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.