Red Rocks – Becoming cottagers
October 30, 2018

A decade ago, my husband Arriz and I designed and built an off-the-grid cottage on a remote property in Haliburton. It was a life-changing experience for us. We had to become quick studies in building sustainably off the grid, working with solar power, and operating a composting toilet at our water-access-only location.

We worked like mad to get it finished in time to have our wedding there, which we hosted only 1 week after the cottage construction was finished. It was probably the most exciting challenge we’ve undertaken together.

When the cottage was done, the media went a bit mad over it and covered it endlessly. It was a main feature in House & Home magazine, and I was thrilled when the story took home the gold award for home and garden photography at the mag awards that year. We filmed the cottage for the TV show Cityline and a few websites, and it was later featured in Cottage Life magazine as well. After all of our hard work, the attention was incredibly flattering, but also a bit exhausting!

Things have settled down now and the cottage has become just what it was intended to be: a haven from the hustle of modern life. We’re still learning so much, mostly about ourselves now. There are still challenging moments as well as times of complete awe. This journal is about the treasured time we spend there, from evolving the design to cooking with foraged food, paddling on the lake and living in harmony with the land.

Photography, Michael Graydon

This is the opening spread of the feature in H&H. As you can see, the house seems to float among the treetops and has varied views of the rock faces, tree canopy, lake and forest on all sides. My favourite shot from the House & Home shoot was our portrait, which shows the framed view to the face of a rocky cliff through a large window above the daybed. It is a striking focal point in the room and the response to this design move was crazy. People really loved the idea of framing the texture of the cliff. At night it’s illuminated by a light source under the building so it really turns into a piece of art.

Photography. Michael Graydon

The interior is wrapped entirely in Douglas Fir mixed with elements of reclaimed wood and white oak. Arriz and I think of it as a treehouse loft – one floor, open living in the trees with views in every direction.

Photography, Andreas Avdoulos

We were right down to the wire with the cottage construction prior to the wedding so there was no time for decorating. It didn’t matter though, because the extra-long dining table filled the entire space. Looking at this photo of our wedding now, no one would guess that I spent the day before painting the outhouse.

Photography: Mike Carty
Photography: Mike Carty

The three-man crew that built the cottage were beyond impressive, braving arctic-like temperatures in the winter months. They crossed the lake by boat and snow mobile, carrying supplies and materials in some intense conditions.

Photography, Arriz Hassam

We did too! This is me on a winter crossing to see how the construction was going. Of course, we’ve closed up the cottage for this winter, but this pic reminds me that it won’t be long before I’m putting my snowshoes on again to for a site visit. Cottaging is definitely not just a summer pastime!