Design & DIY

This Aussie ex-pat’s cottage is a riot of bold colours and patterns

Vibrating with colour, pattern, and unique furniture and art, Waratah Retreat isn’t your typical cottage—and that’s just how owner Jen Moffat wants it. Named for the iconic Australian flower, Waratah is a space that’s designed to be different. “The waratah is big, bold, and colourful, and that really reflects my ethos of just going for it,” says Jen.

Jen and her husband, Stuart Hallam, moved to Canada from Australia 11 years ago with their 18-year-old child, Millie. Not long after the family had put down roots in Toronto, they were invited to a friend’s cottage at Wollaston Lake in the Kawarthas. The experience reminded Jen of her family’s beach house in Australia: “There’s an immediate slowdown at the cottage, and it was the same growing up with a shack on the beach,” Jen says. “Our family relaxed and reconnected in ways we didn’t in the city.” Soon, the couple began dreaming of a getaway to call their own.

Jen—who had worked as a theatre director and a visual merchandiser and now has a design business called Waratah Avenue—wasn’t looking for perfect, but rather an income property with the potential to showcase her design capabilities and her vision. “I felt strongly I could take a cottage and do something different with it,” she says. “I find in Canada, the base palette is neutral. People do want colour, but they’re frightened to have a go at it. So if I show people how all colours actually go with one another, it could help give them confidence.”

When they toured this mid-’90s cottage with three bedrooms and one bath near Port Sydney, Ont., both Jen and Stuart knew it was the one. “It was dull and smelled damp, but was in good condition,” says Jen. “When we walked out back and saw the forest and the rock face, even Stuart said how much it reminded him of my dad’s place.”

After a quick closing, Jen set about furnishing and decorating the cottage to prepare the place for their own use, as well as for rental season. Her timeline? One month. She left most of the paint as is, except for the primary bedroom, and added the family’s personality via thrifted furniture, flea market art, and vintage accessories. Because the family is so far from home, filling the spaces with second-hand pieces felt especially meaningful. “I don’t have my grandmother’s furniture because it’s in Australia,” says Jen. “But when thrifting, I know I’ve got someone else’s grandmother’s furniture, and that’s quite nice.”

To infuse the space with a “down under” twist, she decided that all the books and the magazines throughout the cottage would be Australian. “There’s even vegemite in the cupboard if anyone’s brave enough to try it.”

Writer and editor Beth Hitchcock also wrote “A Little Cabin on the Bay,” in our August ’22 issue. She lives in Dartmouth, N.S.

Featured Video