Tour this lovely cottage on Lake Simcoe!
A designer lends her expertise to help a couple resolve a colourful debate over the scheme for their family cottage.
"He wanted dark tones and a woodsy Aspen vibe. I wanted everything white with clean lines." The “he” referred to is the husband, the “I” speaking is the wife, and in terms of their decor preferences for this new-build 4,900-square-foot cottage overlooking Lake Simcoe in Innisfil, Ont., they were clearly at odds. But the Toronto-based couple, who has a seven-year-old daughter, a five-year-old son and a Samoyed puppy, did agree on one thing: The design had to be practical. And after many reassurances on the wife’s part that her vision could be inviting and relaxing, she says, “My husband eventually gave me free rein. I wanted a gorgeous unfussy space that was easy to maintain.”
To get the look, she turned to Lidia van Zyl, a designer based in Barrie, Ont., who’s well known for decorating waterfront properties in the area. “When I was hired in 2014, the cottage was in its planning stage,” says Lidia. “This allowed us to pore over the plans and confirm almost every detail before the walls went up.” The walls themselves played a crucial role in setting the tone for the space. “Honouring the husband’s preference for a traditional look, I incorporated shiplap into the mix,” says Lidia. The wooden boards, which were most often used in the construction of homes, were applied horizontally in the kitchen, powder room, foyer and master bedroom. “Shiplap, even when painted white, provides a rustic contrast to drywall and has an informal feel that really adds to the casual cottage vibe,” says the designer.
While the scheme may be all white, it’s anything but stark. “The key to decorating with white is to use different shades of it,” says Lidia. “If you look closely, you’ll see the walls are a crisp white, while the beams are coated with a warmer shade.” Wide-plank pale hickory flooring completes the airy backdrop, which Lidia chose to punctuate with bold hits of black. “I love contrast, so I added black accessories to almost every room,” she says. Lidia extended this theme to the furniture as well and, with the kids and puppy in mind, paid specific attention to practicality. “The grey sofas in the living room are covered with indoor-outdoor fabric, so they’re stain resistant and easy to clean,” she says. “And some of the pieces, such as the living room coffee table and foyer console, are crafted from steel, so they’re pretty much damage-proof.” She also introduced a few well-placed antiques throughout the cottage to create interesting tension between old and new.
The 18-month process of building and decorating netted a year-round family retreat that Lidia describes as “refined but rustic.” And even though the wife had total control, she did make an effort to include her husband – sort of. She says: “He really wanted dark floors, but even he conceded the light ones looked better. So I let him think he helped with that decision in a roundabout way. Now we’re all happy!”
Accessories like the rope-hung mirrors and the lantern-style pendant lights make this practical space feel decorated. “I don’t like to take risks when decorating,” says one of the homeowners, “but I did want to mix things up in the kitchen so it didn’t read as plain.”
Designer Lidia van Zyl played the natural tones of wood and stone against sleek black accents to create character in the living room. The tall armoire holds things like games, books and blankets, while the bare floor, a practical option, is easy to clean. A trio of metal sculptures above the reclaimed wood mantel is a departure from the expected mirror or artwork.
In the foyer, the staircase’s natural wood handrail and treads were a purposeful choice. “If we had painted them black, it would have drawn the eye up the stairs as opposed to straight through the cottage to the lake,” says Lidia.
A mix of neutral tones creates subtle depth in the dining area. “The table and chairs appear white at first glance, but they’re actually a soft shade of grey,” says Lidia. the chandelier, painted white to downplay its ornate shape, illuminates everything from meals to crafts.
“This cottage always makes me smile,” says one of the homeowners. “It’s an amazing feeling to open the front door to beautiful surroundings.” the stone skirting – a concession to the aspen look the husband wanted – ties in nicely with the herringbone brick walkway.
The artful arrangement of dark-hued antiques in an all-white area of the living room makes a graphic statement. the antlers are a family heirloom.
“I love a white kitchen because I don’t like distractions when I’m cooking,” says one of the homeowners, “and I can also see what needs to be cleaned.” low-maintenance Caesarstone countertops and a glossy tiled backsplash on the range wall make cleanup even easier. the massive island is outfitted with cupboards that hold cottage necessities, such as candles, batteries and a tool kit.
While the silhouette of the chandelier in the master bedroom is traditional, its wooden beads give it an earthy appeal that suits a cottage. the wicker basket, sisal rug and rustic artwork (it’s made of wood and says “I Love Us”) echo that earthiness, which is tempered by the black furniture.
