“You feel like Batman looking out over Gotham City,” says Colin McAllister, describing the view from Blackbirch. “You’re above it all, kind of superior.” That would be Colin of Colin and Justin, gushing over one of the cabins featured on their new show, Great Canadian Cottages, in which he and his other half, Justin Ryan, tour some truly inspiring spaces. “It’s amazing to share these stories,” says Justin. “It’s a documentary series—we’re the nosiest people in cottage country. But it’s not about snooping around hugely expensive places. It’s about the heart and the thinking behind thoughtful cottages.”
At Blackbirch, which the owners, Susan and Chris Meiorin, had built high on the shores of Drag Lake, Ont., the thinking behind the cottage is distinctly Mediterranean. “Chris is Italian, and Susan’s family is Greek,” says Colin. “For them, it’s all about food and gathering. Sharing is really important.” Common spaces abound. The open kitchen bleeds into the double-height living room, which extends into the screened sunroom.
“The whole wall of glass bifold doors between the screened room and the living room can open up,” says Chris, who owns a window company. With the wall open, two big rooms become one great one, perfect for parties.
Though the main rooms are designed with entertaining in mind, the bedrooms are built for peace. “They wanted a bit of separation,” says Justin. “If there’s a party in the living room, that can carry on while you go off to sleep in quiet.”
The cottage functions like two different buildings, with the bedroom side acting like a giant bunkie. “The glass in the bedrooms is a highly reflective Solarcool,” says Chris. “It’s mostly for limiting heat, however, we use it to reduce visible light. It’s like having a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses on in the bedroom.” The reflective windows also offer privacy, and, with two panes of different depths, they reduce noise. “By offsetting the thickness of the two panes, you disrupt sound-wave frequencies, making your space quieter,” says Chris.
“At some lakes, it’s all about being showy, isn’t it?” says Colin. “A big fancy cabin you can see from space. But there’s a new elegance in being stealthy. Dark grey or black cabins blend in to the forest. Inside, you’ve got great views, but if you’re on the lake, you can barely see the cottage. Blackbirch is modern, but it’s not too austere. It’s a fancy place, but it still has a heartbeat.”
Pop a wheelie
Chris took a piece of timber cut-off, “bought some castor wheels, put a clear coat on it,” and voila! DIY coffee table.
After covering a downstairs feature wall in barnboard, Chris used the leftover pieces to fashion a headboard and a sliding barn door.
Turn me out
“Nearly every one of the windows in the cottage can swing in like a door, but they also tilt open at the top to let hot air out, where it needs it the most,” says Chris. These tilt-and-turn vinyl windows, made in Germany, keep a slim profile and a tight seal. “We won’t put AC in the cottage, but with the right mix of windows, the breeze flows through to cool us down.”
I saw the sign
Susan made the birch-tree room divider from trees on the property.
“We used a primed, finger-joint, tongue-and-groove pine that we spray-painted,” says Susan. “It’s unlikely to warp, and it’s relatively cheap.”
The stag in drag
“Chris’s sister had it up in her cottage years ago, but my girls were so terrified of it that she took it down,” says Susan (bottom right). “When we built this place, we snagged it for ourselves and dressed her up to make her more friendly.”
Beam me up
Along the hallway, Chris turned excess timber beams into custom benches. “They were going to be above the windows, for aesthetics,” he says. “But we decided to lower them and turn them on their sides to create extra space where people can sit and catch up.”
Get the picture?
C&J love the black “mid-century modern” window frames. “It’s almost like you’re framing an image,” says Justin.
Catch Colin and Justin’s new show, Great Canadian Cottages, on Cottage Life TV, Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.