Design & DIY

How this accountant crafted a beautiful Ontario cottage by hand

Building a cottage from scratch is somewhat of a pipe dream for many. For Peter Reid, it was a vision-turned reality. 

With the help of a designer, a carpentry student, and his youngest son, Peter built his 2,472 sq. ft., three-bedroom cottage on Eagle Lake, Ont., over seven years. He took advantage of the building materials he had on his property, drawing from Kingston, Ont., and Cape Cod for design inspiration, and furnished the place with DIY furniture to complete his custom cottage in 2018. 

Peter Reid in a canoe
Photo courtesy of Peter Reid

About Peter

Though Peter was once a full-time chartered accountant, he always let his interests guide him toward a multifaceted career. Heritage carpentry was his next challenge—one that would offer the professional change he was looking for. “I have always loved older buildings, churches, stone farmhouses, and the Lunenburg “bump” design in Lunenburg, N.S.,” says Peter. “But I only had a layman’s eye for such things.”

Lunenburg, NS house
“Lunenburg Bump” is a local term for a structural projection above a centred door in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.Photo by Shutterstock / Adwo

“This cottage was meant to be a testament to my fledgling building skills and a place to display my timber framing skills,” he says. “I later took the two-year Heritage Carpentry and Joinery program at Algonquin College and graduated in 2018 at 61-years-old, so I now have the layout and floor planning skills.

About his design aesthetic

Peter started with a clear vision. He wanted the cottage to be a place to make music, write, cook, entertain, and retire. The cottage has cedar shingle walls, a tin roof, white trim, and corner boards, giving it a “sort of Cape Cod style,” says Peter. The relaxed, quaint feel of the cottage also draws inspiration from one of the lake’s neighbouring cities. “I referred to the slopes of the rooflines from a building that I love in Kingston,” Peter says.

Inside, the cottage has a minimal, rustic feel with exposed wood accents and glass panels along the staircase and walkways. “I made all of the interior and exterior finish decisions as I went along,” says Peter. “As my skills developed, my imagination was less and less limited by my carpentry and timber framing mindset, so I was able to express myself more easily.” 

About the features he built

One of the stand-out design elements in the cottage is the Portland cement fireplace. “I came across a Southwestern style that caught my eye,” says Peter. “Initially, I was going to wash the cement with a pastel colour, but I decided that I liked its natural colour because it matches the colour of the white oak timber frame of the cottage.” 

Eagle Lake, Ont. cottage
Photo courtesy of Peter Reid

The cottage also features an outdoor shower with latticework on the siding where the sun peeks through and a birch tree that runs vertically through the cottage up into the second-floor loft. “I found it on a small island near my property. As luck would have it, a beaver had damaged it recently. I tied the tree to my truck and, several hours later, the tree was inside,” says Peter. Getting it secured within the cottage called for a few adjustments. “The branches had to be trimmed to fit closely to the ceiling while the tree was still lying horizontally on the main floor. I used a chain hoist to slowly haul the tree to the second floor and, with only a little more trimming, it fit perfectly,” says Peter.

Eagle Lake, Ont. cottage
Photo courtesy of Peter Reid

One of Peter’s favourite features is the exposed interior roof structure, which he enjoys in the entertainment room. “I’m quite particular about rooflines because they define the shape of the interior spaces,” he says. 

Eagle Lake, Ont.
Photo courtesy of Peter Reid

About the materials he used

Peter repurposed materials wherever he could. Take his 120-year-old timber frame barn, for example. The structure collapsed on his old farm, so he decided to reuse whatever he could in his new design. Most of the barnboard was used for the trim and panelling. Part of the cottage frame itself was from a previous project and the entire place is held together with oak pegs.

He also incorporated a hyper-local material into the design. “My property was the site of a small, local mica mine. It’s now totally flooded, but there’s always lots of mica around. I was able to use some as a spacer in one of the handrails,” says Peter. “I may try to incorporate more mica into some tabletops and art pieces.”

About his DIY projects

Quite a few of Peter’s furniture pieces are DIY projects as well. “One that I like is a magazine holder and lamp table that I made out of wooden oyster boxes that we emptied on one of my son’s annual birthday parties at the cottage,” he says.

Eagle Lake, Ont. cottage
Photo courtesy of Peter Reid

“Another table is made of extra timber frame rafters from the build.”

Eagle Lake, Ont. cottage
Photo courtesy of Peter Reid

“My coffee table is made from a massive oak tree that I took down after it died,” he says.

Photo courtesy of Peter Reid

Advice on building a cottage from scratch

“Have fun. Make sure you have the right resources. Get help when you need it, let your creative juices flow, and don’t be in a hurry,” says Peter. “Make sure you have money set aside to buy high-quality products. And try to make sure you don’t spend more than the place is worth in the local real estate market.”

The whole process has been a learning experience for Peter, “Being a chartered accountant, I had no idea that I had an artistic side, but I guess that I do.”

Featured Video