before and after

Before and After: A Designer Cottage in Haliburton County, Ontario

by Sabrina Smelko

If you love watching home shows as much as I do, then you’ve probably heard of Scottish natives and international design duo Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan. They’ve tackled home renovations across the globe, and most recently, I got to share the screen with them — woo! — as a guest judge on Game of Homes, a competitive renovation series where Colin and Justin flaunted their talents as resident judges alongside host Dave Salmoni.

When they weren’t perusing the dusty GOH stadium last year, the pair could be found in Ontario’s cottage country filming for one of their other shows, Cabin Pressure. In the first season, Colin and Justin renovated this gorgeous Muskoka cabin in 12 short weeks, and in season two, as they explain, “we turned our attentions to Haliburton and bought a ramshackle fixer-upper. A big job and then some…”

After touring over 40 properties in search of one with potential, they chose this overgrown and  rundown lakeside charmer in Haliburton County, Ontario to showcase in season two. It needed work top to bottom and front to back, a process which included pouring a new foundation to fix the slanted shanty, replacing the entire façade, and getting creative inside using IKEA kitchen cabinets — all while battling the elements. “We can honestly report that rebuilding our cabin was a joy and working with Randy Blain, our contractor, and our wider team, has been a blast. To our entire crew and to all of you for watching and reading – thank you,” Colin and Justin share. “If you’re in the area, come on by — just make sure you bring a bottle, ’cause we do like the odd tipple…”

If you like this transformation, be sure to tune in and watch their third season of Cabin Pressure unfold (starting this Sunday at 9 pm on Cottage Life) and catch even more fun and creative tomfoolery on Game of Homes (airing April 12 on the W Network)! –Sabrina

"First things first? The exterior. We kitted out the entire house with a dramatic jet toned glazing program. Next, we re-shingled the roof before cladding the entire house using grey toned Cape Cod siding. To embrace the outdoors, we wrapped a Western Red Cedar deck around the cottage with glass and metal perimeter railings and erected a screen porch... It’s where we spend most of our time when the Ontario sunshine plays ball. The propane-powered firebowl is an asset that comes into its own when temperatures dip and the dark sky showcases its twinkling constellation of stars." The sunroom structure was created by Discovery Dream Homes with its windows, interior and exterior railings designed, manufactured and supplied by Sunspace Sunrooms and installed by NorTech Home Improvements.
"Ah, the living/dining room! Swapping out rickety windows and doors - for larger, black-framed alternatives - transformed our cottage externally and internally. Furniture is spaced into two areas – sitting and dining - with a relaxed sofa providing the familiar ‘lived-in’ look you get with soft, brown leather."
Black windows make a huge statement. They are all from Euro Vinyl Windows.
"The live-edged dining table delivers [a] wow factor and is clustered with Wegner style wishbone chairs." The dining table is from Artemano.
"To warm the space, we added a compact wood stove, which (flanked with vintage chairs) is a fabulous focal point and somewhere to nest to when temperatures plunge." The fireplace is from StûvAmerica.com.
Layers of textures and materials are the hallmark of this space, be it wood, timber, metal, glass, leather or marble. They keep this new build feeling cottage-y, warm and cozy.
"Next up was the kitchen rejig, and our first job? Removing the walls and opening the space to the main, double-height living zone. A tall rear elevation of white IKEA cabinets conceals inbuilt refrigeration and a sink, whilst a run of units topped with ‘concrete’ Caesarstone form a breakfast bar that contains an inbuilt hob and oven."
The leather sofa and some of the occasional furniture is from Urban Barn and the linens, accessories are from HomeSense.
"This bathroom, as we found it, was a stylistic and visual wash-out. And with carpet? Yuck: the devil’s own harbinger of human excretions, toe nails and mouse poop -- but we can fix anything! To streamline, we specified flush-mounted pot lights and, space being compromised, under-floor energy efficient floor Warm Up heating. Softest graphite marble offers an indulgent feel, whilst dreamy ebony toned taps and storage niches are cute finishing details. To serve as a vanity below the new window, we cut live-edged Hemlock into a tapered wedge and topped it with a stone sink. Further visual ‘softening’ comes from the wood-topped stool and the naturally shed deer antler found in the forest surrounding our cabin. Details, right?"
"Upstairs, the galleried master, as we found it, had a boxy feel with pine cladding and peeling wallpaper. Removing the lowered ceiling (before re-cladding it with walnut stained pine) revealed a monumental peaked space, the extra width and height delivering bags of character." The barn doors are from ReBarn and the bed is from Artemano.
"Further detail comes from the salvaged wood barn doors, behind which lies the ceramic tiled ensuite."
"In keeping with the loft apartment vibe (hello – condo at the lake?), we added a statuesque brushed steel bed and timber-topped nightstands. The resultant look is modern but friendly, thanks to layers of faux fur, woolen throws and a scattering of plump, yielding cushions. Note how the pops of red add drama."
"Cleaning up our cottage act to the max, we turned our attentions to the former laundry (new washing facilities were [moved to] the basement) which was magically transformed into a guest bedroom. After tearing off the pine cladding, we replaced the window with a huge fixed panel and a door that affords access to the deck."
"We opted for a long steel-framed Unikstone vanity which, topped with a custom black faucet, oozes ‘modern cottage.' If you follow our work, you’ll know we love trawling antique barns and thrift stores for items to ‘up cycle.’ Examples of this are the ten-buck shoe molds which we sanded, sprayed black and arranged in a neat row as towel storage."
All of the stone sinks throughout the bathrooms are from Unik Stone and the faucets are by Rubinet.

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  • Cheers for such an AWESOME piece! Cant wait to see you with us on Game of Homes! C&J xx

  • This is really excellent, the rooms are very nice, thanks for letting me read this, I look forward very much the show, Dean

  • Just wanted to point out the sliding double bypass barn doors and custom hardware are all crafted by REBARN in Toronto, it wasn’t credited in the article.

  • What a beautiful place, watched these guys since their Million Dollar Experiment show and love having them here in Canada. Beautiful cabin, Marty

  • Just imagine these two uber dynamic designers asking to work with your products? That’s what happened with us! C&J graciously aligned their creative minds with our windows and doors and executed their vision perfectly. This feature shows it well – nice work Design Sponge and hats off Colin & Justin. Looking forward to watching your transform another ‘mission impossible’ in Season 3

  • They did an amazing job with their transformation using furniture and accent pieces from many locations. I cannot imagine tearing down all the walls to find dead animals but in the end, what a great project giving that house a second chance at life!!! I agree with Laura it would be absolutely flattering to have them approach any business to help them with their creation. Hoping one day they will discover Rustic Furniture Outlet if they need some unique pieces or a good selection of Mexican pine furniture which would also look awesome in that transformation for a more rustic cabin feel:-)))

  • Love this home, so cozy in every way!

    I am curious what you type of trim you used for your windows, black painted MDF? And what is the width of the trim?

    Thanks so much!

    • Love the black window frames! I’m also curious about the width. I want to do black windows but I’m scared it’ll be too much black. This looks perfect!