It turns out paradise is just a six-hour drive from Toronto—at least that’s how Donna Creed and Oliver Girling see it. When the couple first visited friends on Lake Huron’s Manitoulin Island 15 years ago, they stumbled upon dramatic water views, spectacular stars against a dark sky, and peace and serenity among a forest of cedars. Immediately, it felt like something special; it felt like home away from home.
Soon after that visit, they snapped up a property of their own and spent the following years escaping the city to camp out on the land. Later, they upgraded to bunkies to make stays a little cozier. But with retirement drawing near, the couple, both teachers and avid painters, started to wonder if it was time to upgrade their island accommodations. They weren’t asking for much: "We just thought having a place to cook indoors and running water might be nice," laughs Oliver.
Solares Architecture, a Toronto-based firm reputed for their eco-conscious designs, helped them dream a bit bigger: The Manitoulin property now boasts a gorgeous 1,500-square-foot beachfront cabin that blends with the wilderness.
Since the remote island didn’t have infrastructure to provide gas or electricity, going off-grid was a more a necessity than a choice. But the team at Solares, which specializes in solving for arrangements like these, had plenty of tricks up its sleeve.
Solar panels collect energy daily for the beachfront home, and backup power is provided by a propane generator and batteries. "It’s tough to fully survive on solar in Canada," explains supervising architect Christine Lolley. "When people say off-grid, they really mean off the hydro grid. You’re pretty much always on the fossil-fuel grid in this country." An airtight envelope and high-quality insulation work double time to make sure no energy goes to waste. "It's kind of like the equivalent of buying a really really nice big parka," says Lolley, "but also making sure you zip it up."
As painters, allowing natural light to pour into the space was critical for Donna and Oliver. High-efficiency windows provide plenty of daylight, and views of the stars at night. "We just follow the light all day," says Donna. "You actually notice the shifting of the solar system through the year."
By implementing clerestory windows in the living room, the area below on the tall walls could be used for hanging the couple’s completed pieces. "We bought a scaffold to put artwork up," says Oliver.
Shop the Look
With so much sunlight coming through the southwest-facing windows during the summer months, the home can get a little toasty. To escape the heat, lead architect Elyse Snyder designed a huge porch facing the lake to create a shady, breezy space. "You’re either physically outside on the ground, or you’re physically outside on one of the porches, or you’re inside and you’re looking out," says Lolley. For the couple, paradise is there at every turn.
Builder/General Contractor: Quantum Builders
Structural Engineer: Moses Structural Engineers
Mechanical Design & Energy Modeling: ReNu Building Science
Surveyor: Tulloch Engineering
Solar PV Design: Steve Pinkney
Electric Solar PV Installation: Steve Pinkney Electric & Quantum Builders
Septic Design & Installation: Mike Varey & Son Excavating
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