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By Vanessa Farquharson Photography Virginia Macdonald
CONFESSIONS When a pro builder remakes his own Georgian Bay cottage, it all proceeds according to plan. Well, except for the part where the floor goes up in smoke
OF A DETAILED MIND
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an experienced chef can gather a fridge full of disparate leftovers and transform them into a great meal, contractor David Ballentine is able to take old window sashes, discarded roof beams, and other architec- tural remnants to create living spaces so delectable, they make your mouth water. His most recent project, a cottage and bunkie on Ardshona Island in Georgian Bay, at Pointe au Baril, which he purchased, restored, and fell in love with, is a perfect example. It’s all so clever: The kitchen cupboards were crafted partly from vintage blanket boxes; the bed frame in the guest room was built with old framing material salvaged from a few of David’s previous jobs; and the lighting fixture in the bunkie features a flipped-over wicker basket in place of a traditional lampshade.
In the wrong hands, such attempts at upcycling can lead to an aesthetic mess. Here at Ardshona, however, the result is vibrant and eclectic without succumbing to DIY kitsch. A designer’s touch shines through all the savvy, old-meets-new combinations—the antique chairs reinvigorated with colourful textiles; original floorboards that pop with a coat of high-gloss, fire-engine-red paint; even the crisp white linens that balance the heavier wood furniture in the bedrooms. So many strategic decisions have been made here, it’s hard to believe one man was responsible for them all. In fact, he wasn’t—and that’s the key.
David, who is originally from Toronto but has been working as a builder in cottage country for more than 20 years (he launched his own firm, Ballentine Construction, in 2007), explains that to truly elevate a pile of mismatched materials into awe-inspiring design, one must remain open-minded and be willing to crowd-source. “I’m opinionated and I know when things look right, but when it comes to style, I’d rather get input from people I trust, whether it’s an architect or my wife,” he says,
IN THE WAY
Porch conversion In restoring his cot­ tage, Ardshona, builder David Ballentine had an end goal to create harmony between past and present. When he took down half of the wraparound verandah in order to make more indoor space, he decided to keep one of the old exterior walls in place, which is why there’s now a window between the dining and sitting rooms (opposite). “It’s a nice piece of the old that still works,” he says. Painted white, the wall stands out without being obtrusive. Secrets of island life David’s three sons, Connor (left), Ben, and James, spend most of their summers in this part of Georgian Bay and they rarely get bored—weekdays, they attend day camp at the Ojibway Club, a local, historic land­ mark. (That building was restored in 2006, in part by Ardshona’s lead architect, Scott Weir.) Back at the cot­ tage, the boys easily entertain themselves by roaming around the island or jumping off the dock. “The kids like to go off and have adventures on the island, making treasure maps and catching bugs,” mom Nancy Ballentine says. “We’ve found a lot of great spots for picnics too.” Most recently, they’ve taken up fish­ ing and are now deter­ mined to catch “the big one.”
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Crafted greenery Recalling the land­ scaping demands of the island, David (below, with his sons Connor and James) cuts to the chase: “We spent a lot of money.” Skirting, weeding, pruning—a substan­ tial amount of effort was required to tackle decades’ worth of overgrowth and create space through the abundant foliage to allow even a partial view of the lake from the cottage (opposite). In the end, it was worth the splurge; they uncovered small garden plots, patches of hens and chicks, blueberry bushes, and other flora that now flourish with very little maintenance. “I grew up going to a cottage in Muskoka,” says Nancy, “but I’ve spent the past dozen years up here. So I like how the landscaping at Ardshona combines a feeling of both places — the wooded area, especially, provides more greenery and growth than a typical Georgian Bay property that’s on bare rocks.” Shower time David says he loved the surrounding geo­ graphy so much, he wanted to be able to experience it even while showering. “Okay, to tell the truth, I’ve just always wanted to build a frosted­glass outdoor shower,” he says. So he did, by the bunkie, using leftover wooden railings from a previ­ ous contracting job.
1. Before you commit to a big reno, ask your- self: Do you really love the place? Any build- ing can be saved with enough time and money, but you have to decide if you really want to invest in the process. 2. Create a solid plan. Draw up the space and then redesign it exactly as you want it to be. Make sure it looks good on the inside and on the outside. Your builder can help identify any potential issues that you may not anticipate before building starts. 3. Stay organized. There should always be a back-up job—or three—lined up in case it
rains or if materials or labour are delayed. That way, you’ll never lose time. 4. Renovating a remote cottage is different than renovating a home in the city. Plan to spend around 25 per cent more to get mat- erials to the site. 5. Remember, working with a builder or a contractor is a relationship. Half of the time you’ll be right and half of the time he’ll be right. You have to be able to work together on the fly when things don’t go exactly according to plan.
“WE JUST MADE IT MORE LIVABLE”
5 TIPS FOR A FULL-GUT RENO From David Ballentine
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Wood is good Much debate revolved around which walls to paint, and which to leave. Upstairs, where there are two bed­ rooms, a bathroom, and a seating area, the couple chose exposed wood, giving a rustic balance to the con­ temporary skylights. “Older cottages are often made using first- growth pine from the lumbering days,” says architect Scott Weir. “It has nice colour and fewer knots,” he says. “It’s hard to find, so we tried to leave it.”
