Sunshine inside and out

The aerie-like position of this cabin offers a living experience like no other. Cue epic views, and a modern kitchen that burns bright like the sun.

by Colin and Justin | photography by Adrian Ozimek

Ah, plus ça change. Yes indeed, cottages and cabins have transitioned far beyond the simpler days when they were little more than ramshackle – albeit family friendly – abodes filled with mismatched hand-me-down items, long since retired to Cottage Country having outlived their useful urban purpose.

The 21st-century Canadian cottage iteration has achieved elevated status, having transmogrified to become the very embodiment of the good life. Hey, move over hygge, the rustic Canadian dream is now synonymous with health, happiness and the feel-good factor: something of which we all need more of in our (oft excessively) busy lives.

Consequently, architecture and design have also moved on with a landscape of contemporary structures serving monolithic fenestration (to better connect with nature), stunning stone detail and lavish timber layers conspired to ensure that, whilst the look of a cottage might have evolved, its raison d’être remains: to live harmoniously with the great outdoors, far from the madding crowd.

One such respite is a private cabin designed by Trevor McIvor Architects for clients in Parry Sound, Ont. Nestled atop a cliff and surrounded by trees, the breathtaking cottage overlooks a twinkling lake and forested crown land beyond. The ensuing vistas, it should be reported, are magical, and allow occupants to oversee the seasons as they change. For those who believe that the higher we go, towards heaven, the closer we are to God, this home could only be considered an architectural blessing.

Earlier this summer, we caught up with the cabin’s architect, Trevor McIvor, who explained that his brief was to deliver a comfortable family retreat to wrap his clients in nature whilst taking full advantage of the dramatic views – and the solar orientation – the site offered.

And McIvor has certainly delivered on his promise: his project’s deft positioning embraces the rocky topography whilst hugging the cliff edge to provide panoramic bliss. The cottage appears to grip the Canadian Shield like its very existence depended upon it, whilst the colour scheme and shape gently whisper design, rather than have it scream for attention. This stealth approach is refreshing; entirely harmonious with the landscape, the edifice appears to regress into its surroundings.

The building itself is comprised of two bedroom wings: one for kids and guests, and the other – an eminently more private compartment – housing the principal bathroom and bedroom, separated by a “hinge,” an architectural device which acts as the building’s collective space. The hinge is literally the building’s apex, realised as a glass cantilever that serves as a personal observatory, or light-filled gathering point.

Upon sliding open the huge doors, an immediate connection to the congregational area is established, the exterior deck and lower terrace dramatically formed into the sculpted terrain of the rock face. “Invisible” glass railings simply add to the precipitous thrill of this overspill social zone – it’s the perfect space in which to appraise the day that’s been, whilst looking forward to the excitement of tomorrow, and further moments proffered by this joyous architectural gem.

The kitchen? Swoon. It’s a veritable work of art.

The owners, we learn, also have a place in Barcelona where they worked with Estudio Vilablanche. So, when it came to creating their dream escape, they consulted on their kitchen’s colouration in a (clearly successful) endeavour to fuse their love of Spanish colour with their love of the Canadian forest. The result is a food prep zone by Harvest House in Uxbridge that is at once functional and supremely stylish.

Comprised of a concrete floor, clear cedar ceiling, teak cabinets and countertops and a bold, gloss yellow section (that acts as storage, room divide and indoor sunshine), the balance of natural elements and modern colour is exciting and stimulating. We can only imagine the exciting room would liberate the very best in culinary skills of those by whom it’s used.

The concept of passive design (a sustainable building standard that responds to local climate and conditions to maintain a comfortable home temperature, while focussing on renewable sources of energy such as the sun and wind) to provide household energy, ventilation and lighting is increasingly popular in Cottage Country. More than ever, dwellers are looking to limit their carbon footprint and therefore moderate utility bills. It would be McIvor’s interest in renewable energy – coupled, of course, with his design style – that led his clients to choose him to realise their escapist home.

In practice, the building has southern overhangs, auspiciously positioned to tempt sun during winter, but to let it escape during summer. Large format east and west glazing allows significant passive gain during colder times that is absorbed as stored heat in concrete floors. In addition, large lakeside openings – and smaller apertures on the rear – drive passive venting and stack effect cooling.

Add to the mix insulation that exceeds code, a Walltherm wood gasification heating system (that burns at 93 per cent efficiency) and hot water supplied by solar collectors on the roof, and the result is a functional home that uses sustainable energy more than efficiently.

But for those of us who don’t have a modern architectural marvel arranged, artfully, on a hilltop, what can we take away if we want to capture the essence of this lifestyle? Well, generous glazing would be a good starter. What would be the point, after all, in having amazing views if they can only be enjoyed through small windows? So go on: tear down those walls (with consents, of course) and then optimise the glass quotient.

According to McIvor, open space is essential. If family and friends can cook, dine, read, play games and relax in one shared environment, this balances everything. But if everyone can be afforded their own space at the extremities of the house, then all the better. A place to gather, and another place in which to gather one’s thoughts: aren’t those the assets every cabin should enjoy?


Architect: Trevor McIvor Architects

Kitchen: Harvest House

Contractor: Trea Building

Siding: Cape Cod Siding

Windows: Schuco supplied through Bigfoot, Muskoka Window And Door Centre

Cedar: San Group

High-efficiency wood stove: Waltherm (Wallnoefer)

Three-sided wood in living room: Spartherm

Fixture over dining table and in hallway:

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