The owners of the Scarcliffe Cottage first engaged Altius to help them acquire a Muskoka property on which they could build. After an exhaustive search, the team focused in on an unusual property on the north side of Lake Muskoka.
The property was unusual because the existing cottage was built only a few feet away from the water’s edge and had an attached dry boathouse cantilevered out over the lake, equipped with a marine railway and an expansive dock that covered the majority of the shoreline. The cottage itself was a collection of multiple additions, built and renovated several times over what was likely, an original cottage from the early 1900s.
Stained light grey with excessive amounts of white trim, the cottage dominated the shoreline of what was a relatively small lot with only 139’ of frontage and 0.7 acres of land. However, the cottage was sited on a small blunt point which provided privacy from the neighbours on both sides and spectacular southward views straight down Lake Muskoka.
Analysis of the existing structure showed that the cottage was built in no less than five stages. Some parts were winterized, others not, with deteriorating foundations, plumbing, electrical and mechanical, spanning the best part of half a century. While the owners always intended to build, this confirmed that there was nothing worth saving.
Altius then changed their focus and began working very closely with the Planning Staff at the Township of Muskoka Lake. Altius prides itself on its proactive approach to working with Building and Planning Departments throughout Southern Ontario and this project was particularly difficult.
The existing cottage pre-dated Muskoka Zoning By-Laws and was considered legal-non-conforming. Like many such cottages at the time, the original cottage was built and positioned in the optimal location, which in this instance, was at the foot of a very steep slope that rises to the rear of the property. While it is unusual to have a cottage this close to the water, the topography of the lot didn’t allow any other spot for it. Altius and the Planning Staff agreed that the best way to rebuild the cottage was to limit it as much as possible to the original footprint and to minimize the visual impact on the shoreline as much as possible.
The Architects at Altius were tasked with the challenge of creating a modern cottage within the dimensional envelope of the existing cottage, while simultaneously diminishing the presence of what would be a large five-bedroom cottage on the waterfront, subject to a Zoning Amendment approval.
The design team started with the volumetric massing of the cottage, projecting the first story living space forward and stepping the two-storey volume containing the bedrooms up the hill. This creates an interesting split-level plan with four levels of flat roofs cascading down the hillside, toward the water.
Like all of Altius’ waterfront projects, the design team strived to have the dominant elevations settle quietly into the surrounding landscape. This cottage was built on terraced foundations clad in granite that appear to grow out of the natural shoreline. Two types of siding were used, locally sourced Shou Sugi Ban burnt wood siding and a wine-red phenolic panel. The combination of grey granite, carbon black siding, and deep burgundy, which subtly compliments the green pines, makes the cottage the least visually prominent on the shoreline, despite having the most prominent siting. From a distance, it camouflages itself into the shoreline.
The program of the cottage is centred on a two-storey open hallway that allows for a view through the cottage to the lake. The main floor stretches across the water front containing the living room, kitchen and dining room that opens onto a screen porch. A generous outdoor deck provides for al fresco dining with a built-in BBQ and motorized awning.
The boathouse design also required a novel approach. The Architect’s wanted the boathouse to similarly rise up out of the water to compliment the massing of the cottage. This was achieved with a sloping roofline that is a mere nine feet high at the southern end, rising up as it approaches the shore, enough to accommodate a boat lift and a ski tower. The boat slip is an unusual drive-through design with a pedestrian bridge linking the main dock to the shoreline. The enclosed volume of the boat house is a convenient storage spot for waterfront sports gear including paddle boards and kayaks. Moving the boat slip to the rear ensures that the front dock is left exclusively for entertaining.
For the interiors, materials move from outside to in, providing a visual continuity that grounds the cottage to the site. The burnt black siding and granite seamlessly flow into the cottage and are joined by raw Douglas fir and locally sourced stained white pine siding… on the interior, where it should be.
The central hallway divides the primary suite to the east from the kids and guest bedrooms on the west side. The primary enjoys a generous ensuite bathroom and a private balcony with every bedroom having unparalleled lake views.
Separated by an open breezeway and linked to the upper floor with a narrow staircase is a main floor bunk room, equipped with custom bunkbeds and a dedicated entertaining space. This allows the teenagers to be teenagers without disturbing the adults while simultaneously allowing them to come and go without having to circulate through the main hallway.
Used year-round and featuring an advanced mechanical system prepped for a solar array, the Scarcliffe Cottage finds the perfect balance between a cottage and a potential year-round residence. A site that at first posed great constraints on the Architects instead presented a unique opportunity.