Nature never needs a redesign—lakes, rivers, and forests are timeless. However, all of the tools, toys, and contraptions that humans use to help us enjoy nature are a different story, as designer Lee Kline knows well.
Kline’s company, Beau Lake, specializes in enhancing the cottage experience. Their goal? To refine classic cottage gear, creating elegant products that evoke the fine craftsmanship of the midcentury.
For their first reinvention, Beau Lake chose an item not generally associated with luxury: the humble paddleboard. “My affinity for watersports led me to paddleboarding,” says Kline, whose is both Beau Lake’s co-founder (along with Paul Lavoie) and its design director.
A former high-end furniture designer, Kline knew he wouldn’t be content with a fluorescent hunk of foam core, so he decided to create his own board. His first design was developed when a friend’s request for help with some boards coincided with a memorable boat ride. “I was out for a ride on a midcentury Hacker-Craft up in Muskoka at the same time a friend asked if I could stick a corporate logo on a board for him,” Kline recalls. “So all of a sudden I had this board template on my computer.”
Kline took full advantage of the opportunity, tinkering with his own design and figuring out how to create something functional and beautiful. He experimented with chrome spray and different finishes, eventually creating a board inspired by classic yachts, complete with a textured monogram. He made thirty to give to friends, but word of the exquisitely crafted boards soon spread.
When people he didn’t know started buying the boards, Kline called his old friend, entrepreneur Paul Lavoie, who quickly realized that there was a hunger for cottage gear that was not just practical but artistic. The two bonded over their shared love of the lake, and soon realized that it was where they wanted to focus their energy—and with that, Beau Lake was born.
Beau Lake’s paddleboards are reminiscent of luxury boats—they’re hand-formed, adorned with touches of metalwork and softly glowing wood. Lavoie and Kline came up with an entire line of them, each named after a different Canadian Lake, giving Kline an opportunity to use fabrication and design skills he had been developed over a lifetime. “I’ve been working with wood since I was kid,” Kline said. “I used to make guitars, instruments, and then I started doing silvery and jewelry, [and] silversmithing.” Inspired by his love of cars, planes, and boats, Kline used these various techniques to create boards so gorgeous that some people buy them just to display on their walls.
First, there’s the Muskoka board, designed for cruising and finished with a mahogany layup that evokes a vintage lake runabout. Then there’s the Jag, named for the lake but designed like the car, with a silvery finish and complete with old-style racing stripes. And finally, the Tremblant blends contemporary design with a retro aesthetic, its wooden deck inspired by a midcentury Riva yacht.
But Kline and Lavoie haven’t stopped at paddleboards. After designing their nautical-style boards, they were ready for a new challenge. And it was a big one, a true emblem of cottage living: the Muskoka chair.
“It was classic. It was really ripe for interpretation,” Kline says, explaining the decision to redo the iconic piece of furniture. “It was a very challenging thing to tackle without losing the spirit and essence of the chair.”
As a cottager himself, Kline recognized that the Muskoka chair has a lot going for it, and there were features that he knew better than to change “There’s some iconic, classic aspects of it, like the fan back and the horizontal arms that are wide so you can put a drink on them,” he notes. But he found there were still opportunities to elevate the chair and make it more luxurious, such as creating artisan finger joints and adding touches of stainless steel.
(The Great Lake Chair, photographed by Olivier Staub)
One of the most important pieces of the puzzle was finding a material, something beautiful yet sustainable. Kline was looking for a “performance wood,” and the answer turned out to be right in front of him. Black locust wood is native to North America, and it’s hardy and strong. Kline compares it to Ipe, a Brazilian hardwood that’s popular amongst high-end designers but which harms the rainforest. Black locust, on the other hand, is eco-friendly. “The thing grows so fast. It’s the fastest-growing hardwood in North America, by three or four times,” Kline says, “and it grows almost anywhere.”
Ultimately, Beau Lake’s take on the Muskoka chair, called the Great Lake Chair, perfectly exemplifies their mission: to take cottage classics and make them just a little bit more special.
As for which items they plan to redesign next, Kline and Lavoie have a whole playground of ideas. And thanks to Beau Lake, the lake may begin to feel like a playground again for cottagers, filled with eye-catching designs and water gear that can be used without the roar of motors. So instead of pining for the simplicity and style of early cottaging days, why not bring them back? Beau Lake is on a journey to bring the best parts of the past into the the present—and to do it with style.