Hooks and baskets are enough to keep the mud room in order since the basement has ample storage. The built-in bench always comes in handy.
Like the rest of the cottage, the powder room is energized with hits of black. “I love the graphic mosaic-look floor here,” says Lidia. “It’s actually 24-by-24-inch tiles, and they have just the right amount of pattern for a small space.” Vintage racquets used as informal artwork perfectly fit the laid- back vibe of this family retreat.
This sweet combination was made for you.
You'll love these deliciously moist banana bread brownies.
Calling all banana bread lovers and brownie fanatics: This sweet combination was made for you. Although, with its decadent walnut brown butter frosting, we’re pretty sure this is a dessert just about anyone can get behind.
Banana Bread Brownies
Walnut Brown Butter Frosting
1 Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, whisk together the bananas, 1/2 cup of the butter, 1/2 cup of the sugar and 1 egg. Fold in 1/2 cup of the flour.
2 In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining butter, sugar and eggs and the vanilla. Fold in the remaining flour and the cocoa powder; fold in the chocolate. Fold the two mixtures together until they’re not quite combined (the mixture should be marbled); scrape everything into a 9" square pan lined with parchment paper.
3 Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the brownies are lightly puffed but the centre is wobbly. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then remove the brownies from the pan and let cool completely on a wire rack.
4 To make the frosting, heat the butter and walnuts in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the butter melts and the walnuts turn golden brown. Remove from the heat and transfer to a blender. Pulse until the walnuts are puréed. Pour the mixture into a heatproof bowl and chill in the freezer until the butter is solid. Let the butter sit at room temperature until softened.
5 Whip the butter mixture with a hand mixer on high speed until it’s light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce the speed to low, stir in 1 cup of the icing sugar and the salt. Increase the speed to medium-high for 2 minutes. Repeat with the remaining 2 cups icing sugar. Spread the icing over the cooled brownies.
Image: Stacey Brandford / Styling: Christine Hanlon
Nest maker, know thyself. Here’s how one designer used self-reflection and simplicity to do up her Toronto Victorian.
“There are thousands of inspiring ideas out there,” says designer Melanie Hay, referring to the wellspring of online home decor images, blogs and shops. “You can literally research for months. But in the end, the best design is born of self-discovery. The more you understand who you are and how you live, the better the odds that the rooms you create will be rooms that you love.”
Melanie should know. When she and her husband, Andrew, an entrepreneur, purchased a tall, narrow Victorian in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood about four years ago, they were two people without a plan – but with about 3,000 square feet of empty space. Needless to say, to a designer like Melanie, this blank canvas meant instant inspiration overload. “My mind was swimming with decorating schemes,” she recalls. “Deep down, though, I knew Andrew and I are nesters, and when we walked in the door, we would want to come home to a space that echoes our life stories.” This is where her approach to decorating the house started.
But it was not as easy as it sounds. “From the beginning, I had to acknowledge that Andrew and I don’t share the same taste,” she says. Melanie loves white; Andrew prefers dark wood. Something had to give. The house already had the towering black doors and high-gloss black banister they both liked, so the couple let these details inspire the look. “Plus, we already owned a black and white rug, a round table with a dark top and a black leather Eames chair, so why not use them?” adds Melanie. Red- and peach-painted walls were redone in shades of light and shadow. Such was the start of what is now the home’s signature black and white colour scheme.
And a little self-reflection went a long way when it came to deciding what to hang on the walls. “Although we appreciate fine art, personal mementoes that connect us to our families matter more,” says Melanie. This realization became the inspiration for the dining room gallery wall. Gathering a few favourite prints, posters and paintings, the designer created a dynamic visual mash-up. The result is a sophisticated yet personal design element. One added bonus? It was totally budget-friendly. “I paired gold-framed heirloom pieces with newer prints in inexpensive white frames to unite the random collection,” explains Melanie. And since not many are forever pieces, she adds or subtracts on a whim. “There are a lot of nail holes in that wall!” she says with a laugh.
In many ways, this ever-evolving approach is a reflection of Melanie’s creativity. “Unlike the homes I design for clients, which are done in one sweep, my house changes constantly. I’ve become incredibly good at moving furniture, which must drive Andrew crazy. This house will never be truly finished,” she says. “And if it ever is, I’ll probably just start over!”
Homeowner and designer Melanie Hay paired her husband’s steel-topped dining table with chairs she bought on Craigslist. “I’ve reupholstered the seats two times already,” she says. Right now, they bear a sophisticated charcoal linen that accentuates the dark walls and striped rug.
