Fishing, a mainstay of Nova Scotia’s economy, continuously shapes the cultural life of this Eastern Canadian province. Mirror Point Cottage, located on a lake near Annapolis Royal in the western part of Nova Scotia, gracefully captures that heritage through a contemporary lens. Designed in 2014 by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, the Halifax firm with a Denver outpost, it recently won a 2019 AIA Housing Award.
For most of the year, the owners of the 1,700-square-foot maritime retreat reside outside of London. Come summer, the Canadian mother who grew up not too far away, her Dutch husband, and their young children hole up here, along with the mother’s parents who often reside on the property as well. Eventually, the three-generation home will become the couple’s retirement pad.
"This is the story of a local fisherman’s daughter who married a European minimalist," says Brian MacKay-Lyons, principal at the architecture firm. "They wanted something rustic and refined."
Clad in eastern cedar shingles and crowned with a standing-seam metal roof, Mirror Point’s form echoes that of a long, vintage fishing shed. "Shingles reflect the material culture of the place. They are perfect there," adds MacKay-Lyons, noting that even a large swath of Nova Scotia teenagers is familiar with the installation process.
Throughout the cottage there is an appealing interplay of relaxed and elegant elements. Fine cedar millwork, for instance, is juxtaposed with exposed gang-nail trusses. A more cost-effective alternative to steel, these trusses would typically be concealed; at Mirror Point, they become surprising focal points.
"A lot of it is basic. We melded the trusses together and spray painted them white," says MacKay-Lyons. "It was cheap as chips. We like the idea of using off-the-rack, conventional items to create things. We try to make buildings that are not all a conspicuous consumption of craftsmanship."
"This is the story of a local fisherman’s daughter who married a European minimalist."
—Brian MacKay-Lyons, architect
Democratic design aside, there is still no denying the house’s architectural triumphs. Raised by steel columns, it’s lifted off the ground, forming a gate that affords all those who enter a framed view of the lake. Beneath it is a sunken summer kitchen that maintains the sightlines of the water.
"The generational part of this is interesting. Granddad wore his knees out fishing, and we wanted him to be able to be out of the sun and the rain and on ground level, under the belly of the building, watching the grandkids on the beach," explains MacKay-Lyons. The outdoor kitchen, then, doubles as a purposeful hideaway for the grandfather.
Between the passive solar energy-maximizing siting, high thermal mass concrete floor, and hydronic radiant floor heating, Mirror Point Cottage is certainly sustainable. But it’s the dominating presence of the lake, especially when the 80-foot-long wall of sliding glass doors are open to elicit the feeling of a commodious porch, that truly accentuates the building’s relationship to nature.
"It has a regional sensibility. We think of the buildings here as lightweight," says MacKay-Lyons. "The idea is that this is ephemeral."
More by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects:
Builder/General Contractor: Scott Shearer Contracting
Structural Engineer: Campbell Comeau Engineering Limited
Get the Dwell Newsletter
Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.