Cottage Country: Great Canadian Cottages

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Cottage Country: Great Canadian Cottages

Designers and TV hosts Colin and Justin discuss their new show, which airs, this fall, on Cottage Life

By Colin McAllister & Justin Ryan • Photography By Sandy Mackay

Twenty-four vacation retreats. Twenty-four sets of homeowners. And twenty-four entirely different stories. Aye, welcome to Great Canadian Cottages, our all-new, eight-part docu-series that charts the way in which those seeking escape from fast-spinning worlds have created thoroughly inspiring bolt holes.

Okay, so our typical TV oeuvre sees us navigate the makeover genre in style-negative domiciles where, with wild ambition, tight budgets and an unstintingly loyal team, we conjure brand new interiors, tailor-matched to the expectation of each TV client. And hey: we love that genre. We’ve simply sidestepped it, for a moment, to appraise the transformative abilities of others.

Indeed, during our exciting adventure, not one moment of valuable, episodic air time is consumed by jeopardy, messy builds or lock off shots depicting rooms being born or disasters unraveling. Every scene, in fact, literally froths with designer afterglow, and a veritable ooze of top tips and design counsel enticed from each proud homeowner.


So what can you expect? Well, for starters, three glossy nests per episode, with enough property porn to send Instagram into meltdown. One such dream abode is the live/work space of Canadian photographer Larry Williams. Perched dramatically over Stoney Lake in Peterborough, and built almost entirely from glass, it’s a spectacle of modernity that’s attached, stealth-like, to a stunning outcropping of heavily veined granite.

Then there’s a fairytale cottage in Madoc, fashioned from straw bales, mud and sweat equity. Designed and built by visionary Chris Magwood for his doting mom Sandy (with the hands-on assistance of friends, family and neighbours) its construction was preempted by only a few simple prerequisites: the new house should be super cosy, manageably sized and, erm, devoid of right angles.


The resultant fantasy is testament to Chris’s construction prowess and his ability to observe a brief. The softly undulating mud-clad terracotta and cream-painted walls (which undulate across the aforementioned straw bale framework) are sublimely curved—and precisely devoid of corners. In the absence of perpendicular constraints, they create a somewhat cave-like esthetic, the soothing nature of which delivers a sense of calm decompression.


Later in the series, we visit an architect who shipped building materials by helicopter (as you do) to his water access Georgian Bay from the ground up cottage. And we call by a stunning modern-rustic respite, a monolithic abode built within the walls of an old whisky cooperage. Oh, and the 8-by-10-foot tiny log cabin home of Mara. Ensconced, happily, in her doll-sized residence, life changed suddenly when Mara won the 649 Lottery. Keen for a little more space, but determined not to build a faceless McMansion, she hired an architect to build a lavish home around her original Lilliputian cabin. Yup, her tiny wood shack now sits inside the new structure. Literally. Think Hansel and Gretel on steroids. It’s magical. Follow our trail of televisual breadcrumbs when the episode airs.

Another escape that grabbed our attention was that of Scottish builder Scott Young and his lovely wife Lynn. Fashioned to echo the Scottish longhouse style (where, during ancient times, animals lived at one side with humans at the other), the rectilinear fantasy is clad in dramatic, jet-toned siding and set under a slick, steel roof. Internally, the longhouse boasts crisp white-painted drywall, stunning wood floors, a contemporary chef’s kitchen and a host of vibrant colour pops sequenced via accent walls and jaunty upholstery.


Scott’s vision, sitting as it does, roadside, in beautiful Clarksburg, is literally a traffic stopper. The polar opposite of the area’s vernacular (red-brick century homes and quaint tiled roof farmhouses), it has quickly become the stuff of folklore: an average day sees curious onlookers hovering, snapping selfies and asking questions, none of which are a problem for Scott.

“In such stark contrast to neighbouring homes, our place was always destined to be of interest to passersby, so we’re always happy to inform.

“Building this house has delivered a tremendous sense of satisfaction and achievement,” explains Scott. “My son, Ben, a carpenter, is planning a similar place and it’s going to be fun recreating elements of this property with him. We’re really looking forward to getting started.”

It’s fair to report that filming our new show afforded an amazing opportunity to navigate some of North America’s most beautiful landscape. Each stop on our incredible journey revealed the lengths to which builders, architects and visionaries will go to create singular, fascinating homes. But as much as they’re all different, there’s a common denominator that threads them together: whether humble or overt, contemporary or traditional, each fascinating prospect is a great Canadian cottage.*

Great Canadian Cottages airs, weekly, from 18th October on Cottage Life. Check TV listings for precise timings.



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