Friday, June 12, 2020

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.


  1. I absolutely love this and have been looking at this model, with some modifications. I'm curious about this layout and if you kept three bedrooms. We are looking to only have one bedroom, one bathroom, and extend some of the other rooms. We would also be building with a basement, since this would be our primary residence.

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