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.
A predominantly white kitchen with rustic elements.
An eclectic design sensibility tempered by an outdoorsy palette shows that, as always, Mother Nature knows best.
If every house has a story, this one features a happy ending the homeowners wrote themselves. But it wasn't without a few plot twists and turns along the way. It was 12 years ago that Laurie and Randy Phillips noticed a quaint cottage home in Delta, B.C., a beachside community near Vancouver, was for sale. "The property was two streets over from us, and we'd often walk by just to admire it," says Laurie. Within 24 hours of spotting the house for sale, they owned it. The plan? To renovate the cottage and imbue it with an eclectic look of mixed styles (from rustic farmhouse to industrial chic to Mid-Century Modern) that would honour the outdoors. And finish it all before they moved in with their son. However, when Randy, an electrician-turned-firefighter, started the demolition, the news was bad - as in, catastrophic. The cottage lacked a proper foundation, and little else could be brought up to code. Suddenly, the couple was left with no choice: They had to build a new house from the ground up. "The situation pushed us to do something we weren't ready to do," says Laurie. "But we realized we could create the kind of historic-looking home we love but couldn't afford in Vancouver."
The couple tackled the job themselves: Randy, who has experience in framing and construction, did nearly all the building himself; Laurie, who works in cosmetics and skincare and has an affinity for design, oversaw the interior. But before Laurie could get to her bulging inspiration files, the couple had to decide on the bones of the house. They settled on a blueprint for a 2,500-square-foot Craftsman-style home with three bedrooms and three bathrooms. And Laurie's vision for the exterior was unwavering - she wanted grey coloured cedar shake shingles with white trim. Her plan also included a stone patio for entertaining and a grassy area with Adirondack chairs for lounging in the backyard, since Vancouver's mild climate means the family can enjoy the outdoors for nine months of the year. Finally, it was time for Laurie to dig into the decor. Inspired by her natural surroundings and the home's exterior, Laurie carried the neutral palette throughout the entire house to create a seamless flow between the indoors and out. "I wanted a look that wouldn't date," she says.
The oval window at the front of the house was a must for Laurie because of its beachy appeal. “It’s something I associate with the ocean,” she says.
A slipcovered armchair anchors a gallery wall of black and white artwork, some by Laurie and some bought online. The monochromatic palette gives the display cohesion, while the various sizes and finishes of the framed artwork keep it from feeling too uniform.
The home office, just off the front entrance, showcases Laurie’s eclectic design sensibility. The cool Mid-century modern-style office chair she found on Craigslist looks even more sleek when paired with a weathered wooden desk.
Honed granite kitchen countertops ground the classic white shaker-style cabinetry in the kitchen. Laurie chose barely-there white linen Roman window blinds for the windows to add a cozy layer to the space without distracting from the view of the beautiful backyard. An antique wooden workbench Laurie found at auction takes centre stage as a kitchen island in the mostly white kitchen. “Because the living space is all open concept, I wanted something leggy and not bulky,” she explains. Plus, it’s a conversation piece. “Everyone talks about it when they first visit.”
In the dining room, Laurie combined iconic black bentwood dining chairs with white moulded plastic ones to achieve a classic, casual and chic mix.
The white plastic chairs in the kitchen compliment the many white and black accents in the home and add brightness to the dining table.
Black accents ground the all-white living room, adding interest and personality. “Because there’s so much white and light, I didn’t want everything to float away,” says Laurie.
Taupe velvet drapes add polish to the expansive living room windows, but they’re rarely pulled closed, allowing the sun to shine in.
Since homeowners Laurie and Randy Phillips designed and built this Craftsman-style house themselves the grey cedar shake shingles, crisp white trim and transom windows are synonymous with its look. The back door leads right into the kitchen, which is super convenient when the couple wants to barbecue meals.
Shapely outdoor lounge chairs create an inviting seating area against a cedar hedge in the backyard. “As soon as the weather gets nice, we’re out here or on the front porch,” says Laurie.
Tumbled stone pavers, which Randy installed himself, lead from the front of the house to the shingled garage in the backyard.
Image: Stacey Brandford / Styling: Morgan Lindsay
Designer Maggie Burns revises the layout and lightens the palette of her rowhouse to make it feel remarkably roomier.
People love to complain about stairs. "My knees are shot – let's move to a bungalow," they grouse. But not Maggie Burns. I longed for stairs and a lawn," says the energetic 28-year-old designer and Toronto native. The sentiment is completely understandable when you consider she was living in one of those New York City apartments that are so cramped, you practically need a folding toothbrush.
That was 2015, and Maggie had just completed a one-year degree at the esteemed Parsons School of Design and was moving back to Toronto – all while simultaneously launching her own design firm, Maggie Richmond Design. One of the newly minted graduate’s earliest clients? Herself.
She had just purchased a charming century rowhouse in the hip Trinity-Bellwoods neighbourhood near Nadège, a French bakery and a favourite haunt (this girl has her priorities straight). “When I first saw the house, I fell in love with its location and its potential,” says Maggie. “But there was a lot of work to do! The home’s layout didn’t lend itself well to its narrowness.”
At only 10 feet wide and just shy of 1,200 square feet, the two-storey house was palatial by New York standards, but small if Maggie wanted to stretch out and entertain friends. Just the same, it had good bones – and, best of all, the stairs she so desired. The only problem was their location. “They were encased in drywall, so they looked heavy, and they were in the middle of the main floor, taking up almost a third of the space,” she recalls.
