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Considerations for Achieving Your Dream Custom Cottage

Regardless of your stage in life—a family with young children, empty nesters about to retire, or grandparents who love to have their grandchildren experience the joys of cottage life—you want a cottage that is beautiful, comfortable, easy-to-maintain and meets all of your needs for efficiency and function. The living spaces, inside and out, need to reflect your family’s personality and lifestyle. Great architectural design is the perfect balance of look, feel and function. This article discusses some things to consider when developing the vision for your dream cottage.

To achieve the cottage or vacation home of your dreams, both you and your architectural designer need to explore key questions and develop a deep understanding of your needs, wants and vision. When you begin your custom cottage journey, it’s more important to consider questions around how you will use your space instead of jumping into determining the specifics such as square feet, number of bedrooms, size of rooms and kitchen layout. Once your needs and wants are fully understood, your architectural designer has the experience and expertise to work with you to create a cottage design ideal for you and your family and you may be surprised at just how wonderful it can be!!

Great memories are created at the cottage with family and friends. It is a special place that should be enjoyable for everyone. Whether you’re building a new cottage or renovating an existing one, a few simple cottage design considerations will go a long way to ensure lasting memories and fun for all. What may seem like one small design change to a less-experienced designer may have a significant effect on build costs and our team has the expertise to know the impact of those small details. We will share this wisdom with you throughout the custom cottage design process and will find creative solutions to give you the look, feel and function you want, with the affordable build price tag you need.

Outside In

Cottage life is about communing with nature. You want to breathe in the fresh air, feel the gentle breeze off the lake and draw the natural beauty into your living space.

Adding a screened room or three-season space is an excellent way to open up the interior to the outside. The crackle and scent of the flames from a wood-burning fireplace add a cozy feel to the room. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the beauty and benefits of the outdoors even when there are troublesome bugs and inclement weather.

Large decks and tall windows encourage the interior to flow to the exterior and will make the interior spaces feel larger and more inviting.

Cottages aren’t just for the summer season anymore. Empty nesters and retirees may have the freedom to spend time there all year around. Design your vacation home to enjoy all four seasons in style and comfort.

Open Space and Natural Light

Open space, high ceilings and tall windows… all elements you will love in your new custom cottage. Large windows not only bring in the beautiful views but also fill your space with natural light and make the rooms more inviting. Create compelling and dynamic images by positioning large windows to take full advantage of the water, forest or mountain views around you. High ceilings open to a loft area have impressive visual appeal and allow for a two-story wall of large windows, inviting in the view from all angles.

Open spaces are more flexible, allowing for entertaining or dining with large groups and accommodating extra guests for sleeping. Think multi-functional! An architectural design firm like Jim Bell Architectural Design Inc. can help you design for uses you may not even realize you need right now and prepare you for full enjoyment of your property for many years to come.

And don’t be concerned! Entertaining in the open space will still feel cozy and inviting when the layout, materials and details are well-designed. Incorporating a fireplace adds warmth to the room, both literally and figuratively. However, you do not want the fireplace to obscure your view; so keep it off to one side or in between the great room and dining room but still visible from anywhere in the room. And a caution about placing it between the great room and kitchen–– although it may look nice, it is likely to impeded flow in a high-traffic area and create a barrier between you and your guests during meal preparations. Though many cottages have wood-burning fireplaces, propane gas is also a viable option… the choice is yours. Don’t forget to design a place to store the wood!

All of these considerations are the types of things Jim Bell will not miss because of his extensive experience. Enlist the help of a professional during this exciting, but complex, design process.

Cottage Kitchen… not just “country” anymore

Rustic, modern or traditional… have the look you want, and all of the modern kitchen conveniences you need, to make cottage life easy and comfortable. Preparing the meals is part of entertaining and the design of the space needs to incorporate a place for guests, family and friends to be close by. For example, you may want an island in the kitchen with seating and have the kitchen open to a great room where guests can sit and relax but still converse with those in the kitchen.

Cottage guests often like to help with the cooking and great kitchen design will facilitate this with plenty of counter space, efficient layouts and easy-to-clean surfaces. You’ll want dividers in drawers and organizers in cabinets to keep everything in its proper location for easy identification and use by you and for your guests.

It’s great to have an easy-to-access coffee or wet bar area but place it strategically as to not disturb the flow of the kitchen. If it’s off to one side or across the way everyone will be able to access and enjoy it without creating a bottleneck for the people working in the kitchen.

Of course, you’ll want a direct connection from the kitchen to a deck or patio with easy access to the BBQ, often the primary cooking appliance on those hot summer days.

