retiring to a custom-built cottage country home is a beautiful dream and an incredibly smooth experience when you work with Beaver Homes & Cottages

Retiring to a custom-built cottage country home is a beautiful dream and an incredibly smooth experience when you work with Beaver Homes & Cottages, according to Mary Ann and Randy. The couple began retirement planning back in 2015 and always knew they wanted to spend their golden years in Ontario’s Cottage Country. “We had options to renovate, demolish and rebuild on an existing family cottage near Washago or look for suitable real estate.”

A sentimental connection to the pie-shaped family property and a friendship with local builder Charles Chartrand of Chartrand Carpentry, made the decision easy. By spring 2017, plans were set in place to build from scratch. “Charles had worked with a few Home Building Centre clients before and spoke highly of their customer service, along with their one-stop design and quality materials package approach,” says Randy. The couple interviewed two other home builder/materials package suppliers but ultimately they chose Beaver Homes & Cottages after their first in-store meeting.

“Our Beaver Design Consultant at the Gravenhurst Home Building Centre, Jim McMillan, was clearly well-informed,” says Randy, adding that they left the store with a thorough understanding of the process and the latest Beaver Homes & Cottages Design Book. Just two days later they’d already chosen two designs and had accompanied Jim on tours of a couple of construction projects underway in the Gravenhurst area. “It’s not always easy to visualize plans. Visiting the homes under construction was invaluable and helped to add scale, perspective, and realism compared to just looking at photos and drawings. The on-site visits were the determining factor in our design selection.”

Randy and Mary Ann wanted a design that ultimately made the most of their waterfront view. They chose the Rideau Model (pg 46) and Jim helped them to modify it by adding a lower level to the bungalow, along with wings on both sides that showcase the view of the nearby river while offering expanded space for a sitting room and the master bedroom. “He also gave us a great idea about building out the deck between the wings so that it had a covered portion.”

“While we made extensive design modifications,” adds Randy, “Jim was always very positive, enthusiastic and confident Home Hardware’s Architectural Solutions Group (ASG) would be able to meet our requirements.” Despite the unique lot shape and side-yard set-back restrictions, McMillan says that ASG was indeed able to make the plan work and maximize the footprint. They were also able to position the home in such a manner that beloved trees didn’t have to come down.

“Since we’re novices in home building design, Jim’s building experience and personal knowledge was extremely helpful in setting design parameters and keeping our expectations realistic,” adds Randy, who also valued, in addition to Beaver’s price guarantee, the strong communication throughout design iterations with their builder, Chartrand. “On several occasions, Charles would speak directly to Jim on our behalf to clarify items on our wish list. It was reassuring to have consensus from both the design and construction side of the process.”

The design was finalized on time by August 30 and picking the finishing products were simple and straightforward with Jim’s help. This included meeting specific requests from Mary Ann for areas such as the cathedral ceiling, trim and interior doors. The only real challenge proved to be with nature, as the builders encountered unexpected rocks that required a lot of blasting work. Combined with delays in the permitting and surveying process, the start day was pushed out a month to November 1st. “But in the end, Jim worked with Charles to adjust the delivery schedule and it worked out seamlessly. In fact, they still finished on the original schedule,” says Randy.

The couple felt comfortable taking a winter vacation and they appreciated the regular updates that came from both Jim and Charles. “When we returned in April, it was remarkable to see how far the home had come along,” says Randy. The couple was wowed by the nearly finished home and loved how it suited their needs and style. “We love how the front is very subtle and blends into our treed lot, but when you see the back with the gorgeous windows and deck, it’s really breathtaking.”

Randy adds that Charles spoke highly of the quality of the materials supplied in a Beaver Homes & Cottages Package. “He told me how he was impressed with the consistently high-quality supplies, specifically lumber. He was also impressed with how positive and pleasant the Home Building Centre team was during the winter months. Their coordination of materials allowed him to focus on other important work such as coordinating sub trades and the execution of the building process,” says Randy.

Beyond the final project, Randy and Mary Ann are most pleased with the personal relationship they developed with Jim as he guided them through the design-build experience. “That trust, combined with The Beaver Homes & Cottages Material Package Guarantee - that the materials package price does not change over the construction period, there are no shortages and that design and engineering meet or exceed building codes - really allowed Mary Ann and I to focus on many other activities in such a major project,” says Randy. “I would recommend Home Hardware’s Beaver Homes & Cottages Program to anyone who wants a truly positive, secure and smooth home-build experience.”

