He may be based in Toronto, but for television producer and entrepreneur Kevin Gillis, the Ottawa Valley is where his heart resides. His family has owned property in the area for generations, and Gillis and his wife, musician Sally Gillis, have enjoyed this particular slice of lakeside paradise since 1978. For years, the family of four (the Gillises’ children are now adults) celebrated summers in a modest 1960s-era cottage, but they eventually decided the time had come to build a more comfortable retreat — one that could be visited in all four seasons and that would be a welcoming space in which to host regular get-togethers with their many musician friends.
Enter Shelley Kirsch of Toronto-based Shelley Kirsch Interior Design & Decoration, who collaborated closely with the couple throughout the complex building process to make sure their vision was realized. The Gillises pictured a cottage that would emerge from the landscape, mimicking the stark rocky outcroppings that make up the geology of the area. They wanted angles — lots of them — and a colour palette that celebrated the greys of the local stone but also the blues of the lake and the reds of the leaves in the fall. Kirsch ran with that dream, helping to select exterior and interior finishes that honour the site.
The resolutely grey hues of the exterior walls give way to a cozier palette inside. Here, Kirsch made the connection to the outside through floor-to-ceiling stone in the entrance and concrete floors but then warmed things up with bright oriental carpets, inviting couches, and pops of colour on minor walls. “Kevin and Sally didn’t want this to be a city house in the country,” she explains. “The saturated colours on some walls, the wood window frames, the pine tongue-and-groove ceiling in the master bedroom — these details make the cottage in sync with its surroundings.”
Still, for all the thinking that preceded its construction, the Gillises were concerned that though their all-new cottage would be more comfortable, the so important sense of shared history would be lacking. After all, they were hardly going to reinstate the much-loved furnishings from the original cottage. Kirsch’s solution was both thoughtful and elegant. “I toured their city home with them, and we did an inventory of sorts, choosing artworks and furniture with history and moving them to the cottage.” Those pieces included a number of paintings, which she had reframed to match the more cottagey decor, as well as antique wardrobes and chairs that found new lives in the dining room and master bedroom. The Gillises also set about creating new family heirlooms — an eye-catching floating bookshelf in the family room was custom-designed for the space.
Today, the cottage is busy year-round, a haven perfectly suited for an imaginative family looking to both unwind and create. From the back door, a picturesque path winds its way to the lake, framed by rocky outcroppings and mature trees. “Many people would have cut down trees to open up the view to the lake,” Kirsch explains, “but Kevin was very clear about keeping things
natural.” The effect is magical.