Everyone’s vision of a cottage design is unique. Whether you dream of a rustic log cabin or a modern clean-lined structure, your design will head off on a different path. Your first consideration will be whether to purchase a well-loved property to fix up and put your unique look on, or to start fresh with a new build. A new build decision will launch you on another diverging path: prefab construction or custom build? These are just the first of many of the decisions we are working through with my brother’s cottage in Georgian Bay.

Although there are many paths along the decision tree, some considerations will come up no matter which way you veer. We suggest you keep the following in mind.

Make Clean Up a Breeze

Kitchens should be a no-muss no-fuss space with large prep area so everyone can get involved with room to move around easily and get the job done quickly. Easy to maintain, hard wearing surfaces will make the job go quickly.


Quartz is hard wearing and stain resistant but also consider soapstone for it’s patina beauty and natural resistance to stains, chemicals, and bacteria, as well as granite or marble in a honed or leather finish for that old-world feel. Read about the most popular countertop materials and their pros and cons.


Look for polished or brushed finishes to hide finger prints and water marks or consider this year’s trend, black to give your kitchen a feeling of timelessness.


Glass is pretty but who wants to dust? (and please avoid any open topped glass globes I like to call bug collectors). Stick with metal or if you prefer glass, consider a smoked glass or pebbled glass to disguise streaks and dust. Everyone asks about how high to hang the lights so here are our guidelines. Ceiling heights vary so let your eye be the final judge.

modern white kitchen, chrome appliances

Construction by Glen Heintzman,  www.gbheintzman.com

Plan for the Buggy Season

Large areas of glass and screened-in viewing are great! Everyone wants to spend the majority of the time outdoors, in and on the water, but those shoulder months can extend your use considerably if you prepare for a place where you can enjoy the view without pesky bugs. Planning for 3 seasons at your cottage or 4 takes fore-thought.


South facing will provide abundant sunlight and add warmth in the off-seasons.

Patio doors

A good option to leave open, or close off to the elements (like those pesky bugs and critters).


For a contemporary structure, a Nanawall (a bi-fold door system that can be opened floor to ceiling and wall to wall to maximize the view) is a great solution for bringing the outdoors in and still having the option to close off when the bugs are out.


An often overlooked design feature, can allow for a welcome breeze to pass through the structure to cool off on a summer night while keeping the bugs out. Many cottage designs include either a screened in porch or a “muskoka room” for when you want to be cut-off from the bugs, and not the breeze and the sound of the water lapping against the shore!

living space, dining area looking out to backyardConstruction by Glen Heintzman,  www.gbheintzman.com


Room for Dinner Guests

Invite them for a swim but when the fun goes on all day, you will be grateful for extra room at the dining table. When choosing a table look for a finish that will withstand a bit of abuse. All generations come together and this isn’t a time for precious living.


Extra depth: Opt for a 42” depth for lots of family-style dining with room for serving plates on the table.

Distressed finish: Dents, scratches and scuffs will add to the patina of a well-loved dining table.

Leg placement: Legs inset like this table base allow for maximum number of diners to come to the table without legs obstructing each corner. A pedestal base leaves room for many chairs to squeeze in when there are extra places at the table.

modern/rustic dining area with large windows

Construction by Glen Heintzman,  www.gbheintzman.com

Making Space for Rainy Day Fun

When designing a cottage, you might think you don’t need much indoor space because all the fun takes place outside and down at the dock. That is, until a series of rainy days roll in. Having a separate Muskoka room means you can contain the chaos and kids can let loose around a board game (yes, that still happens) while you enjoy some grown-up time curled up with a good book.


Games: Board games for the young and old make for memorable nights.

DVD’s: Internet may be intermittent — or absent. This is a great way to repurpose a DVD player that may be collecting dust at home.

Art Supplies: Drawing paper, pencils and a set of watercolours may inspire a budding artist on a rainy day.

living area with large windows, French doors

Construction by Glen Heintzman,  www.gbheintzman.com

A Retreat for Guests

What’s not to love about a bunkie? Private lodging for guests makes for everyone’s comfort. Sleeping for 2 to 4 extra guests brings an ease to hosting while providing a bit of privacy for peaceful sleeping.

