Design & DIY

Lija Skobe transformed her grandparents’ dated cottage on a budget (but you’d never know)

outside of Lija Skobe's cottage in the woods on balsam lake, grandparents Photo by Erin Leydon

Living space
1,000 sq. ft.

Why we love it
Groovy Euro architecture; fun vintage finds; a brilliant blend of new and nostalgic

For Lija Skobe, summer is synonymous with her grandparents’ cottage on Balsam Lake, Ont. “My brother and I were up there pretty much from the time we were born,” she says. “Our parents would drop us off for a month at a time.” Lija’s memory is now filled with idyllic images of swimming, catching fireflies, and playing board games until lights out. But it’s safe to say her grandparents’ cottage wasn’t like any other in the Kawarthas. Lija’s grandfather and grandmother, Elmars and Velta Skobe, escaped Latvia during the Second World War and fled to Canada. So when they bought property for a family retreat in the ’60s, they hired a Latvian architect to design a space with old-country flair that reflected their culture.

Lija Skobe standing in her cottage kitchen, grandparents
“There were so many brown places,” says Lija Skobe, of the cottage’s original design. “I thought, How can we make it look newer and brighter?” Photo by Erin Leydon

Fast-forward another 60 years and 41-year-old Lija, the director of fundraising and events for a Toronto-based nonprofit, and her brother, Arthur, 39, became the cottage’s inherited owners. Of course, the cottage they walked into wasn’t the cottage of their youth—it was packed with clothing, books, mouldy furniture, and appliances that didn’t work.

interior bedroom shot, Lija Skobe's cottage, grandparents
Photo by Erin Leydon
shot of framed children's classical albums on the wall, grandparents
Framed children’s classical albums from the ’70s add a graphic hit and bring back fond memories. “My grandparents would play us records every summer,” says Lija. “That was our entertainment.” Photo by Erin Leydon

Rather than gut the four-bedroom space, they chose to celebrate it—from the unique tiled windows to the wood chandelier that plays on traditional Baltic weaving patterns. The siblings spent hours decluttering and had to make difficult decisions about what to part with. They realized that not every piece of history is worth preserving. “I tried to keep the things that my grandparents had purchased or been given,” Lija says. “It makes it feel as if they’d continued on.” Now, the three-season cottage is ready for its next incarnation: a getaway for Lija and Arthur to use separately with friends or together with their mother, and a rental property to help offset expenses.

interior shot of Lija Skobe's cottage kitchen with blue cabinets, grandparents
Lija painted the cabinets Owen Sound Marble by Sico and added new hardware. “I’m obsessed with blue and Scandinavian style, it’s a bit of a problem” she says. Photo by Erin Leydon
wide shot of Lija Skobe's living room, grandparents
Lija and Arthur installed new laminate wood flooring throughout the cottage. It looks good, but mainly, “it’s easier to clean,” says Lija. Photo by Erin Leydon

It took three coats of primer and three coats of paint to cover the original wood panelling on the walls. Select spots, such as the ceiling and doors, remain unpainted.

Lija’s Best Bargains

mid-century modern chairs against a white panelled wall
“I don’t like clutter, but it’s nice to display some of my grandma’s collectibles,” says Lija. “Plus, orange and turquoise is one of my favourite combos.” Photo by Erin Leydon

1. She scored the grey early 20th-century modern chairs on Kijiji. $100

close-up shot of Lija Skobe's cottage living room
Photo by Erin Leydon

2. Her aunt found the frame over the sofa by the roadside; Lija had the mirror added inside the panes. $50

turquoise multi-paned window turned into a picture frame
Photo by Erin Leydon

3. Lija turned a multipaned window into a frame for displaying family photos. $10

interior living room shot of Lija Skobe's cottage with couch, tv, and wall sconces
Photo by Erin Leydon

4. She used metal spray paint to transform the sconces installed by her grandparents. $12

Lija kept much of the original furniture, including her grandparents’ record player console (now a TV cabinet) and their dining table. She only purchased the sofa, armchair, and dining chairs.

“You can make spaces comfortable and pretty without spending a lot of money,” says Lija, an enthusiastic thrifter and curbside shopper. “I spent time instead.” 

Featured Video