Design & DIY

How design duo Colin and Justin dressed up their outdoor spaces for summer

Colin and Justin

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of Cottage Life magazine

When we first saw our log cabin, surrounded by towering trees and beautiful granite outcroppings, we imagined sending our families in Scotland a bevy of photographs, each labelled “A postcard from Canada.” After all, nothing says “Canada” quite like a log cabin. It was love at first sight, but there was still work to do—as always! Our goal: outdoor living to the max—a dreamy lakeshore sun dock to lounge on by day and a panoramic deck that would work as additional living space. If all went to plan, we’d soon be watching the sunset while singing “Kumbaya.” Of course, sometimes things are easier said than done, right?

Dockside lounge lessons

While the view from our newly purchased cottage dock was sublime, the dock itself was not. Had we really dismissed the peeling paint and buoyancy issues as simple quirks? Erm, yes. If your lawn and driveway provide curb appeal in the city, then your dock sets the tone for your country idyll. Time for a change.

We opted for a floating dock that we could loosen from its moorings and tie to shore over winter, and leave to freeze in place, instead of hauling it in and out of the water in spring and fall. After discussion with the township, we discovered that replacing like for like was the easiest course, though they approved a few extra feet of width on the approach, creating a stronger attachment to shore—and more space to party! Mimicking the original L-shaped dock made sense: We could keep our boat in the bay of our L and leave the front section clear for visitors. Pictured against our shoreline—left wild for the health of the lake—the dock provides a great view of the house.

Colin and Justin Dock
Dress it up: Add colourful cushions, lanterns, and plants to take your deck up a notch. Photo by Paul Orenstein.

Dressing the dock was another uniquely cottagey challenge. Looking for a clever approach, we mixed new with old, pairing inherited loungers from the original chattels with new ones. The sets don’t match in shape or colour, but we created cohesion by adding custom cushions, all smartly dressed in matching outdoor fabric, which is well worth the investment: The cushions are impervious to sun damage and rain, practical and beautiful. Our favourite stripe brings a classic outdoor feel to bolsters and floor pillows, while the yellow tones add warmth. To finish, we placed weighted planters and storm lamps along the edges, which look particularly good as night falls. We leave them out all summer, though we gather them in the centre of the dock when we’re gone. It’s only a small effort to re-dress the dock, but doing it makes a huge difference to our enjoyment of the space.

Time to hit the deck

A wraparound deck provides a 360-degree vantage and a chance to follow the sun as the day progresses. The original deck was one of the first things we fell in love with, but looks deceived: The deck supports and many of the surface boards had rotted. We were forced to completely rebuild. 

Colin and Justin's cottage after
Photo by Paul Orenstein
Cottage deck
Colin and Justin enjoy a good soundtrack so they lined up outdoor speakers all around their deck, concealed discreetly below the roof eaves. The speakers are connected to the indoor sound system as well, further blurring the separation of indoors and out. Photo by Paul Orenstein.

To speed things through planning, we recreated the original footprint; this kept our reno on time and on budget. We chose western red cedar for our deck boards to add value and more sensory stimulation, enhancing the entire cottage experience. Honestly, there’s nothing quite like the smell of cedar to suggest Canadian countryside. It’s olfactory heaven. Cedar also allowed us to take a low-maintenance approach and leave our deck unstained. The wood is blond now but will weather to take on
a beautiful grey hue as the sunlight works its magic. We love the idea of something developing naturally and, with grey barnboard so on trend, it’s good news all round.

Deck construction complete, it’s time to dress for dinner! We connected the deck decor to the interior by choosing furniture to complement both spaces; cushions and throws provide further visual continuity. The indoor and outdoor spaces operate as one: We now have a dining area for brunches in the sun, dinners en plein air, and cocktails as the evenings settle.

Revisit vista

We didn’t want a bare patch along our shoreline, nor did we want our cottage to be permanently camouflaged. Rather, we wanted to enjoy a more tailored version of Mother Nature. So, we embarked upon a program of limbing, removing some dead wood, and pruning the trees
in our view of the lake. Just as a good haircut can make or break a look, so too can some auspicious clipping make the difference. We decreed that the deck view should be our focus and opted for a subtle vista prune—basically a horticultural short back and sides—designed to improve sightlines while maintaining privacy. Limbing overzealous trees also pulled the shadows closer to our forested area, thereby improving light and, crucially, deterring those pesky mosquitoes.

Colin and Justin's cottage before
Colin and Justin's cottage
French doors beautifully connect the outdoor dining room (below, top) to the cottage interior. Determined not to clutter new sightlines, Colin and Justin opted for discreet retractable screens. When not in use, they fit, almost invisibly, into slim compartments tucked into the doorpost. Photo by Paul Orenstein.

Get more great design tips from Colin and Justin on “Colin and Justin’s Cabin Pressure” on Cottage Life TV. 

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