This Shou Sugi Ban Cottage Blends In With its Lakeside Surroundings
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This Shou Sugi Ban Cottage Blends In With its Lakeside Surroundings

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By Anna Squier
Bigger isn’t always better—this lakeside cottage has a low-lying form that disappears into the surrounding landscape.

Since the early 1860s, Ontario’s Muskoka region has been a popular summer spot where city-dwelling Ontarians escape the chaos of urban life and embrace the region’s 16,000 lakes. However, the humble and unobtrusive structures that once dotted the landscape are now being replaced by large, oversize "McCottages" that threaten the area’s unique character.

With their Lake Joseph Cottage, VFA Architecture + Design strove to provide a contemporary alternative to these supersized cottages while respecting Muskoka’s unique landscape.

Located near the entry, the cottage’s breezeway frames a view to the lake beyond. The breezeway extends the use of outdoor space so that residents can enjoy the great outdoors even on rainy days.

The home’s three low-lying rooflines subtly emerge from the landscape.

Architect Vanessa Fong designed the cottage for her mother-in-law with respect for the site and a strong understanding of the family’s programmatic needs. The result is a year-round cottage that maximizes lake views, embraces solar orientation, and provides a variety of public and private spaces—both open and enclosed.

"The home provides a significant contribution to the current dialogue on how to design cottages which allow us to appreciate Canada’s unique wilderness without undermining the natural beauty we seek to enjoy," says Fong.

In the public spaces, large sliding glass doors provide a seamless connection for indoor/outdoor living. 

The living, dining, and cooking spaces are located in the central volume. The open concept provides plenty of space for family gatherings and entertaining. A walkway doubles as bench seating for the large dining table. 

On approach, the cottage emerges from the landscape as three low-slung volumes unified by expressive roofs with generous overhangs. Each of the three volumes responds to unique spatial and functional needs.

The lower two rooflines define the all-season, enclosed portion of the cottage. The lowest volume houses the most private areas, including the bedrooms. The middle houses the common living areas, with a lakeside facade that provides a seamless connection between the interior and the exterior deck. 

Large openings frame views of the tree line and the lake beyond. The heart of the living room is a stone tile fireplace, which references an element found in traditional cottages.

The simple kitchen provides unobstructed views of the lake while cooking. Clerestory windows provide ample diffused light while encouraging cross ventilation.

The third space has the highest roofline of all, and it holds the most public areas of the house: a covered deck and a screened-in patio. These two generous spaces enable outdoor living while providing shelter from the elements.

The large, covered deck increases the amount of livable space while providing views of the lake and the hillside terrain.

Large overhangs shelter the home from the summer sun, while allowing daylight to warm the interiors in the winter.

Inspired by the history of the site and the context of the landscape, Fong selected Shou Sugi Ban charred cedar for the facade. Whitewashed pine is also used extensively, in a contemporary take on the wood paneling often found in traditional cottages. The lighter wood creates bright and airy interiors—in contrast to the dark and heavy interiors of traditional cottages.

The large overhangs provide year-round comfort while adding a strong architectural element to the simple massing.

The Shou Sugi Ban facade is weather resistant and maintenance free. Ironically, the treatment is a bit of an ode to the site, which once held a cottage that burned down.

The connection to the landscape resonates not only through the views, but also through passive building strategies that minimize the cottage’s environmental impact. These features—including cross ventilation, shading overhangs, radiant heated floors, and a maintenance-free facade—increase comfort while minimizing the need for mechanical systems.

The light and bright interior spaces are clad in whitewashed pine.

The client specifically requested that the architects not use drywall anywhere—thus whitewashed pine serves as the project’s primary material.

Embracing the stunning lake views, the contemporary cottage respects the region’s natural character with a simple architectural form that nestles into the wooded terrain with a series of spaces geared towards enjoying Lake Joseph all seasons of the year.

The large overhangs add drama to the cottage’s simple form with far-reaching timber-clad planes. 

A balance of open and enclosed, public and private, the cottage embraces all seasons of the year with a variety of spaces that meet programmatic needs. 

Ontario’s Muskoka region has a rich history of recreational architecture that spans over 100 years.

The home sits lightly upon its heavily wooded site.

The Lake Joseph Cottage sits amidst historic single-story Victorians and new three- to four-story McCottages. 

Related Reading:

A Dreamy Lakeside Cottage Embodies the Spirit of Simple Living 

This Lakeside Family Home in Canada Celebrates the Life Aquatic

9 Marvelous Waterfront Homes

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: VFA Architecture + Design

Builder/General Contractor: Mazenga Building Group

Structural Engineer: Blackwell

Landscape Design: R.E. Landscaping

Lighting Design: Object Interface

Interior Design: VFA Architecture + Design

Cabinetry Design / Installation: Thomas James Cabinetry

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