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When you are in the mood to dream about updating or renovating your cottage or summer home, chances are you will find no shortage of inspiration. From Pinterest to glossy design magazines to HGTV and home shows, there is a practically endless supply of beautiful images to spark your imagination. However, while you may see something appealing that captures your interest, it won’t necessarily translate into practical living. But in the design industry, function should always follow form.

Tailored To Fit


That’s why, in building what they have called the New Mission Cottage (on the site of the original Mission Cottage, constructed over a century ago as a summer retreat for Baptist missionaries by Edith and W.J. Stephens, the original founder of Stephens Bay), owner and designer Karina Hunter and builder Steve Jackson gave some serious thought to what would make their cottage work for families.

Karina, owner of Summer House Interiors in Gravenhurst, loves to cook and entertain, and that meant figuring out how to comfortably accommodate as many as 40-plus guests in the cottage without it feeling cavernous and empty when only Karina and Steve were home.

A second consideration was designing multiple and separate entertainment spaces that would suit the various interests of their multigenerational family. There had to be plenty of room for the younger family members to enjoy time with their friends (which can get rowdy!), while at the same time providing grandparents a comfortable and peaceful place to relax while still being able to observe the action. And not to be overlooked was the family’s treasured Weimaraner, Samson, who has become very accustomed to his Muskoka lifestyle (not to mention his furry cousins in their extended circle of family and friends).

And just like all Muskoka homeowners, Karina and Steve wanted to make sure the cottage worked in harmony with its beautiful setting—optimizing, and not competing with, the abundant natural gifts of the property, including plentiful wildlife, a meandering stream, and fresh lake breezes.

A Place For Everyone


Fortunately, all of this forethought bore marvellous results.

The starting point for the design came from an unexpected purchase—a matte black La Cornue range. The La Cornue range ended up driving the design to lean towards French Chateau elegance modified by an unmistakably Muskoka touch for authenticity and functionality. The cottage walls and trim are all painted Benjamin Moore Simply White—a tried-and-true favourite of Karina’s for years—serving the dual purpose of generating fluidity from room to room, and creating a blank canvas against which textures of the furnishings and décor are fully expressed. The many large windows throughout the cottage are also framed in white, focusing the attention on the view outdoors.

For entertaining, Karina and Steve designed a party room large enough to accommodate visits from their grown children and their many friends. Located on the opposite end of the cottage from the master bedroom, it is (understandably) the most popular room in the home, with extra beds for overflow guests, its own separate entryway, and a party deck with a view of the lake. The deck also connects to the second floor of the main cottage, making for great traffic flow.

A comfy chair in the living room provides a quiet place to read or sit by the fire on chilly evenings, and to enjoy long views of the lake through tall windows stretching up to a vaulted ceiling. This spot provides a good vantage point for older family members to view the comings and goings of the younger generation, keeping them in the loop and out of the fray.

Throughout the cottage, salvaged pieces and reclaimed wood quietly contribute to a spirit of warm nostalgia in the décor and testify to Karina and Steve’s touch for design and love of history. Salvaged arched carriage house doors with their original locks attached were a prized find on one of many backroad daytrips. Hung in the dining room, they slide back to reveal an enclosed Muskoka sunroom fitted with windows that slide open and can be removed entirely to allow for a refreshing cross breeze.

The two-storey limestone fireplace in the living room was chosen as a deliberate alternative to granite. Together with an oversize reproduction antique woodand-wire chandelier, it evokes the charms of an old chateau, offset by a locally salvaged mantel and a pair of reclaimed corbels.

Flooding the entire cottage with golden light from late afternoon to evening, 10-foot sliding doors in the master bedroom, kitchen, and dining areas open to the lake with a due-west exposure. In fact, all the bedrooms have windows that open onto either the stream or the lake so that those inside can hear the sounds of moving water.

A Common Thread


Over the years, Karina and Steve have built many houses, but the New Mission Cottage has given them a heightened appreciation for the importance of a well-thought-out design and the value of paying attention to details both large and small. Since their move to Muskoka six years ago, Karina opened the retail/design business, Summer House Interiors, with her daughter, Shalen, on
Muskoka Wharf in Gravenhurst. Together with Steve’s extensive contracting and construction background, they have collaborated to design and build New Mission Cottage to serve the family that lives there and its active lifestyle. From floors to furniture, everything is chosen to be able to withstand the wear-and-tear one expects from a busy family—including kids, dogs, and friends—enjoying life fully.

All the more remarkable, then, that nothing is sacrificed in the way of style. In keeping with the French Chateau-meets-traditional-Muskoka inspiration, Karina opted for subtler décor details over splashier touches. She calls her style “luxe-rustic.” Viewing lighting as “jewellery for your home” and a place where you can add some glamour, she patiently sourced unique fixtures for every room. Depth and warmth is added through layering of earthy textures from stone to hides to rope, and through natural fabrics such as linen and wool in predominantly monochromatic tones. Just to keep things from being too predictable, a whimsical touch is evident in everything from framed artwork to Sam-inspired Weimaraner cushion covers. In fact, after a prolonged search for the perfect grey/black for the cottage exterior, she decided to have the paint colour-matched to Sammy.

Rather than sticking rigidly to a preconceived design, she looked for pieces that spoke to her. As Karina puts it, “When you buy what you love, the pieces will always work together because whether or not you even realize it at the time, there’s always a common thread.”

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