Every once in a while, great things are accomplished through serendipity. This is one of those times. A few years ago, Mike Mulvagh was in a bind. Carpenter ants had taken their toll on his rustic family cottage in the Gatineau Hills, and the white clapboard structure was slowly sinking into the ground. Mulvagh knew the rickety cottage needed replacing sooner rather than later, but he was conflicted. Built in the 1940s on remote Lac Mecham, this was his childhood haunt, and he was resolute that its replacement must respect what came before.
That’s when Mulvagh began to search for an architect who would share his and his partner Chip Crosby’s love of modernism while understanding the need to retain the soul of the original cottage. It seemed like destiny, then, when he called Paul Kariouk and immediately felt a kinship with the owner of Kariouk Associates. Though originally from Ottawa, Mulvagh had chosen to make a life in New York City. Kariouk had done the opposite, leaving Manhattan to establish a career in Ottawa. They couldn’t believe it when they discovered that Mulvagh and Crosby’s New York apartment and Kariouk’s pied-à-terre were literally across the street from each other. “We are all dog lovers too,” says Kariouk with a laugh. “That sealed it. There were so many points of connection between us that it felt like this partnership was meant to be.”
In a nod to the past, Kariouk matched the footprint of the 1,000-square-foot original cottage and retained the side terrace, beloved for its views and breeziness. Mulvagh’s childhood getaway had also boasted windows along the front and sides; these Kariouk reimagined as floor-to-ceiling glass, creating truly spectacular views. Inside, a maze of rooms was replaced by an open-concept floor plan that allowed for two bedrooms while emphasizing the open kitchen, living room, and dining room with its modern furnishings and cozy fireplace.
And yet for all the beauty of the finished cottage, Kariouk is most enthusiastic about how the project provided him the opportunity to try out a completely new construction method. The floors, walls, and ceiling were made from prefabricated panels, some as large as 60 feet by 10 feet, which the contractor assembled on-site in just two days. Kariouk designed a computer rendering of each cross-laminated panel, which was then fabricated in northern Quebec. “It snaps together like Lego — total precision,” he explains. “There’s no painting, no drywall. There’s also no room for error, so everything had to be exactly right.” The main living area sits above a raised foundation, the “basement” providing handy storage space for wood, canoes, and all the other gear that goes with having a summer home.
When Mulvagh and Crosby made their first journey to see the newly framed cottage, Kariouk remembers all three of them breathing a sigh of relief. “This is a cottage for the rest of their lives, so it was great to exhale and say, ‘We got this exactly right.’” It’s a getaway that Mulvagh’s mother can also enjoy, connected to the place she knew and loved for so many decades but now infinitely more comfortable.