La Mer Douce, Fresh-Water Sea

Oke Woodsmith breaks new ground with sleek style

Architecture fans will see some details popularized by Frank Lloyd wright, like deep overhangs, cantilevered extensions, as well as colour schemes and building materials that reflect the area’s topography.

Cottaging along the shores of Lake Huron is part of Chris’ and Mark’s DNA. Both of their families had cottages on this great lake, and it melded with their childhood memories. Wanting to provide that experience for their own children, now teenagers, the couple purchased a cottage in Oakwood Park, just north of Grand Bend, in 2011. Choosing a location just an hour from their home that also has good boating – Mark’s summer passion – with a lakeside lot was an easy decision for the couple.

But they didn’t buy just any cottage. Theirs has a distinctive provenance as it was formerly owned by members of actor Hume Cronyn’s family and was once the residence of Ontario Premier John Robarts. 

Soon after purchasing, though, they started thinking about doing a major renovation to make it more amenable to a modern family’s needs but they wanted to pay homage to the cottage’s history. However, they knew they’d need to get creative to keep the same footprint, modernize it and respect its roots. 

Working with architect McMichael Ruth, of the London firm Tillman Ruth Robinson, helped gel their thoughts and provided not just a blueprint but a vision to the project. Interior designer Alex Quimby also played a major role in helping to choose interior finishes.

Choosing Oke Woodsmith was a bit of a no-brainer for Chris and Mark. “A home built by Oke Woodsmith has cache,” says Mark. “You see it as a selling point in real estate listings all the time.” 

Talking to several builders, Mark and Chris found some that weren’t comfortable working with architectural drawings. “The architects were holding the builder to a certain standard that maybe they didn’t feel they could meet. Oke came to the table and took on the project enthusiastically. They knew that some aspects would be challenging but that didn’t daunt them,” explains Mark.

Oke Woodsmith’s famous attention to detail paid off in this 6,000 square foot home with six bedrooms and four bathrooms on a large lot (320 feet deep with an 87-foot frontage on the lakeshore). This is a large domicile devoted to family – all main bedrooms are on one floor so they
can be together – but tilts toward a comfortable, spacious entertainment space with three guest rooms and a guest bath on the lower level.

The four seasons room features full-length glass folding doors to bring in the outdoors. Chris points out that all the family members are lightly complected, so it provides a respite from the sun and is adjacent to the outdoor glass-railed balcony that also has a 10-foot overhang protecting it from the elements. 

This room is open to the dining room, living area and kitchen. The former has space for a table that the couple is having custom made to sit 16. The kitchen’s island – topped by a Caesarstone quartz countertop that was newly released in 2018, called Excava – has its own sink and dishwasher, and it has been raised for Mark to comfortably prep food. A second sink sits in a counter, overlooking the expansive front yard, with a second dishwasher that is handy for big party clean-up. Next to this is one of the family’s favourite spots in the house: a unique stone-top table, sourced from well-known Stratford eatery Rundles’ online closing auction. A colourful custom-made banquette provides seating. 

“I love to sit here when I bring work home,” says Chris, as he gazes at the lake over the glass rail and through the living room. “We call it the best seat in the house.”

To support the weight of this heavy piece of furniture, Mark points out that Oke Woodsmith had to reinforce the floor in this area as it is a cantilevered overhang to the stairs that lead to the lower level.

The open kitchen also features two pantries to provide discreet storage space.

Offering a comfortable place to snuggle by the fire, Chris loves to spend time at the cottage in the winter since “it’s so quiet up here in the off-season.” The living area features the wooden mantle from the original cottage and the floor-to-ceiling chimney mimics its stone façade.  The interior walls feature poplar panelling, stained a warm colour that echoes the tones of its predecessor.

This room’s second salute to its history is the Robarts’ Bar. Hidden behind a wood panelled door, John Robarts’ bar has been re-created to look as it did when the premier was a weekend resident of the area. Opening the door to the bar, Chris points out how they were able to re-create the mottled red backsplash and vintage look cabinetry. “Oke tried to save the original but it just didn’t fit quite right, and it looked off, so they worked with Stratford’s Woodecor Ltd. to make it look appropriate.”

In the primary bedroom, woven wool carpet softens footsteps, while most of the flooring on this level is porcelain tile. The bedroom has its own wall of windows providing sweeping views of the lake. A closet occupies the length of the hallway, open yet cleverly hidden for privacy. The couple’s bed is framed by a custom-made floor-to-ceiling headboard that acts as an accent wall.

The ensuite bath’s separate toilet and shower stalls are behind frosted glass doors, while a double vanity occupies one entire wall in a floating vanity. 

Down the hall are the children’s bedrooms and bathroom. Solar tubes are used in the latter and the hallway to bring in light and save on power usage. 

The lower level’s polished concrete floors provide easy maintenance, which is important for this busy entrepreneurial couple, with a large active dog, two cats, two kids and many houseguests. Besides visitors’ quarters, this level houses a workout room, the mechanical room, Mark’s wine cellar, the laundry room (with clever cat passages to where their litter resides) and an extra closet that can house an elevator in the future. “As we get older, we may need something like that, so we left serviced space for it,” explains Mark.

This rendition of the cottage has the same general layout as the original, which was important to the couple. “We wanted to preserve the memories of all those that had wonderful times at this cottage over the decades since it was built in the 1940s,” says Chris.

He points to the integrated trim that is highlighted around all the door frames. “That’s one of the architects touches that we loved, and it was a challenge for Oke Woodsmith, but they did a wonderful job with it.”

Architectural fans will see some details popularized by such luminaries as Frank Lloyd Wright on the building’s exterior, like deep overhangs, the way the first floor extends with cantilevered extensions overhanging the lower level, the colour scheme and materials that complement its setting. These lines and elements reflect the original cottage’s lines and colouring, providing a further homage to past generations of owners and their families.

The large mechanical room houses the utilitarian elements necessary to keep this large home humming. The house was built using insulated concrete forms, so it is warmer and more solid than other types of domiciles. This fact, combined with the in-floor heating, keeps utility costs reasonable.

Though it is sometimes challenging to spend as much time at the lake house as they’d like, the family adores their cottage and found working with Oke Woodsmith and the architect to be a
rewarding experience. 

Homeowner names were changed for privacy.


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