This Shou Sugi Ban Cottage Blends In With its Lakeside Surroundings

VFA Architecture + Design
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Bigger isn’t always better—this lakeside cottage has a low-lying form that disappears into the surrounding landscape.

Since the early 1860s, Ontario’s Muskoka region has been a popular summer spot where city-dwelling Ontarians escape the chaos of urban life and embrace the region’s 16,000 lakes. However, the humble and unobtrusive structures that once dotted the landscape are now being replaced by large, oversize "McCottages" that threaten the area’s unique character.

With their Lake Joseph Cottage, VFA Architecture + Design strove to provide a contemporary alternative to these supersized cottages while respecting Muskoka’s unique landscape.

Architect Vanessa Fong designed the cottage for her mother-in-law with respect for the site and a strong understanding of the family’s programmatic needs. The result is a year-round cottage that maximizes lake views, embraces solar orientation, and provides a variety of public and private spaces—both open and enclosed.

"The home provides a significant contribution to the current dialogue on how to design cottages which allow us to appreciate Canada’s unique wilderness without undermining the natural beauty we seek to enjoy," says Fong.

On approach, the cottage emerges from the landscape as three low-slung volumes unified by expressive roofs with generous overhangs. Each of the three volumes responds to unique spatial and functional needs.

The lower two rooflines define the all-season, enclosed portion of the cottage. The lowest volume houses the most private areas, including the bedrooms. The middle houses the common living areas, with a lakeside facade that provides a seamless connection between the interior and the exterior deck.

The third space has the highest roofline of all, and it holds the most public areas of the house: a covered deck and a screened-in patio. These two generous spaces enable outdoor living while providing shelter from the elements.

Inspired by the history of the site and the context of the landscape, Fong selected Shou Sugi Ban charred cedar for the facade. Whitewashed pine is also used extensively, in a contemporary take on the wood paneling often found in traditional cottages. The lighter wood creates bright and airy interiors—in contrast to the dark and heavy interiors of traditional cottages.

The connection to the landscape resonates not only through the views, but also through passive building strategies that minimize the cottage’s environmental impact. These features—including cross ventilation, shading overhangs, radiant heated floors, and a maintenance-free facade—increase comfort while minimizing the need for mechanical systems.

Embracing the stunning lake views, the contemporary cottage respects the region’s natural character with a simple architectural form that nestles into the wooded terrain with a series of spaces geared towards enjoying Lake Joseph all seasons of the year.

Located near the entry, the cottage’s breezeway frames a view to the lake beyond. The breezeway extends the use of outdoor space so that residents can enjoy the great outdoors even on rainy days.

Located near the entry, the cottage’s breezeway frames a view to the lake beyond. The breezeway extends the use of outdoor space so that residents can enjoy the great outdoors even on rainy days.


The home’s three low-lying rooflines subtly emerge from the landscape.


In the public spaces, large sliding glass doors provide a seamless connection for indoor/outdoor living.


Large openings frame views of the tree line and the lake beyond. The heart of the living room is a stone tile fireplace, which references an element found in traditional cottages.


The Lake Joseph Cottage sits amidst historic single-story Victorians and new three- to four-story McCottages.