Be sure to have books, extra blankets & pillows, and toiletries on hand for your guests. With more privacy for everyone, a bunkie makes having guests more comfortable all around.

exterior, stairs leading, to blue building with French doorsConstruction by Glen Heintzman,  www.gbheintzman.com

Upholstering Furniture

Who wants to worry about spills at the cottage? Performance fabrics are great, and outdoor fabrics are gaining popularity for indoor use now that they have improved so much. Pick forgiving neutral colours or consider opting for washable slip-covers and you’ll never have to worry about a spill.

Hard wearing all-weather fabrics can be purchased through your designer. Upholstery textiles are graded for durability and stain resistance and sold to-the-trade. Buy well once and you won’t have to worry about it again. Here are our tips for choosing upholstered sofas and chairs , and more here for busy families.

Neutral colours

Pick sandy colours, with lots of variation in shade to hide dirt well. You can always add colour with a cozy throw or accent pillows but keep the large areas kid friendly.

Wear-tested fabrics

You might need a pro to help you select fabric with high abrasion testing. Professional grade textiles are tested and rated for their durability and abrasion resistance which means they will stand up longer.

Fade and moisture resistance

Another one for a pro, but many textiles are available now that resist UV rays. Some synthetic and natural fibres naturally decay or rot with prolonged exposure to UV rays or moisture.

large living room with glass double doors, windows

Construction by Glen Heintzman,  www.gbheintzman.com

Choosing Materials

This isn’t the time to get precious with materials. A lot can be accomplished with a creative flourish to make the most of simple material selections, but hard working options should lead the way. This is extremely important for flooring and countertops that will take the most abuse.


A cottage is a great place for hand-scraped flooring and the options have been refined. They offer a relaxed elegance without the fuss. Vinyl has also come along way and it is worth a second look. I’ll predict you’ve been walking on it in retail stores and clubs and didn’t even notice.

Tiles & Bathrooms

This is a good time to leave white grout behind. Neutral colours in your materials selection and textured finishes will be very forgiving. If you are still in love with white subway tile consider using charcoal grout for an aged look.


A light matelassé coverlet or a light quilt is the perfect foundation layer for a summer night. It is light-weight but adds a bit of warmth when the nights are cooler. Add a wool blanket for chillier nights, and a comforter if you plan to visit late into the fall or have a year round cottage. It will be so cozy!


Sheets: Sateen may be queen in the city, but I love percale sheets. They offer a crisp coolness to crawl into after a day in the sun.

Base layer: A matelassé coverlet or a light quilt offers just enough warmth without adding weight.

Second layer: You can’t beat wool for it’s insulation properties. The Hudson Bay blanket built it’s reputation on that! Pendleton has some great options too!

Top layer: A down-filled comforter for cool fall nights is a must!

As much as everyone loves a roomy bed in the city, a pair of single beds will add more versatility for guests than one double or queen.

Here are some of our favourite bedding ideas for the cottage.

white bedroom, striped pattern bedspread

Source| Kohl’s

Consider Your Outdoor Space

This is where the living will really take place. Seating at various spots around your site will allow for group bonfires and for quiet reading. Having some blankets and cushions for outside will make it all the more comfortable.


Depending on your terrain, an expanse of deck wrapping the cottage can add easy walking for older cottage-goers as well as options for those who like to sit in the shade.


You can’t beat the Adirondack or Muskoka style chair for it’s comfort and built-in surface for a coffee or a book. Choose composite or resin chairs offer minimal maintenance, or wood construction for the true classic. 

house exterior, glass windows and door

Construction by Glen Heintzman,  www.gbheintzman.com

Style You Love

The most important design consideration of all, what do you love? What has always felt cozy, comfortable and right in a cottage to you? This should always be the driving factor when you design your spaces.

Go and pin up a storm to help determine how you want your cottage space to unfold.

If you need some help translating that Pinterest board into the perfect cottage home

Construction by Glen Heintzman,  www.gbheintzman.com