Our cottage in Tiny, Ontario (yes, that’s really what it’s called) is the first house we’ve ever owned. We weren’t planning to buy with any real intention when we found it, but I’ve always loved real estate and design, and so we were in the habit of looking from time to time mostly just for fun. When we visited the cottage for the first time, we went to the nearby beach afterwards and just felt so charmed by the whole experience. We could see the house’s potential and see ourselves spending time there. Matt and I knew we’d never be able to afford a first home in Toronto, where both of us grew up and where we rent an apartment now, because housing prices are through the roof. So, with the first time home buyers’ incentive and our little bit of savings, this seemed doable as a way for us to get into the market. We decided somewhat impulsively to put in an offer—it was a long shot and below asking—but we ended up getting it! We closed on the house in September of 2018 and immediately went into full-on, heavy duty reno mode for the next six months.
My partner Matt and our good friend Leon did all of the renovations on the house themselves, and I did all of the design and decorating. There’s probably not one inch of the whole house we didn’t touch in some way. Top to bottom, we transformed it from an outdated builder-basic 1970s bungalow to a special getaway full of unusual details and personal touches. And we did it all on a very tight budget, using thrifty alternatives and vintage/salvage elements throughout. I basically lived on Craigslist scouring for cool finds on a dime for months, rented a lot of Zip vans to go pick stuff up. Matt watched a lot of YouTube tutorials. And there were a lot of calls to my parents, the owners and founders of Foxfire Mountain House, for advice when we’d get in a pinch.
I love how much the cottage really feels like us now. We absolutely love being there—from drinking a coffee on the deck in the morning and watching the bunnies in the yard to putting a record on and having a glass of wine by the fire at night. It always feels peaceful, creative, and inspiring to spend time there.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: Vintage rough luxe, inspired by nature. I always like to say our place is “a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll.”
Inspiration: Natural materials and textures. Global style. Pieces with history.
Favorite Element: I really love how many different, distinct spaces we’ve created to enjoy and explore within a fairly small house. It makes it feel much larger and much more functional. From the breakfast nook to the dining room table to the office to the two seating areas in the living room to the deck outside, there are so many different places to spend time in different ways.
Biggest Challenge: When we bought the house, the only entry to our very long and narrow living room was via a small, awkward single door from the dining room at the very far side of the space. It made no sense. And to make matters worse, the door didn’t even open all the way because it hit against the tile of the fireplace hearth! So, we knew that had to change.
We opened up the side wall of the dining room into what was formerly a teeny tiny “bedroom” (a soulless white drywall box barely big enough for a twin bed), turned that space into an office with tons of character, and created a more natural and comfortably sized pass-through from there into the living room. We kept the pre-existing door into the living room, painted it black, and framed in another matching one beside it in the corner of the dining room/office as a window. I love the look of steel-framed interior window walls, but they are way out of reach, so this was my budget-friendly way of evoking a bit of that feeling. We just used two basic Home Depot doors, but framed in, painted, and paired; I love the way they look in the space. Now, that corner allows more light to pass through both spaces, adds some architectural interest, and gives you a sense of the flow of the house from the time you enter in a way that feels welcoming and open.
Proudest DIY: One of my favorite parts of the house is the breakfast nook we built in the kitchen. When we bought the house, there were way too many cabinets on all sides and it just felt closed in and cramped. Being there only part time, we didn’t need that much storage. So we consolidated the cabinets/appliances to one wall and built this nook instead, which has become a favorite spot in the house for both us and our guests. We re-used the old pine paneling from the walls to clad the base of the benches and I designed our hanging cushions. We picked up plumbing pipe from the hardware store, had an artist friend wrap the bars in braided leather scraps, and Matt’s mom made us the custom cushions. The antique island was a flea market find, as were the hanging light and artwork.
Biggest Indulgence: I really don’t think any one thing in the whole house cost more than $500, except for maybe the table in the nook. We were on a tight budget and had to get creative with materials, sourcing, and decor to make it work, and I think that actually worked in our favor in the end creating a space that feels authentic and unique. The most we spent on any one element was our gigantic deck (approx. 400 square feet!), which my partner Matt and our friend Leon built. It completed the “L” shape of the house and transformed the look of the exterior in a great way, as well as creating a great additional space for us and our guests to relax on and enjoy. We pretty much live out there all summer long.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? We have a fairly unique set up in that there are not one but TWO fireplaces in the living room! The space is quite long and narrow with a gas fireplace on one end and a wood-burning on the other. This makes it phenomenally cozy in the wintertime, but also a challenge to decorate. We ended up orienting it so that there’s more of a lounge/conversation area around the wood-burning fireplace on one side and a movie zone by the gas fireplace on the other, with our record player and music set-up in the middle. It works great.
What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? I’m crazy for the narrow “grade B” pine paneling we used in various spots on walls around the house. It’s on the office and bathroom walls, behind the bed in the guest room, and on a side wall of the nook. I don’t like drywall, so I tried to minimize its presence and add texture throughout the house as much as possible. This was a great and affordable way to do that, plus I love the imperfection of it. To me, it adds some of the soul and history this house needed. Something about the narrowness and texture of it makes it look like it’s always been there. It’s an element I will definitely keep in my back pocket and plan on using again in future projects.
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