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lounging in a chair on the newly finished verandah with a glass of wine, surveying the passing boats and ignoring his iPhone as it buzzes with a steady stream of calls. “When it came to Ardshona, I didn’t go in with a vision at all. It was something that developed over time. It was an evolving process.”
Indeed, it was David’s wife, Nancy, who first spotted the original cottage for sale online and arranged a viewing. It had been on the market for an entire summer, with potential buyers deterred by the overgrown land around it and the ramshackle interior. David, who lives near Parry Sound, Ont., and regularly visits his grandmother’s Georgian Bay cottage with Nancy and their three sons, “wasn’t looking and didn’t want to look” for another property, but his wife insisted he visit the place. As soon as he got to the site, he bent down on one knee and saw that the cottage’s foundation was solid, and his eyes lit up. “I was smitten,” he says. They made an offer and, the moment it was accepted, David called his friend Scott Weir, a principal at the Toronto firm ERA Architects. Both men have a strong love for the Bay, and together they’ve spent more than a decade there, taking photos of cottages that inspire them, and dreaming up ideas.
“The wrong cottage can totally destroy a lake,” says Weir, “so if you care about a place, it feels like an important task to try and do the right thing, to consider the surroundings of the cottage and, in this case, the unique character of Pointe au Baril, before modernizing and upgrading. When I first went up to see Ardshona, it was in rough condition: The site was overgrown, there were a lot of
More sleeping space One of the major struc­ tural changes to the ground floor involved the guest bedroom (opposite page). The space was previously divided into a bunch of smaller nooks, including a mud room, but David felt that an extra place for guests was more valuable. To open up the tiny, 100 sq. ft. room, they kept the paint light and bright. Hearth of the cottage The living room (left) is a central gathering space. The kids sit here for hours focussing on a board game or a puzzle while the grown­ ups concentrate on build­ ing a fire in the original stone hearth. “When it gets cold, that’s where you want to be,” says David. The rocking chairs were left behind by the previous owners and even the new addi­ tions (a Georgian Bay travel poster, a Persian rug, and a wicker sofa) are vintage. Painstaking detail The guest bathroom was one of the most challenging rooms to complete; David insisted that a tiny window overlooking the rocks and the lake remain in place, at all costs. “We just built a shower around it, basically,” he says. A new-old kitchen The shelves holding Nancy’s collection of Cornishware mugs are from the original kitchen, as are the sink, the drawer pulls, and the 1950s metal countertop banding; the faucet and dish­ washer are new.
“ARDSHONA IS AN EVOLVING VISION”
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to speed up the process, until one ran out of fuel and spewed a plume of black smoke into the room. Thanks to Connor, his parents discovered it right away and averted catastrophe. Months after, The Paint That Wouldn’t Dry is just an amusing anecdote; in fact, of all the rooms in the cottage, David is most proud of the kitchen.
Reflecting on the way Ardshona came together, guided not by a singular driving force but rather by a collective, evolving artistic vision, David concludes that it worked because everyone on his team valued three important Rs: rescue, restore, and repurpose. “It’s funny,” says Nancy, “because, in a certain sense, it doesn’t feel like we’ve done that much, and yet in key areas we’ve brought out the charm or made the old cottage feel clean and refreshed, and that’s what counts—we never disturbed the original intent of this place, we just made it more livable.” She pauses, then adds, “and stylish.”a
Vanessa Farquharson is a Toronto-based writer who is now obsessed with red floors.
tiny windows and other original fea- tures because the essentials—plumbing, electrical, carpentry—were all being handled by a team with whom he had previously worked and whom he com- pletely trusted. And David is happy to delegate, even to his own family. Nancy, a high school biology teacher, spent countless hours online, bidding for old carpets on eBay or sourcing antique decor items, while the boys, Connor, Ben, and James, helped toss out old mattresses and other junk the previous owners had left. (They were paid a small sum for this, half of which they reportedly spent on french fries.) It was also the kids’ job to ring the brass fire bell at the foot of the property if they spotted anything amiss—which Connor did once, when the kitchen started smoking.
David chuckles as he recalls the inci- dent and what became the only real hur- dle in restoring Ardshona. The kitchen floor had been painted “a very wrong shade of purple,” so he arranged for it to be covered with a high-gloss red, but it refused to dry. After weeks passed, he decided to bring in some space heaters
clashing elements and fixtures within the cottage, and repairs were needed throughout. But you could tell the bones were spectacular,” as were the original millwork, the impressive stone fireplace, and the multi-paned wood windows. “Really, we just had to edit.” It sounds easy, but the so-called editing process took six months, start to finish, mostly because the project crew were all perfec- tionists. They relocated or readjusted walls ever so slightly to ensure the space had a balanced sense of proportion and flow. They even built the main-floor bathroom around a single tiny window that David insisted on saving. Of course, such strict attention to detail rarely happens with clients who have looming deadlines and tight budgets.
“Usually, in this line of work, we feel badly about getting rid of really nice things,” says David, “but this time it was, ‘Look at this really nice thing—let’s make everything else work around it!’ ” He was able to indulge in the rescue of
CONFESSIONS OF A DETAILED MIND { Continued from page 60 }