Des
ign duo Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan made their mark in the UK styling homes on shoestring budgets.

The couple—with their playful wit and cheeky one-liners—are known throughout Britain and Canada for design shows like Trading Up, How Not to Decorate and Colin & Justin’s Home Heist. More recently, their renovations of rustic cottages by the tranquil lakes of Central Ontario’s Muskoka and Haliburton regions have been chronicled for the past three seasons on Cottage Life’s Cabin Pressure.

Today, the design gurus divide their time between Glasgow, Toronto and their very own lakeside cabin in Haliburton, and they credit cottage country’s rugged landscape, glistening lakes, towering forests and laid-back lifestyle with keeping them young and giving them an abundance of new ambition.

What got you hooked on Canadian cottage culture?

Colin: We visited a few cottages that belonged to friends and were blown away. The trees are massive and the lakes are deep and clear and so beautiful. In a big city like Toronto, [cottage country] is the flipside. Cottage country has got a grip on us more than I ever thought it would; it’s incredible.

Justin: At the cottage, you forget the clocks and, after lunch, it’s a glass of wine on the deck and a nap by the lake—it’s great.

What’s your favourite lake area?

Justin: We love Haliburton; it’s very Canadian. The landscape is virtually identical to Muskoka.

Colin: A three-hour drive [from Toronto] and you’re in the middle of nowhere and it’s totally quiet.

What do you love most about your cottages?

Colin: In the bedrooms of our own cabin, we’ve cut out entire back walls and glazed them so you can leave the curtains open and wake up to the forest. The deck is important. In our rental cottage, we’ve got a 2,000-square-foot deck—it’s the living room, the dining room and the sleeping room.

Any tips for cottage renters?

Justin: Find something that has all the bells and smells: good lake access so you wake up in the morning and hear that gentle lapping at the shoreline; shallow entry so your kids can go safely into the water; towering hemlock trees to shade your cabin; the stove in the kitchen island so you can cook, talk to your pals and enjoy the view to the lake.

Does every cottage need a bunkie [small, separate guest cabin]?

Colin: Bunkies are important. There’s something special about sleeping in the tiny bunkie in the garden of the main cabin.

How do you keep the cottage charm during a renovation?

Colin: Mixing in reclaimed timbers, antique white tiles with a dark grout and second-hand pieces softens the look so it’s a play on old-fashioned, but modern.

Justin: We’re respectful of the past. We love new-build and modernity, but we love old, as well. In our rental cottage, we’ve added sliding barn doors that are redolent of another period, against white walls. We’ll also go thrifting and have bought an antique typewriter, retro turntables and stacks of cool, old vinyl. These things immediately create the atmosphere.

How often do you make it out to your own cottage?

Colin: All the time. [In the winter], it’s like Narnia. Walking on a frozen lake is bizarre. [I’m] like Bambi—it’s brilliant. And, in the summer, if you hear two Scottish voices singing “Kumbaya” around a fire, it’ll be us. [Cottage life] is an amazing thing to share with family and friends.

Three More Ontario Lake Spots

Kenora

Peterborough & The Kawarthas, located in south-central Ontario, boasts a network of 151 lakes. Paddle along one of the canoe or kayak routes, hike or cycle the extensive trails or cast your line and enjoy some world-class fishing on the dock.

The Township of Rideau Lakes has 840 kilometres of shoreline and is surrounded by villages. Explore the stone mill in Delta, shop for heirlooms at Rideau Antiques in Lombardy and watch the water rise and fall at one of the Rideau Canal’s lock stations.

Kenora in the Lake of the Woods Vacation Area, in the northwest of the province, is rich in history and culture. Take a guided tour of the cliffs dotted with 5,000-year-old rock Aboriginal paintings and canoe along freshwater lakes and riverways.

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