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Island Retreat

Photography by Stacey Brandford

Posted on Apr 2, 2009

According to the calendar, spring is here (though it doesn't exactly feel like it). While the carefree days of flip-flops and patio weather seem a bit far off, the slightly warmer temperatures are a sure sign that the ice on our northern lakes will soon be gone and my favourite of all seasons, "cottage season," is on its way.
Island Retreat

In Canada we are blessed with an abundance of beautiful, remote, freshwater lakes carved from the Canadian Shield. There are many different interpretations of cottage living, and each one has its own charm. Whether it's a cabin in the woods or a grand estate, there is no singular definition of what makes a cottage. One element is constant, though ... a cottage is where we Canadians go to enjoy the all-too-brief magic of summer.

Starting this week, I'm sharing my own cottage experience. I grew up spending summers at my grandparents' cottages in the Kawartha Lakes area of Ontario. As a kid I spent my days exploring the lake by canoe or 9.9 horsepower "tin can," buying penny candy, swimming constantly and playing with my many cousins. It was heaven! As an adult I now spend my summers in the open water of Georgian Bay, thanks to my husband Alexander, who nabbed a tiny little island in the days before we became "us."

After almost 10 years, we decided to take the plunge and make some changes to our little island getaway and make it work for our expanding family and friends.

At six months pregnant, I had the crazy idea that we should turn our island reno into a TV series and proceeded to spend my third trimester zipping between a city reno (for my second season of Sarah's House) and our remote island (27 kilometres by boat from the mainland). Over the next six weeks, I'll be sharing my ideas on cottage style to get you in the mood for summer and dreaming of a cottage escape. Be a weather watcher

Island Retreat

Be A Weather Watcher

We're on an island with some amazing vistas and wanted to capture the best and worst of the weather that comes our way. In the wide-open water of Georgian Bay we get some pretty awesome storms with winds ranging up to 100 kilometres an hour! We'd always dreamed of having a ""storm room"" and this became the driving force of our expansion. In order to really be "in" the weather, you need lots of glass, so we opted for something that's more solarium in feel. With giant sliding doors and huge expanses of window, there's no escaping the marvels of Mother Nature. When choosing a site for your building, be sure to consider how you will experience the elements in both good weather and bad (after all, as your mom said, you should be outside playing in the good weather).

Get Inspired By Your Surroundings

Every colour palette and scheme I design has a jumping off point. When set in a natural environment, I defer to the landscape. Since we are enveloped by water and sky, I amassed a collection of blues that range from indigo to sky and everything in-between. To keep the overall feeling summery and fresh, I made sure the room had a healthy balance of light naturals to temper the rich blues (most of the upholstery is in durable linen and twill in light stone shades; all the fabrics are washable and as carefree as possible).Use accents to make your mark

Island Retreat

Use Accents To Make Your Mark

I'm a sucker for beautiful fabrics and patterns, but I prefer them in small doses. When I find a dynamite print, I tend to only buy a couple of yards instead of upholstering large pieces with it. I like an unstructured and casual look that blends a variety of textures, prints and colours. I'm not fussed about whether all the blues are the exact same shade - I want a little variety. I don't mind that one is wool, one is cotton and one is linen - as long as they are natural materials, it's all good to me! By limiting my use of bold blues to smaller accents and pillows, I was able to introduce 10 different patterns ranging from ikat to ticking stripes. A touch of floral here with a hint of stripe there infuses that cool, relaxed mood of easy cottage living.

Stash And Stow

If your plan is to enjoy the great outdoors, clean up and maintenance need to be a breeze. With a house full of little ones, I like to keep the toys easy to access and even easier to make disappear when playtime is done. Cottages are notoriously short on storage space so every piece of furniture I choose needs to have maximum efficiency. Our coffee table is a hand-me-down from my in-laws that I stripped and restained years ago. I considered replacing it for something new, but nothing quite measured up. What I love about this giant table (it's a whopping three feet by six feet) is that it sits high enough off the ground to allow me to slide three big woven baskets underneath that are chock-a-block full of books, board games and baby toys. The relaxed nature of cottage life means than snacks and drinks are often served in the living room, so having a large surface to spread items out on is far more useful than an ottoman.

Open And Shut

When considering your fenestration (a.k.a. window) needs, it's important to factor in furniture placement. While I was drawn to the idea of having multiple doors leading outside, I found it was very limiting to the amount of seating I could squeeze into my 16-by-16-foot space. If I'd had doors on all three sides, there would be no room for luxurious, deep, comfy seating, so I opted to put one giant pair of sliding doors on the south end and make the other two walls casement windows (which crank open wide and give the feeling of a screened porch on a hot day). While the windows are extra tall to capture the best view, I opted for a sill height of 26 inches so that the view from the outside looking in isn't cluttered with furniture sitting in front of panes of glass.

Be A Lounge Lizard

Lazy cottage days are meant for curling up with a good book, enjoying the sunrise with a cup of coffee or the sunset with a cool cocktail. Forget the stuffy rules of furniture arranging and do what makes sense for you and how you live. Since I wanted every seat in the living room to be oriented to the views outside, I paired one-arm chaises end to end as the ultimate relaxation spots. Like the favourite spot in any family room, the chaises are always the first seats occupied. While they may not normally be your first choice for a room designed with entertaining in mind, they do offer great flexibility and a comfy perch for many when you've got a crowd in the house.

Opt For Low Maintenance

I spent many summers as a teenager and young adult stripping, sanding, painting and repainting our old cottage. While I really don't mind painting, I'd far rather spend my precious few moments of downtime enjoying my surroundings than doing chores (and between opening and closing the cottage, the to-do list seems to grow but never quite get conquered). So when it came time to choose the materials for the exterior of the building, I wanted them to last. Prepainted Cape Cod siding (with a 15-year warranty) promises that my paint brush can stay in the shed where it belongs. Same goes for the windows (they came in a prepainted finish colour matched to my specification and are guaranteed for 10 years). By the time the exterior needs a facelift, my girls will be old enough to make the project a good old-fashioned family work party! In the meantime, we can enjoy the sun and take in the views from our new "storm room."

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