From farm to forever cottage – that’s what Ray and Mary Anne wanted when they engaged Oke Woodsmith Building Systems.
Having sold their Arva area farm and having owned several cottages in the area surrounding Grand Bend, Ontario, the couple purchased in the Oakwood subdivision because “we want to be able to walk down the beach to Grand Bend,” explains Mary Anne, a retired nurse.
Loving their large (97 feet wide by 260 feet deep) lakefront lot but knowing that the nearly half-century-old cottage on it was going to need extensive work, the couple sought out the expertise of Oke Woodsmith to fulfill their dreams of a forever home on Lake Huron.
Mary Anne and Ray purchased the property in 2015 and first started working on the landscaping in 2017, choosing to live with the existing cottage to get to know it and establish a clear vision for changes. Cobble Design tiered the steeply graded descent to the shore to make it more usable. They designed an outdoor living area with Armour Stone to keep the water at bay. An added firepit and sitting area give this space gracious livability. The couple enjoys entertaining here when their three grown children visit with their partners and children.
In 2020, they started working with OWS on the cottage renovations, but surprises arose that made it more of a teardown-and-start-over than a renovation. The original structure had been framed horizontally rather than vertically, “like a barn would be,” says Randy Oke, and it just didn’t work with modern residential building techniques and materials. It was an all-wood building, and the couple had some well-founded fears. “We wouldn’t let the kids use candles and the wiring was original,” says Ray, who is a chartered accountant. The couple also owns a condominium in London.
The basement and chimney were the only elements remaining after the teardown. The new cottage follows the original footprint on the lake side, but it’s been expanded on a portion bordered by the road. It now encompasses 2,700 square feet of living space with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, two sunrooms, a great room and kitchen. The expanded areas feature ICF (insulated concrete forming) construction and heated floors.
Having renovated previous cottages, the couple had a good idea of what they wanted and worked with OWS’ designer to bring their vision to fruition. Because of the lot’s challenging topography and the original cottage’s structural limitations, Oke Woodsmith’s working relationship with the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority made it possible to deliver on the desired size and scope of the project.
Mary Anne worked with Toronto interior designer David Bradstock to set the tone for a gracious, homey escape by the lake. In the kitchen, GCW Kitchens of London took care of the cabinets, as well as custom cabinetry in the loft. A large kitchen island serves as both preparation and eating space when it’s just the two of them, with an adjacent dining room table, seating 10, that comes into use when they host family events or have friends over. A bar area with its own glass-shelved storage and bar fridge makes entertaining easy. Quartz-topped counters provide additional prep space. A custom-made wooden European-style range hood
adds design flair to the bright, white kitchen.
The kitchen opens onto the great room, with its large windows that soar to the second floor giving sweeping views of the lake. “We love the famous Lake Huron sunsets,” says Ray. Being directly at the lakeside after farm living was one of the reasons the duo purchased this particular property. Custom-made Roman blinds provide privacy when needed.
Above the kitchen is a loft area with a day bed and some spare floor space. “That’s where our daughter does her exercise routine when she visits,” comments Mary Anne. There are two more bedrooms and a shared bath on the second floor.
The primary bedroom and luxurious bath are tucked behind the kitchen on the first floor and open to one of the sunrooms, a modification to the plan that the couple requested. “We talked to the designer and Randy about it, and they said it made a lot of sense. They were able to accommodate our wishes,” says Ray. The roadside sunroom is a cozy reading spot. The primary ensuite features an oversized shower, a separate tub and double sinks.
The sunroom on the lakeside is more of an entertainment area, with a large gas fireplace framed by a stone wall, with surrounding wooden custom cabinets to store games and videos. The heavy beam mantle is topped by a big-screen television. The vaulted ceiling is accented by wood beams, with oversized windows providing a view of the lake.
One of Oke Woodsmith’s trademarks is marrying modern materials with a traditional look. For instance, the blue/grey cedar shake roof beautifully complements the exterior’s cool grey tone and the lakeside setting. But it is made of weather-resistant rubber. Ray and Mary Anne weren’t sure about it at first, but Oke’s project manager Matthew Playford recommended they talk to other clients who had one and now they are happy they went with that recommendation. “There was a lot of angst at the start, but it turned out really well. It really looks like cedar and the colour is beautiful in the sunlight,” she says.
Phase two of the landscape work was also done by Cobble Design and involved leveling a hill area that made the roadside part of the large lot virtually unusable. “Cobble Design did the patios and barbecue area,” says Ray, an enthusiastic griller.
The couple was happy that having such a large and involved project during the pandemic gave them something to do; working with Oke and their subtrades made the construction process a lot simpler. “It was great to get out of the house and talk to the guys on site.”
Ray and Mary Anne hosted their daughter’s wedding at the property during the project, and Oke Woodsmith was able to accommodate their needs for space in the kitchen and bathrooms.
Supply chain difficulties delayed some portions of the work, but OWS was able to navigate these to deliver the best possible outcome due to their outstanding relationships with various suppliers and subtrades.
The couple spends winters in Mexico and Florida but love their time at the lake in the summer.
Mary Anne and Ray are so happy they put their trust in the experts at Oke Woodsmith to deliver on their dreams of a forever cottage.