Designers Suzanne Dimma and Arriz Hassam throw open the doors to their elevated Haliburton cottage.
by Colin and Justin | photography by Colin Faulkner
Peace. Isolation. And pure, unadulterated calm. Words that go at least some way to describing the nature inspired respite of interior decorator Suzanne Dimma and her husband, designer Arriz Hassam.
Solar powered and built off-grid, the pared-back cabin is a feast of cool toned modern rustic, a moody – sometimes spare – space that positively brims with inspiration at every languid turn.
Yes indeed – it’s a beauty. Discreetly nestled within 2,500 feet of unspoiled shoreline, and accessible only by boat (or by foot when the lake freezes), the secluded cottage is restrained (both inside and out) and barely perceptible, as viewed from the profound body of water that is Drag Lake.
Like a spirit level, set within the intersecting limbs of the trees by which it’s surrounded, the building rests upon jet toned steel posts, in turn anchored to a cascading elevation of dramatic, native granite. It’s a captivating edifice, and a pleasure to explore.
The cottage’s structural identity and compartmental form, we learn, were undertaken by Arriz, who, several years ago, established Toronto-based design practise, arriz+co. Featured internationally, across multiple media, and with a residential client base in Toronto, across Canada and internationally, Arriz worked with Suzanne to create the rural idyll witnessed here.
We caught up with the creative pair to learn a little more about their dramatic home from home, which, by coincidence, lies just a 10-minute boat ride from our own summer cabin.
“There’s a freedom about this cabin’s floor plan and its pared back furniture detail,” explains Suzanne, “that I find completely liberating. And then there are the views … ”
Arriz picks up the baton: “Every vista is one of rock, water or trees. Suzanne and I never forget how lucky we are to escape here. From the moment we hit the highway after leaving Toronto, we feel the most incredible sense of decompression.”
Decompression, indeed: it’s hard not to feel life’s stresses alleviate while surveying the soothing landscape. The sightlines are unparalleled, and the cossetting nature of the topography is truly calming, wrapping, as it does, the contemporary home from home in Mother Nature’s rich, painterly strokes.
Scanning the cottage, there are clues to the creativity of its owners at every turn. While Suzanne and her husband typically navigate the higher echelons of design, neither is scared to pull off a creative DIY that’s more about affordable alchemy than indulgent spend. A Pax wardrobe from Ikea, for example, was custom painted in moody tones, and topped, thereafter, with a collection of naturally shed antlers. Wall mounted, it appears to float across the elevation upon which it’s attached.
The couple’s favourite time here? “Regardless of season,” proposes Suzanne, “it’s beautiful, but when autumn unravels, the place literally glows.” Arriz adds: “Seriously, the light is spectacular all year around, but Suzanne’s right: the cottage comes alive with the warmth of the fall foliage. The colours are incredible.”
It is indeed beautiful countryside. Accordingly, it was important to Arriz that, creating the concept for “the box,” its aesthetic regressed into the landscape “with a whisper, rather than a scream,” an ambition he deftly achieved. “This was a challenging project,” he explains, “entailing, as it did, the design and build of a sustainable off-grid structure. However, working closely with our contractors, Level Design Build, I was able to oversee the project’s every detail and stay abreast of my design at every stage.”
Being that Suzanne and her husband love to entertain, conspiring an open-concept kitchen was super important, and, by enthusiastic account, the relaxed food prep zone is a pleasure to use. Devoid of upper cabinets, it feels open, without any loss of function: there’s a place for everything in lower storage, and ample counters above.
A slick dining table, designed by Arriz, features blond Hans Wegner chairs across one elevation, and bench stools on the other. It’s here Suzanne does much of her work, plotting schemes for clients and working on her eponymous bedding line for Au Lit Fine Linens. Embodying her “Minimalist Boho” style, it consists of duvet covers, sheets, pillows and throws, imagined to transform beds by changing their layers.
“I wanted the collection to feel liveable,” explains its creator. “The pre-washed fabrics celebrate no-fuss simplicity. When it comes to bedding, you see, I’m all about ease and comfort. Soft, worry free, wrinkle-friendly fabrics are a must.”
The no-fuss simplicity aspect of Suzanne’s collection is played out in similar measure across her cottage’s interior landscape. “This place is pared back,” explains our host, “but its various assets lend so much joy.”
One of the home’s most dramatic design elements comes at Mother Nature’s behest – a craggy outcrop of granite. By siting the property close to a rock face, the building is sheltered and afforded atmospheric strength derived from nature. This is celebrated in the main room, where a large window peers, at close proximity, across the veined glory of Haliburton’s Ice Age granite: a joyous natural canvas. As darkness falls, it comes alive thanks to discreet lighting secreted below.
Suzanne attired the daybed, which serves double duty as extra sleeping accommodation, with textiles whose comforting tones are inspired by the colours pulled from local stone and rock.
We’re particularly drawn to a huge sliding portal, constructed using century old reclaimed hemlock. As an installation, it enhances the space’s overall lofty feel, whilst quietly rolling to provide privacy, as required, in the bedroom that lies beyond.
From the bed, with the weighty portal rolled open, Suzanne and Arriz enjoy stunning panoramas, through large-scale fenestration, across their beloved lake. Meanwhile, a window behind the bed contrasts the sweeping lakeside, to serve moody views into the forest. On another elevation, a tribal juju delivers a snowy toned textural hit against Douglas-fir walls, a study in scale as played against a collection of smaller objets trouves below. Interesting, also, is the chunky bench, created using a roof beam, surplus from the cabin’s construction programme.
A vertiginous, wraparound deck makes a commanding lookout point, a spot from which to enjoy the great outdoors and the remarkable landscape by which the cottage is surrounded. “It’s the highest point in the building’s elevation” purrs Suzanne. “When we’re out there, it feels like we’re floating in the trees. For all its height, its open aspect and distance from the ground, it feels wonderfully safe and incredibly private.”
Whilst an ancillary bunkie hugs the shoreline, the cottage’s designed the white oak daybed. “It’s a year-round scene stealer,” explains Suzanne, “a static ‘anchor’ that remains, as everything else around it is seasonally adjusted with rugs and pillows.”
The message so carefully telegraphed across this home is that smart design shouldn’t compete with its surroundings: it should co-exist, graciously, to compliment the shared environment. As we see it, it’s all about balancing a happy marriage. Much like the one enjoyed by Suzanne and Arriz, in their escapist lakeside retreat.
Suzanne Dimma’s limited collection for Au Lit Fine Linens embodies her unique “Minimalist Boho” vision, incorporating refreshing colour and texture combinations and centring around innovative accessories. The collection deviates from the traditional ideas of “seasonal appropriateness” and instead highlights the beauty of relaxed linens in winter and rich velvets in summer. “Pulling together a mix that’s at once familiar and delightfully unexpected is a defining feature of my projects,” Suzanne says.
The French Knot Natural pillow (front) is whimsical and refined with a tonal knotted texture on natural linen ($395), while Maze Natural (middle) features a tonal geometric embroidery on natural linen ($415). Manor Natural pillow (back) features exquisite, embroidered detail. ($395).
The Gramercy Cobblestone pillow is a neutral deco cushion featuring an earthy print, perforated detailing and backed in a rich charcoal ($450).
The Treen pillow (back) features embroidered detail on linen, backed in flax ($395), while the Perth throw has a relaxed, rumpled look while still maintaining its sophistication ($175).