Friday, February 09, 2018

Cottage Threes

Ask both homeowners and Home Hardware design consultants what they love about Beaver Homes and Cottages’ Dorset II and they will give the same answer: its versatility. The spacious, 1300-square-foot home allows owners and designers to bring their vision to life—from bigger windows to more bedrooms to, yes, even secret passageways! Let’s look at how three families with very different needs adapted the Dorset II to make it uniquely their own.

The Retirees

Danny, a retired industrial engineer, and Janet, a dental hygienist looking to retire within the next few years, were looking for a cottage that would also become their permanent home. The Dundas, Ontario couple had purchased an existing structure in Oliphant four years ago, but soon discovered it had been rotting away and needed to be torn down. They went to the Wiarton Home Hardware Building Centre and talked to Design Consultant Jason Stevens about their options. The Dorset II gave them the space they wanted, the flexibility to get the most from their picturesque location, and options to make it a home that will work for them as they grow older. With only one level, they won’t have to trek up and down any stairs. They also opted for a propane fireplace to avoid the strenuous task of collecting and carrying firewood. Danny also explains, “We moved the fireplace from the south-facing wall, and instead added a third window for an unobstructed view of the lake.” Because everyone seems to gather in the kitchen, Danny and Janet wanted to add a few extra feet of space. They also upped the ante on their exterior with rich Fraser Fir shingles. After five months, their new cottage was ready to go. Over Thanksgiving weekend, they celebrated with family while their golden retriever, Muskoka, got to chase raccoons outside. “We moved the fireplace from the south-facing wall, and instead added a third window for an unobstructed view of the lake.”

The Permanent Residents

Erik Carlson, Design Consultant at the Espanola Home Hardware, had met the Sabourins five years ago when they were looking to build a custom home. When lakefront property on Manitoulin Island became available, their plans quickly shifted gears. And work began almost immediately. Sarah Sabourin is a manager of The Island Jar, a health food store, and her husband Kyle is a instrument technician. They have two daughters who are 4 and 6 years old. They chose the Dorset II because, “It gave us the flexibility we wanted, and it fit within our budget,” Sarah explains. “It was just as easy as buying a pre-built house, but a lot more fun!” Erik worked with contractor Shawn Taylor, of Taylor & Son Construction, to add a full basement for additional living space for the young family. And Kitchen Designer Derek Sisson helped create a kitchen that was both beautiful and functional for everyday use. The features and fixtures have a sleek, modern look. Sarah would see something in a magazine or online and send it to the Home Hardware design team who worked to bring her ideas to life. “It gave us the flexibility we wanted, and it fit within our budget.” Sarah explains. “It was just as easy as buying a pre-built house, but a lot more fun!” “I feel lucky to have had such an amazing team,” she says. During construction, she came to Erik with an odd request: “In our old house, the girls shared a room. But here, they each have their own. We still wanted them to share some space, so I asked Erik if he could build a secret passageway into each girl’s room through their closets.” Erik was happy to accommodate, but Sarah expressed a concern: “Once the girls are teenagers, I feel like I will be asking him to plaster over it again.”

The Siblings

“My father bought the property in 1954 as a bachelor getaway that soon became a beloved family retreat. I’ve spent all my summers here, gazing at the same rocks and water of my childhood,” she says. But, with three families now wanting to share one cottage, they needed something bigger. Maggie explains, “The Dorset’s layout and size were what attracted me. Thirteen hundred square feet was just right.” The three siblings worked together to create a space that accommodated the tastes and needs of not just one family, but three. “I closed in a porch overhang to make a screened porch –much appreciated when blood-thirsty mosquitoes are swarming outside, and I turned a second porch overhang into a mudroom. My brother chose the pine flooring, and he and my sister-in-law planned the kitchen, while my sister chose the door and closet hardware.” But getting the three siblings to agree was the easy part. The cottage’s remote location provided some unique challenges for Design Consultant Dave Traviss and builder Tim Hodges. “We had to clear a passage through the thick forest to drag all the materials up to the top of the hill by Bobcat. And because it’s only accessible by water, in the winter months we had to slide the materials across the frozen lake,” says Dave. Furthermore, Maggie lives in Peterborough, so she and Dave had to quickly develop a sense of trust when communicating their ideas solely over phone and email. She says, “Dave was terrific to work with. He had practical suggestions, and he always wanted to hear my opinion. He was quick to return calls and emails.” But all the effort proved worth it, with their uniquely stunning cottage resting on pillars on top of a lush mountaintop overlooking 6 Mile Lake.