Two lovely cottages in the Rideau Lakes region epitomize the idyllic vision of a lakeside summer retreat. Both are beautifully renovated properties that combine today's stylish comforts ?and conveniences with the characteristic ?charms of a classic cottage.
Country Cottage on Charleston Lake
Known locally as the "Nurses Cottage" in reference to the two women who had it built over a hundred years ago, the striking property was considered to be the most imposing one on Charleston Lake at the time.
Set back from the lake, with an attractive stone wall along the shoreline, the farmhouse-style cottage was extensively renovated in 1998 by its third owners. Keeping the original floors and sash windows, they extended and installed a new kitchen with heritage white cabinetry, added a screened-in porch and an expansive patio with stunning stone work and rebuilt the boat house.
Then in 2003, the impressive four-bedroom cottage caught the eye of Mary Jane Manley, a Royal LePage sales representative who specializes in waterfront homes and has been an avid cottager from a young age. As the fourth owner, she repaired the crumbling stone wall, but otherwise has not changed much in the cottage interior, which contains an eclectic mix of antique furniture collected mostly from local sources.
It's still definitely a cottage," says Mary Jane. "The wooden stairs creak when you walk up them and the second floor walls are quite uneven. You can also see the wood knots coming through the white-washed pine walls, and the cast-iron tub in the bathroom is the original one."
A two-sided fireplace in the dining room heats the whole cottage which sparkles with a fresh, country feel. It's decorated in cool white and denim blue with delightful rustic touches like a reclaimed wooden ladder propped against the wall to display woven blankets. Upstairs, the white and blue colour scheme continues on walls, in furnishings and on charming water jugs and bowls.
The spacious kitchen with a granite-topped centre island, along with the cottage's two sleeping cabins, make it easy to accommodate visits by Mary Jane's three young-adult children and allow her to entertain in style.
"It's a big gathering place. I'm hosting a large family reunion this summer and every year I hold a big lake party for 50 to 75 people. My kids come on the weekends with all their friends," she says happily, adding wisely that she also holds onto their car keys until everything is cleaned up!
Mary Jane confirms that the demand for cottages is huge with more buyers than there are good properties available. "Many gorgeous cottages never come onto the market, because they are either handed down through the family or purchased by the next generation."
And this aptly describes the circumstances of another very appealing cottage in the area . . .
Big Rideau Lake Beauty
Spending endless summers on the Big Rideau Lake as a child, it's not too surprising that the new owner of one of the nicest waterfront properties on Britton Bay decided to buy her parents' cottage a few years ago.
The shell of the old cottage was kept to allow the new building to remain in the same location and at the distance from the waterfront, but everything else was completely gutted and expanded by 25 percent. However, much care was taken to ensure that the renovated one-level cottage, plus a separate cabin and new boat house, blended beautifully with the natural environment by finishing all structures in a green, cedar shake exterior.
Inside, the ceilings were raised to 10 feet and the layout was opened to feature the original fireplace in the centre of a combined kitchen, living and dining area. The expansion included a vaulted screened porch finished in cedar with flagstone flooring, plus a new master bedroom with a private ensuite.
All the wooden walls are painted white, which highlights the natural wood floors and a family collection of furniture in pine, wicker and bamboo. Wherever possible, many of the original windows, old doorknobs and hardware were reused. Antique features like metal toilet-paper holders, glass towel bars and lighting fixtures were bought locally or while travelling, to help keep the old cottage character alive.
In the master bedroom, the exquisite headboard was made from four railing panels in fine wrought iron, and an antique claw-foot bath tub sits proudly in the new ensuite.
The three-bedroom cottage is designed to be very family-oriented for the owners, who have three grown children and two grandchildren. They like nothing better than to relax with the family in the soothing cottage décor of white with soft green, combined with accents of natural beige and yellow furnishings. For some quiet time, they can sit outside in a comfy Muskoka chair to enjoy the lakeside view and just listen to the loons.
Waterfront property tips from Mary Jane Manley:
• The first priority is finding the right lake and piece of the land. Most cottages can be renovated, expanded and changed substantially, but be aware of all current building requirements or restrictions
• One of the biggest factors is the waterfront and the quality of the water. Is it weedy, sandy or rocky? Is it deep, shallow, swampy or silt-bottomed? Is there a drilled well or is water drawn from the lake? How is it cleaned and filtered?
• The lake water quality, depth and size etc., will affect the type of fishing available, as well as swimming and boating activities.
Buyers need to know what kind of boats are allowed on the lake. Boaters should ask about lake amenities, such as is there a marina? Does it provide gas pumping at the shoreline; parts service or operate a water taxi?
• Access is important. Are there common roads or rights of way? How and when are the roads maintained? Is there an active lake association - how strict are they?
• Land and cottages on popular, sought-after lakes are going to be more expensive. Price is also affected by level of privacy offered or isolation of property.
• Each property is unique. Consider factors such as accessibility via land or water. Look at dock, landing and parking facilities, plus any septic, well and pumping systems.
• Examine the land and terrain around the cottage. Is it steep and rocky or flat and grassy? Is it open and landscaped or natural with lots of tree coverage? Where is the cottage situated on the lot? Generally, people prefer a south-west exposure.
• Ask about power and heating systems. Is there electric heating, a woodstove or propane fireplace?
• Remember that cottage properties require ongoing and regular maintenance of buildings, decks, land and waterfront docks, plus seasonal opening and closing arrangements, as well as storage and care of all watercraft, vehicles and equipment.