What's different about designing a cottage?

Cottage design discussions are different from those about a house in several respects.

The timeline is often quite different. With our house clients, we may look five or 10 years ahead to project how the family’s needs will change. However, when discussing a cottage, we often find the discussion leads us to consider future generations, when children become teenagers, then adults, and then have children of their own.

The building envelope is also considered differently. In our climate the exterior walls, glazing and roof are careful assemblies that must address water, air and thermal infiltration. But in a summer cottage occupied for perhaps 2-to-6 months of the year, we can explore a merging of indoor and outdoor spaces, progressing from an enclosed living room out to a screened porch, to an open porch, pergola, deck, terrace and bedrock. We may also use folding door systems, roll-up screens or drop-down windows to allow us to directly and dramatically open indoor spaces to the outdoors.

How are your fees structured?

We always propose a fixed fee for developing the design of the project – a period stretching from our first meetings right up to the granting of a Building Permit. This not only allows you to control your early project costs – but it gives us another incentive to listen carefully to your wants and needs, as we explore multiple ideas in the early design stages. The fee covers the work done in our office. As such, it typically excludes the various other consultants involved, although we can estimate and then fix these fees also, again allowing you to determine your consultant costs.

What other consultants may be involved?

In addition to the architect, you will work with several design consultants, whose work is coordinated by and done in collaboration with that of the architect:

  • Landscape Architect. A landscape architect will work with us to create an overall vision of the site, from locating barefoot-ready paths and identifying dock or fire pit locations, to specifying native-species plantings and ensuring that the structures connect appropriately to the landscape.
  • Interior Designer. The interior designer will help coordinate the multitude of choices involved in the interior finishes: the colour of paints and stains on floors, walls, ceiling, trim, tile selections, fireplace, door and millwork design, furniture selection, etc.
  • Structural Engineer. A structural engineer will optimize the structural elements of the project, including standard wood frame construction, timber frame structures or steel-pile supported docks.
  • Mechanical Engineer. A mechanical engineer will model energy usage and design appropriate heating and/or cooling systems as required.

In addition to the previous consultants, we may hire one or more of the following specialists, depending in the project’s needs:

  • Surveyor. A current, digital survey of the property is valuable for design, approvals, landscape and estate planning purposes. A topographic survey is the starting point of a landscape plan and inventory of trees on site.
  • Cabinet Maker. A cabinet maker will work with you and/or the interior designer to decide among options and then create the cabinetry throughout the cottage.
  • Home Automation Expert. A home automation expert will coordinate satellite and internet access with as much or as little technology around the cottage as you want. This may include remote heating and air-conditioning control, lighting controls, indoor/outdoor stereo and home theatre systems, etc.
  • Planner. A planner can help with complex and/or unusual spatial or lot configurations.
  • Septic designer. Very few sites have municipal services. As a result, we will carefully consider the septic system location when developing the site plan.
  • Arborist. Beginning with an assessment of the health and age of trees on site, an arborist will make recommendations for the long-term health and regeneration of tree cover following construction.
How do we develop and manage the budget?

In early stages, we will work with commonly-used budget measures, such as a floor area multiplier. Later, if a construction manager has been selected, we can develop an outline specification of proposed materials and finishes. From there, he or she can then generate cost estimates at the schematic design, design development and working drawings stages so that we can adjust the design as necessary throughout the process and include all other costs in a comprehensive budget. We will know the approximate budget and will have made the necessary adjustments long before we start construction.

How can we manage this project from abroad?

The internet may have been invented to make cottage projects possible. With cell phones and the internet, Skype, webcams, and PDFs, you can be as connected as you wish. We have successfully completed cottage projects here while our clients live in places as diverse in location and time as Hawaii, Los Angeles, Calgary, New York, Boston, London, Geneva and Abu Dhabi.

Why do you focus on cottage architecture?

Although highly regulated (much to the surprise of some clients), cottage sites do not often present the rectilinear boundaries or neutral topography of an urban site. As a result, a thoughtful approach to locating a structure becomes part a project’s conception. A summer cottage project requires an architect to pay close attention to the physical attributes of a site – sun, wind, views and topography – and invites an architectural response that addresses these.

As an architect, this invitation to consider the fundamental aspects of habitation is compelling, and a privilege.

Are all of your projects in cottage country?

We are not always at the lake. But we apply the lessons learned there to all of our work, bringing our focus on the daily and seasonal cycles into the mix of considerations of privacy and the public realm, in suburban or urban environments.