Tuesday, March 01, 2022

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.”