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.”