“It’s been a bedside table, an end table and a catch- all,” says Melanie of the bar cart she purchased years ago. “Finally, it’s a bar!” The cart is low, however, and the home’s ceilings are very high. To draw the eye upward, she added a painting and a wall-mounted metal stag bust above it.
Melanie scoured big-box stores for large-scale artwork to act as stand-ins for the forever pieces that will eventually accent her living room. That way, she doesn’t have to live with blank walls while she searches for the perfect investments.
The house was built in the early 1900s, but its contemporary fireplace mantel and furnishings achieve an eclectic mix that feels right at home in the space. “If you can’t afford to do a house all at once,” advises Melanie, “then do one room at a time. That way you can afford to invest in key pieces.”
“Decorating one room completely and then carrying that look to the next allows you to really establish a cohesive aesthetic throughout the house,” says Melanie, who started with the living room and finished with the master bedroom, which echoes the rest of the home’s light-meets-dark and modern-meets-traditional themes.
A dream getaway with classic coastal style.
A brand new all-season dream getaway dressed in classic coastal style captures the nostalgia of cottage living.
Perfectly imperfect: It may sound like a contradiction in terms, but it’s the spirit that guided the design of Tradewinds, a stately 7,000-square-foot cottage nestled just above the shores of Muskoka’s Lake Rosseau in Ontario. It was those very shores that attracted home-owners Kai and Joanna Tukums back in 2011. After considering their options, Kai, who is self-employed, and Joanna, a chartered accountant, made the decision to build a dream getaway for their growing family. But first, they had to find the land. “We were looking for a property with unobstructed views, natural privacy and great sun exposure,” says Kai–a tall order on an already popular lake. But when the couple found this verdant plot, complete with a stretch of sandy beach, they knew it was the right site for the coastal-inspired cottage they envisioned.
Their first call after securing the lot was to builder and designer Cory DeFrancisco of Muskoka Living Interiors, with whom they’d successfully collaborated on the renovation of their Toronto home. “We really clicked,” says Cory. “They gave me carte blanche to run with my creativity.” With Kai and Joanna’s blessing, that creative streak led Cory to sketch out an all-season dwelling that would pay homage to the shingled homes of Nantucket and the Hamptons, with a decidedly Muskoka twist.
The architectural focal point in the living room is its ceiling, with wooden beams mounted on a 45-degree angle over white beadboard. Down-filled slipcovered sofas invite family and friends to sink in for long conversations. A TV is cleverly concealed behind the doors above the fireplace.
“The kitchen is my favourite room,” says homeowner Joanna Tukums. And it’s no wonder. The play of clean white kitchen cabinetry and backsplash tiles against the warmth of an antique-oak island and pantry makes it an inviting space for cooking and entertaining.
Large windows frame the view from the spacious dining room. “We wanted to highlight the wooden mullions, so we painted them a soft black,” says Cory. “It’s a technique we used throughout the house.”
In the master bathroom, Cory used a soft blue for the vanity and let the floor treatment, a wooden trellis pattern with inset marble tiles, act as the focus. The round window between the sinks is reminiscent of a ship’s porthole.
Substantial black hooks punctuate the poplar tongue-and-groove walls of the mud room area in the laundry room, while a checkered toss cushion references the home’s navy and white scheme.
The bright galley-style laundry room is outfitted with built-in appliances, upper storage and a bench that runs the length of the windows.
A split staircase makes a lasting first impression in the cottage’s entryway. Cory enhanced the walls with applied moulding in a grid pattern. The texture acts as a striking background for black Windsor-style benches.
The casual loft-style den at the top of the stairs offers a million-dollar view of Ontario’s Lake Rosseau. With an all-white room, builder and designer Cory DeFrancisco chose to keep the furnishings symmetrical and simple, with a pair of slipper chairs adding the only note of bold pattern to the room.
White wicker furniture with nautical-themed toss cushions keeps the feeling as fresh as the air in the Muskoka room. “We entertain all summer and enjoy spending lots of time in here,” says homeowner Kai tukums. “It’s an extension of the house.”
“We were looking for a property with unobstructed views, natural privacy and great sun exposure,” says Kai.
The grand cottage design draws architectural inspiration from coastal homes in Nantucket and the Hamptons. But the white cedar bevel siding with charcoal trim provides crisp contrast that feels authentic to the Muskoka region, explains Cory.