No one likes doing dishes but is more enjoyable if you have a beautiful view through the window and an effective kitchen design that allows 1-2 people to join in and help dry while engaged in conversation.

Bedrooms and Guest Rooms

If possible, it’s best to locate the bedrooms in your custom cottage away from common living areas as noise travels and family members and guests may have different sleeping patterns. Consider locating guest bedrooms in the lower level to give them more privacy. It’s nice when early risers and night owls can live together in harmony. Soundproofing the walls, floors and ceilings helps to ensure privacy and good rest.

Since people spend most of their waking hours in other areas of the cottage and outside, the bedrooms can be simple and of modest size. Consider easy-to-clean flooring instead of carpet and provide guests with a small closet with a shelf and hanging area. Don’t forget a spot for a suitcase or overnight bag.

Keep the Mud in the Mudroom

You’ll be glad you did if you plan a rear or side entry directly into a traditional mudroom for your custom cottage. Since cottage life is all about outdoor activities, having a place to clean up before entering the rest of the space will mean more time having fun and less time cleaning. In the summer the mudroom can be a stopping place for wet suits, swimsuits, fins, snorkels, masks and towels. Everyone can access the clothesline or other drying equipment as they enter and with a powder room close by, kids can access the bathroom in their wet swimwear without leaving little footprints and puddles across the great room floor.

A mudroom is appreciated even more in a four-season vacation home when winter clothing, cross-country skis, snowshoes, snowmobiling suits, helmets and boots can be contained and have a spot to dry without entering the main part of the home.

Do you have a dog? The mudroom is the perfect place for a shower/tub to wash off the grime before they want to cuddle on the sofa with you.

The laundry room should be part of this room or very close at hand. If designed well, it’s also the ideal place to store coolers with extra beverages and food to accommodate a busy week of visitors.

Inside Out — Decks and Patios

Consider what you want from your outdoor deck or patio. Are you a sun lover or do you head directly for the shade? What about the rest of your family? A covered area is always nice, to protect you from direct sun, for sitting out on a rainy afternoon or as a safe zone for storm watching. It’s very practical to plan a place for the BBQ in a covered area, but ensure there is sufficient airflow for safe operation.

To create an outdoor living space with flexibility for entertaining larger groups, work with your architectural designer to optimize the deck or patio for the type of furniture and configurations you prefer.

No one wants to spend a beautiful summer day at the cottage scraping and staining a deck! Make it maintenance-free with composite or aluminum decking, but choose the colour wisely. Darker colours will become very hot in the sun. A well-built patio is also maintenance-free and will serve you for many years to come.

Fireside Stories

Many a great story has been told as family and friends gather around the fire for evening social time. Whether on a beach or riverbank, outdoor summer bonfires are memorable events for all.

Try to find a space where the fire pit can be lower than the off-shore grade so that when you are seated the cooler night air flowing out onto the body of water will pass above you––a much more comfortable location on cooler nights.

Safety is top-of-mind when a fire is involved. A sunken fire pit encircled by large flat stones will ensure coals stay safely in place even if the winds picks up. Create a good-sized flat area surrounding the fire pit for chairs or benches to sit securely and allow for flexibility when you have more visitors. Of course, it goes without saying (but we’re saying it anyway) that the surface around the pit should be non-combustible material like compacted stone dust, patio stones, sand or gravel… it’s not the place for wood chips!


Especially when hosting a large group, well-designed bathrooms are critical to everyone’s comfort. Jack-and-Jill bathrooms work well. With direct access from two bedrooms to a shared bathroom, this layout is convenient for guests and they can more easily maintain their privacy.

Physically separating the toilet and/or shower/tub from the vanity and sink area allows two family members to use the bathroom for different purposes at the same time. Consider a closet with sufficient space for towels and bath essentials or space in a vanity cabinet to keep those items within easy reach for your family and friends.

Nature’s Air Conditioner

On hot summer days––and every day––ventilation is key. You’ll want windows that open on all sides of the cottage, carefully choosing the operating direction based on the prevailing winds to optimize natural ventilation and cooling on those hot summer evenings. A healthy cross breeze off the naturally cooler lake is the goal––nature’s air conditioning! Breezes during the day can help keep the cottage cooler on moderate days. Good blinds and awnings will help to shade the interior to keep the heat out on those muggy, hot, sunny days. During the night when the breezes often reverse, cooler air is drawn from the forest towards the body of water and you want to capture those gentle winds as the air cools overnight. Ventilation is just one example of the myriad of details to consider when designing a custom cottage––you will want an architectural designer who has the expertise and experience to get those details right!