Design & DIY

Colin and Justin bring their cottage style home to the city with wood

Photo by Angus Rowe Machperson

Updated August 15, 2018

One glance at our Toronto condo explains all you need to know about our usual decorating style; it’s a temple of monochrome, marble, and glass, a downtown escape from our significantly downtown-centred life. It’s predominantly grey-scale; we used pops of zingy yellow for decorating punch. At a dizzying 39 floors up, it’s an ideal lair for two Scots with a serious Batman complex. City box ticked, we couldn’t be happier.

Our hearts now beat with similar affection for the country. Aye, we quickly learned to love the great outdoors while reviving our flatlined cottage. And any similarities between our urban “des res” and our cottage escape? Well, actually, yes. Our lakeside bolthole is structurally very different from our Toronto pad, but there’s a cohesive design integrity that connects both: a typically masculine aesthetic alongside a woody undercurrent, very Colin and Justin. We’ve grown to love lumber (the irony of having stripped dozens of Canuck basements of—admittedly faux—wood panelling isn’t lost on us), and the positively Jurassic-scaled logs make us smile every day. We’ve embraced wood and revelled in the challenge of combining many types and tones to make a thoroughly pleasing home.

To paint or not to paint

For anyone hoping to create a brand-new look in a log-built or significantly wooden home, the burning question is: to paint or not to paint? Our best advice is—go ahead, but think twice, do once. Consider the mood, feel, and style you hope to achieve, and then—and only then—make a painting decision.

Photo by Angus Rowe Machperson

If you love the idea of a summery waterfront escape and have rooms that are clad in tongue-and-groove pine, here’s some simple guidance—sand it carefully with coarse paper to remove the majority of topcoat, followed by medium-grit paper to tempt a smooth, paintable finish. Next, brandish your brush and apply a coat or two of creamy-toned eggshell. It really is that simple. This will help to open the space and bring light into even the gloomiest corner. For dramatic effect, leave doors, window frames, crossbeams, and supporting struts in natural wood to punctuate the painted finish.

Brilliant white creates a crisp feel and is the ideal tone to marry with blue or grey for a nautical atmosphere. Fancy something a little less, jaunty? No worries. Opt, instead, for paint with just a hint of colour to warm up your white. Staining also works well. Our cottage floorboards, for example, had become orange with age, so we sanded, then lavished them with semi-transparent wood stain in a grey tone to underpin our calming new look. Take it from us— the orange-pine look is so last century. Unless, that is, you want to live in a house that looks like a swingers’ paradise. Or a dodgy sauna from the ’70s.

Be inspired by the forest

So, painting may not be for you. That doesn’t mean that you can’t experiment with different colours and tones of wood. Mother Nature mixes many trees in her forest, so why be slavish to one genus or wood colour when it comes to home design? Mixing woods creates an individual and very personal look. On our main floor, for example, we have honey-toned logs, a new oak floor, a reclaimed pale hemlock dining table, and a vintage mahogany sideboard. Yup, all in very different tones. And the best news? They coexist perfectly, bringing, as they do, a truly casual aesthetic that’s laid-back and very cottagey.

Use clever materials

When it came to the basement, we bucked our own wood-embracing trend by ripping down the chevron orange pine, which was, let’s face it, last fashionable when Anne Murray was a slip of a girl. Applying 8″ boards horizontally helped visually elongate the already generous 20′ by 25′ room and, coupled with the 9′ ceiling height, it’s hard to believe this is actually a basement. (If your ceilings are low, hang boards vertically and your room will feel taller.) In short, wood cladding is still a great way to add character and charm, as long as you forgo any predilection for chevron motifs!

Photo by Angus Rowe Machperson

Our initial plan was to use Ontario barn-board—we love its silver-toned chunkiness—but prohibitive costs ($7 to $10 a linear foot) made it an unwise choice for Scots on a budget. A more affordable solution was re-sawn 8″ pine. At around a buck per linear foot, it’s affordable and easy to stain. Ah, yes, stain. We’re definitely fans, but couldn’t find a product that fit our exacting needs for this space. Some were too dark, others didn’t let the grain show through, and some simply looked unnatural. And so, necessity being the mother of invention, we mixed our own using Nescafé instant coffee. Yes, coffee. All you need is a bucket, hot water, and a large jar of instant granules. Test first on a scrap of wood, and add more water (or coffee) to achieve the colour you desire. Apply with a large brush, and enjoy the affordable and environmentally friendly result. What are you waiting for? Go and put the kettle on!

Colin & Justin will be back with a brand new documentary show, Great Canadian Cottages, coming this Fall only on Cottage Life