When we first dipped our wee Scottish toes into the lake of cottage ownership, we shared our getaway with another couple. It was a great experience, but we soon longed for a place all our own. A place where we could call the shots. So we began the cottage hunt again.
We were after a fixer-upper, maximum bang for our buck. When first we saw what would become our new cabin in the Haliburton Highlands, we laughed, thinking of some poor schmuck who’d buy the rundown ruin we nicknamed the “Slanty Shanty”-—everything was listing like a sinking ship. It was the 33rd cottage that we’d seen and not the last. But, even after considering other places in better shape, we still couldn’t forget the Slanty Shanty. God save us: was this shack of shock the shack we could make chic? Well, so we hoped. We moved in armed with sleeping bags, sandwiches, and champagne. And prepared for our role as Haliburton frontiersmen.
So, what’s the skinny? Well, our lakeside hideaway is an A-frame cottage that boasted, as we found it, 850 sq. ft. of mouse-pooped and wasp-nested, erm, escapism. Still, what it lacked in contemporary charm, it more than made up for in position—near the water and facing southwest (for glorious sunsets). Surrounded by an abundance of verdant and statuesque trees, it was pretty much the classic Canadian cottage. In terms of build quality, decor, and ambience, however, the place positively sucked. So, we decided to rework each room, one by one, until the whole place was perfect. First up: creating space for guests.
Turn dead space into live space
You wouldn’t ask a Mexican to build you an igloo, so it makes perfect sense to enlist local help to make local plans go as smoothly as possible. Shopping at Haliburton Lumber, we happened upon Jodanne Aggett, an extraordinary talent who draws up and oversees the company’s plans for new-build houses and renovations. We hit it off instantly: we appreciated her architectural drawing skills and the strong relationships she maintains with the local planning department.
The last owner used the rear of the building for a bedroom and a small laundry. For us it was a no-brainer—we wanted two guest bedrooms. We’re social, simple as that, and we need space to accommodate visitors. So, first up, we removed the built-in closets from both spaces. Who needs so much storage in a weekend place? This change increased the floor space in the larger of the two rooms and provided extra square footage for the cramped adjacent kitchen. To free up the wall, we moved the electrical panels into the basement.
Next, we moved the interior bathroom wall eight inches into the hallway for a worthwhile difference. This small change allowed the enormous benefit of an expanded shower stall, ideal for the larger laddies who may just have overdone it on beers and barbecue or for anyone who appreciates having a bit more room. Our advice: to help you envision potential, ask your township’s planning department if they have a copy of your cottage’s floor plan from a previous permit application. If not, consider drawing up a new set to show what space is there and what’s being wasted. Observing how rooms react with each other will help you to identify ways to make your living areas larger and ultimately more efficient.
Learn tight-spot tricks
We employed a bit of city thinking to amplify space and create beautiful, functional rooms. Take a tip: remove all items you don’t need, use, or like—a clean canvas paints the best picture-—then use space-saving ideas to add more to less.
For example, replacing traditional swing doors with sliding barn-style portals maximizes space, adds design interest and, well, looks amazing. Go with a company that will custom-make and install your doors, and one that offers a huge range of finishings and accessories to personalize your project. Choosing custom will also allow you to create door sizes and shapes that just aren’t available off the shelf. In our case, floor-to-ceiling doors add to the sense of vertical space in the narrow hallway.
Further, by using doors that slide along the wall, we’re able to devote more real estate to each bedroom (no swinging doors to accommodate), and the hallway boasts some barnboard buzz that contrasts beautifully with the smooth white walls.
Aim as far as the eye can see
We were frustrated by the limited views from the small bedroom windows, so we held our breath and removed the rear wall. Our contractor conducted this task with minimal upheaval, in preparation for custom floor-to-almost-ceiling glass walls. The resultant feel of sleeping in the forest adds to the escapist mood, while the increased light and sightlines make the rooms seem endless. Both windows boast tilt-and-turn panels for ventilation, and both can be opened, if required, like doors: this function affords egress onto a small outdoor deck, effectively blurring lines between indoors and out and maxing up the perceived space.
Play with scale
In the smaller of the two bedrooms, we scaled down by specifying a double bed. This provides just enough sleep space for a cozy couple or sprawling room for singles. Underbed drawers let overnight guests tuck away their belongings. To add whimsy and even more storage, we attached hooks to an old paddle, which we mounted on the wall. Okay, so there’s no wardrobe but, come on: do cottage guests really need one?
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