Design & DIY

5 renovation projects every cottage owner should tackle themselves

Bathroom Tiles

Unless you’re a diehard DIYer with contractor credentials, there are some projects you shouldn’t tackle yourself. Replacing aluminum wiring and venting your water heater are obvious jobs best left to pros, and some cottagers might not have the time or patience to learn how to replace a kitchen sink or install a new sliding deck door. But other projects, like those listed here, are DIY musts.


There’s nothing wrong with a rustic cottage bathroom, but there’s plenty to worry about when you see signs that mould is spreading. Bathroom mould is especially common in cottages because of the lack of air conditioning and cottage country’s humid summers, and it’s most likely to occur in the grout between tiles. And because bleach, a toothbrush, and elbow grease can only go so far, regrouting may be in order once the mould has set in.

Pro tips

Get the kit: You could spend hours digging out your old grout with a grout saw, or you can take the easy road and buy a grout-removal kit that works with a Dremel tool. It’s high-speed bit will chew effortlessly through mouldy old grout, and the kit’s guides will ensure that you don’t damage your tiles. Be sure to vacuum up any dust from the drilling.

Make it a match: Before you mix your new grout, you can take a chunk to your nearest dealer to find the right colour to match the remaining non-mouldy grout. From there, mix it to the consistency of cake batter and then apply it using a grout float.

Cure with humidity: Moisture may have caused the mould, but grout also needs humidity to cure properly so that the water in it doesn’t evapourate too quickly. If the humidity’s too low where you are, run a humidifier or cover the wet grout with damp paper towel and mist them every hour while it cures.


The question of painting is divisive among cottagers. Some are diehard lovers of the natural-wood look, while others are more willing to part with their rustic vibe and add some colour. While sticking with bare wood is ideal for timber homes, log cabins, and outdoor-friendly woods like cedar, less expensive woods like pine, plywood, and—gasp—wood panelling could often be vastly improved by a well-chosen coat of colour.

Pro tips

Use the right tools: Spray guns are effective and efficient for larger areas, but for nooks and crannies and rooms chock full of furniture, stick with a brush-and-roller combo. It’s often more work to cover up furniture for spraying than it is to just dip your roller and start painting.

Freshen your furniture: Many cottages are where tired, unwanted furniture goes to die. But with a fresh coat of paint, worn chairs and weathered dressers gain a new life that livens your cottage’s interior.

Inspect for issues: If you’re painting your cottage’s exterior, look for problem areas like mildew, cracked caulking, and places where paint is peeling. These spots will need some extra TLC when you’re planning your paint job.


New home builds place a premium on the effect of good lighting, but most cottages are still in the dark ages. Those cobweb-caked corner lamps might contribute to a rustic vibe, but just think how much more enjoyable rainy days will be when you’re stuck in doors with bright, well-placed lighting. And you don’t have to go as far as adding pot lights; simply updating your fixtures will make a world of difference.

Pro tips

Be wary of live wires: Because some junction boxes contain wiring from multiple circuits, switching off the breaker that controls the light may not be enough. To be absolutely sure, touch a noncontact voltage detector to each wire’s insulation. If it glows, the wire is still live and dangerous.

Concentrate on cast: Where light is cast can make all the difference in how you experience a room. Use focused beams of light to illuminate a room’s focal points rather than casting uni-directional light.

LED or bust: The prices of LED bulbs have dropped drastically over the past few years, and their efficiency blows everything else out of the water. There’s simply no excuse not to outfit your new fixtures with them.


In terms of gear, winter cottagers have a lot more to organize than summer cottagers. Instead of easily stashable sandals, you’ve got snow boots, hiking boots, wool-lined slippers, and—for the truly adventurous—snow shoes. Couple all that clutter with toques, mitts, and padded parkas, and you’ve barely got space to brush the waist-high snow off your pant legs once you get in the door. To keep from tripping when you rush inside to thaw by the fire, you need entryway storage, and you need it to be organized.

Pro tips

Double your rod: If you’re lucky enough to have an entryway closet in your cottage, it’s likely too tiny for the winter coats and sherpa hoodies that make winter cottaging possible. The easiest solution is to double your hanging space with a closet-rod extender, which hangs a second rod from the main upper one.

Get hooked: Even if your cottage is equipped with an entryway closet, it’s likely too tiny for more than a couple of parkas. Bolster your storage with stylish hooks along your entry wall, and be sure to utilize back-of-door space as well.

Build bench storage: Leaving the fireplace behind and heading out for a winter hike takes a lot of moxy. Don’t let your motivation fade while you search high and low for your missing mitt. Build bench storage for all your winter accessories, and you’ll always have a place to sit while you search for your scrunched-up socks in the toes of your boots.


Everyone who owns or who’s visited a cottage has a bathroom horror story. It simply comes with the territory when you pack multiple families into a single-bathroom structure that has weak water flow and an ancient toilet. But there’s no need to resign yourself to a life of clogged commodes that overflow at every opportunity, because modern toilets are more powerful and far more efficient than that sulfur-stained clunker at your cottage. Installing a toilet is a task that most cottagers can do for themselves, so there’s no excuse not to upgrade your weathered throne.

Pro tips

Green doesn’t mean weak: First-generation low-flow toilets scared a lot of people away from the concept, but that’s because manufacturers cut the flow without changing their designs. Today’s low-flow models are powerful enough to conserve water while cleaning the bowl in a single flush.

Measure your rough-in: A lot of cottages have small bathrooms, so make sure you know the distance between your toilet’s flange and the wall before you buy. Twelve inches is standard, but 10-inch models are available.

Go dual for even more savings: Unless you prefer peeing in the woods, a dual-flush model will use 0.8 gpf (gallons per flush) for liquids and 1.6 gpf for solids, meaning you’ll have extra power when you overdo it on those spicy barbecued ribs.