Plus, the stairs divided the dining and living rooms into two tiny boxes. So Maggie embarked on a six-month renovation to create a breezy open-concept space. She brightened the home and made it feel spacious with crisp white walls (in place of busy textured wallpaper) and light grey engineered wood floors (replacing dark cork).
In an ambitious effort that ended up costing nearly half her budget, Maggie tore down the staircase and replaced it with a stylishly streamlined version installed at the side of the living room. “The dramatic floating stairs became the focal point,” she says. The new steps also connect to the finished basement – previously a rental apartment that could only be accessed from an outside door.
To accommodate the change, Maggie also reconfigured the second floor, removing a third bedroom and inadvertently exposing a skylight over the stairs. "I've been told it's not a good idea in terms of resale to remove a bedroom, but I had to make way for the stairs," she says. Today, the skylight floods the main floor with light and, together with pale new floors, lends the illusion of more space, making this home an even further cry from her old cramped NYC quarters.
Though small and located at the front door, the living room feels open and airy because of the ultra-edited furniture selection. A low-slung armless sofa, portable wooden side chairs and a small angular side table keep things uncluttered and ease traffic flow.
The galley kitchen was in great shape when Maggie bought the house, so she left it intact. It came with high-end appliances and pretty crystal knobs on the doors. “I kept the original subway tile that runs along the walls, and added pendants [not shown] and pot lights for additional lighting,” she says.
Though it cost 40 percent of Maggie’s overall budget, relocating the staircase made a 100 percent improvement to her home’s layout.
Maggie nearly replaced the dark-hued front door, but decided to keep it after seeing how charming it looked in the space. Her dad created a stained glass window for the transom. “Its copper trim matches elements throughout the main floor,” she says.
A graphic punch of black in the quartet of retro Tulip chairs is emphasized by the splashy artwork. The mirror bounces light around the space and picks up the sheen in the soft grey floors.
A combined washer-dryer in the galley kitchen makes doing a quick load of laundry super convenient.
Relaxation reigns in the subdued bedroom, where a quilt and watery-hued toss cushions suggest a catnap. A glass lamp and monochromatic artwork keep the visual clutter at bay.
Maggie pulled together a light-filled office nook just outside her bedroom. The glossy streamlined desk, slatted rubber chair and casually leaning artwork create an understated vignette. The desk also serves as an extra drop-off spot for her laptop in the evenings – a smart reminder to maintain serene sleeping quarters and keep work separate.
A floating vanity and clean-lined mirror show off the Carrara marble floor and shower wall in the master bath. “Because I don’t have a lot of space – roughly 41 square feet – I had to be careful about the scale of each component,” says Maggie. The pared-back elements lend a serene quality. “It’s my favourite spot in the house,” she adds.
Despite all her hard work, Maggie recently sold her belove rowhouse to move in with her fiancé. And just in case you're curious, the resale value wasn't affected by the removal of a bedroom. To bring even more appeal to the home for the sale (which happened to coincide with our photo shoot), Maggie hired design firm Modern Staging Spaces to help her accessorize . Her house sold in a flash. With style like this, how could it not?
Sentri All-In-One Home Monitoring
These smart home security gadgets will help keep both you and your home safe.
The Ring Doorbell means you can always see who’s at your door, even when you’re not home. Once installed, simply download the app and pair with your doorbell. When anyone rings, your smartphone will notify you that there’s someone at your door. You can see them on the wide-angle HD video as well as speak to them. You can also adjust the settings so that you’ll even get a notification when there’s motion around your door, even if someone hasn’t rung the bell! Ring Doorbell, ring.com, $199.
Go keyless! The Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt means you’ll never need to open your door with a key again. Instead, program a secret code that only you and your family members know to lock and unlock the door easily and safely. You can also program alternate codes for other people; for instance, you could let the dog walker enter and then disable their code once they leave. The Schlage Connect features memory for up to 30 users. Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt, Schlage, starting at $183.
This small, unobtrusive camera can provide you with so much peace of mind. Once it’s set up, simply launch the corresponding app on your smartphone or tablet and you can see inside your home with live, crystal clear HD video. It’s perfect for checking in on your kids or keeping an eye on the pets. Belkin NetCam HD+ Wi-Fi Camera with Glass Lens and Night Vision, Belkin, $129.99.
Have you ever spent an entire day away from the house worried about whether or not you left the iron on? It’s a pretty bad feeling. But if you can’t remember if you closed the garage door as you hurried out of the house on your way to work, we can help. The MyQ Garage will allow you to control your garage door from anywhere in the world! Once installed, download the free app so that you can open and close your garage with just a swipe of your finger. MyQ Garage, Chamberlain, $129.99.
Like other home security cameras, Canary offers you the ability to record and view live video inside your home. Using the Canary app, you can stay connected to your home with your smartphone, no matter where in the world you are. Plus, it goes one step further by connecting you with police if needed or sounding an alarm in your home to scare off intruders. The device also allows you to monitor the health of your home: air quality, temperature and humidity. Home Security System, Canary, $199.
We know that looks aren’t everything but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention how sleek the Sentri All-in-One Home Monitoring system looks. At first blush, it looks like a simple display for the time and weather. But upon closer inspection, you’ll find that this handy little gadget will fast become the security hub of your home. It’s got a 120-degree wide-angle HD camera, night vision, motion detection, a thermometer, humidity sensor and air quality monitor. Best of all, it can also control other smart devices in your home like the Nest Thermostat, Philip Hue and Belkin WeMo. Sentri All-in-One Home Monitoring, Amazon, $249.