Design & DIY

Cottage design tips from Colin and Justin

Best known for their hit HGTV show Colin & Justin’s Home Heist, this design duo has overhauled some of the country’s tackiest interiors, and now they’re taking on cottaging. After recently purchasing a place in Muskoka, they have big reno ideas for their new retreat. We talked to the pair to find out what they have planned, and to score a few decorating tips of our own.

Cottage Life: Now that you’re cottage owners, are there things about “cottage style” you’ve warmed up to that you never thought you would? 

Colin & Justin: As modernists, we were previously consumed by smooth walls, concrete floors, and European styling, but we’ve always had open minds. Change excites us. These days, courtesy of our Muskoka maison, we’re huge lumber lovers. Honestly, we could bore you to death talking about how lovely our logs are. 

CL: What classic cottage decor, or kitsch even, should people embrace, and what should people discard immediately? 

C & J: For us, cottages shouldn’t simply be glorified storage facilities for old sofas, credenzas, and carpets. Or, in other words, all the detritus that’s no longer needed in your main home. If you checked into a hotel and it looked like an old storage locker, it would be categorized as a 1 star—if it was lucky. We want our cottage experience (and yours) to be 5 stars, so start weeding out broken or dated items and start designing a holiday home that’s relaxed and family friendly. Say goodbye to brass adornments, dried flowers, floral wallpaper, brown tiled kitchen surfaces, and cutesy gnomes. (Cutesy? We’ll be the judge of that.)

CL: What’s the first project you plan to tackle at your cottage?

C & J: We plan to reclaim the basement as an important and gorgeous part of the house. The main and upper floors are log heaven, but head on down and it looks like a suburban home basement; all drywall and grey carpet. We’re going to replace the doors with full-height alternatives (to tempt more natural light) and we also plan to clad the entire area in grey Ontario barn board. With this done, the basement will feel as “woody” as the rest of the house and it will join with the upper floors to create one cohesive design. 

CL: Do you have any big plans for the outdoor spaces at your cottage?

C & J: Our cottage is on a slope down to the lake, so we plan to install a sun deck halfway down—to break the journey—and a library bunkie that we’ll line with shelves full of books. There will be a comfy seating area, a desk surface, and a small sleeping zone. It’ll be a perfect retreat close to our other perfect retreat! We’re also hiring a tree surgeon to look at overhanging branches that shadow the cottage and could fall on the roof, and we’ll tidy away the broken and dead trees that dot the property. We certainly don’t want a “stripped bare” aesthetic. When it’s complete, our entire project will look natural and sympathetic with its surroundings.

CL: Finishing those renovation projects can be extra tough for cottagers. Any tips for how to stay on track with design and renovation projects?

C & J: A cottage reno, as we see it, is just like any other reno. In short, the same things can go right … or wrong. Thus, our motto shall forever be: “To fail to plan is to plan to fail.” With this in mind, plot ideas on paper and then work out the best order to do everything. Put reno time aside in the spring, if possible, and repair any winter damage to get your home ready for the year ahead. It will remove nagging jobs from the cottage to-do list, allowing you to relax and enjoy your holiday time.

CL: Are you going to let the natural elements outside your cottage inform the design inside? 

C & J: The inside/outside vibe works well for us and we love that whole “city meets cottage” style. Our 39th Toronto penthouse has floor-to-ceiling windows, ebony floors, and loads of marble, but we also have rustic benches and milk maid’s buckets dotted around everywhere.  

Our new cottage will share that look, with modern, condo style furnishings that add rectilinear nature to the atmospheric log rooms. And we’re all about whimsical touches; occasional tables made from tree trunks will break up all the straight lines. We also plan to remove the blue and white tiles from the upstairs bathroom and use natural stone or slate to house a gorgeous new integrated tub. And, we want to switch out the windows in the living room for French doors so that the terrace will become part of the living room. That action alone will really embrace the great outdoors. We are so excited. 

CL: Has your approach to designing your cottage differed from designing a home? 

C & J: We always advocate taking time and falling in love with your home before starting work, and that’s exactly how the first few months of this year have already panned out for us. Information is power, so familiarize yourself with planning requirements, new innovations, and load up on magazine cuttings and exhibitions—Spring Cottage Life Show here we come!—to get the ideas flowing. 

CL: What can the audience at the Spring Cottage Life Show expect from your appearance there?

C & J: We’re planning on telling the story of how two Scottish boys came to love cottaging in Canada. We’ll show our log home in its current state, we’ll take visitors through our plans for the future, and we’ll showcase plans for our basement reno while discussing what to keep and what to replace when tackling a typical cottage reno.


Colin & Justin are appearing on Saturday, April 6, at 1:30pm on the Main Stage at the Spring Cottage Life Show. They are presented by the Toronto Star and will meet their fans for autographs and photos following their presentation.