As the light passes through this shorefront cottage, it almost seems to ripple. Sit back, gaze out, and give in to the sensation that you’re floating on a houseboat, albeit one that hovers just above the clear waters of the lake.
This modern hideaway in Val-des-Monts, with its carefully constructed views, is in stark contrast to the cramped two-bedroom A-frame that once sat atop the stone-and-concrete platform. For over 35 years, the Shields family worked hard to keep the old building standing, repairing it in a piecemeal fashion. But as the family grew, something had to give. Jennifer Shields, one of four grown children, advocated for change. “We loved the boathouse and had the most wonderful and happy memories there, but we had outgrown it,” she explains.
Shields, who now makes her home in London, England, spent a few years collecting design ideas but felt as if she was in limbo until, quite unexpectedly, the two key pieces of the design puzzle fell into place in the summer of 2016.
For two years, she had been corresponding with family friend Steve Barkhouse of Amsted Design-Build, who had helped her navigate permits and building regulations. But she found herself stuck on the details. Where, exactly, did she want the windows to go to emphasize the key views? What finishings would capture the modern-cabin ambience she craved? When she mentioned to Barkhouse that her online research had led to the discovery of a number of rustic-modern buildings by Ottawa architect Rick Shean, he was quick to set up an introduction. “Rick showed up, toured the site, and presented a sketch in less than 24 hours. He nailed it — he immediately understood the refined design that I imagined.”
Building on the original footprint of the boathouse, the new cottage was framed in the winter of 2016–2017 and came together over the summer of 2017. A light palette of finishings makes the main room feel luminous even on the cloudiest of days. When she and her husband, John, are alone, Shields says, the space feels luxurious, “like we’re at a boutique hotel.”
But when the extended family gathers, it comes alive without feeling crowded. “There might be people playing cards or doing a puzzle on the table, kids playing with Lego on the window seats, and someone else reading on the sofa — it’s great to have a space where we don’t feel on top of each other.” And, no surprise, the generous main-floor balcony has become a favourite spot for cocktail hour.
Though the original cabin is missed, the entire family has fully embraced the new one. “They absolutely love this place. Because we have so many happy memories from the original cottage, we don’t play favourites. Both are so special. We simply say that this one is ‘different, not better.’ ”