Forever Young Information

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Wednesday Spotlight: Cottage country without the cottages

By Ellen Ashton-Haiste
September 14, 2011 - 9 comments

Two developers in Ontario’s cottage country have designed communities that take full advantage of a lakeside environment but still have the essential urban elements that boomers demand.


Many baby boomers dream of retiring to the cottage but find the reality – the work required to maintain the cottage and often the location is remote – much different from the vision.

So, a couple of developers are looking to offer the best of both worlds, combining the atmosphere of Ontario’s cottage country with the comforts of a condo lifestyle community.

“Living in cottage country is what everybody dreams of. They want to be out of the urban environment, have that relaxed living all year round. But the biggest phenomenon we’ve found is a lot of people love cottage country but don’t necessarily love cottages,” says Gerry Kowalski, who has transformed the trailer park where he spent childhood summers into Silver Beach, a lifestyle community on Kashagawigamog Lake in the Haliburton Highlands. 

Both Silver Beach and Cobble Beach, a golf community meandering along the Georgian Bay shoreline between Owen Sound and Wiarton, play off a wealth of natural features.

Silver Beach is built on the lakefront, with docks and a beach with sandbar stretching out some 200 feet. It backs onto a pond and forested area and is crisscrossed with trails for summer hiking and winter snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. A path through the forest leads to Pinestone, a four-season resort, where residents have access to such facilities as a clubhouse with saltwater pool and 18-hole championship golf course.

Kowalski says the community and homes have been designed to have “an urban feel but not an urban style.

“I’ve always felt the three main elements living in cottage country, architecturally, are stone, wood and glass,” he says. Those are elements that architect Ian Malcolm has used to create the cottage feel – extensive amounts of stonework and real wood siding.

“The stone speaks to the stone of Haliburton and Muskoka as does the wood siding, definitely,” says Malcolm, “and they have post-and-beam in the gables that gives the hand-crafted symbolism of the old houses.”

He says he has designed smaller spaces but with airiness created by the open-living style and including luxury touches that modern boomers demand including large decks and fireplaces. “This market doesn’t need massive space but they want the space to be finely designed and well-finished,” Malcolm says, noting as an example that granite countertops are almost entry-level today and the kitchen design is becoming an art in itself.

Malcolm says his homes cater to an older population by putting 90 per cent of the living spaces, including master bedroom and laundry, on the main floor but he recognizes that most residents will have visiting children and grandchildren and so created upper levels that include such features as overlook lofts. Some are even three levels and a few have incorporated elevators.

While the community has the feel of “being right out in the bush,” Kowalski adds that it’s just five minutes into the town of Haliburton, either by road or boat to the municipal dock.

Likewise, Cobble Beach has been built around the natural environment. Situated on a ridge overlooking Georgian Bay, its water views are a primary attraction. It’s what compelled Rob McLeese – who conceived the vision and developed the property with his father, Willis, who passed away earlier this year – to build the 18-hole golf course along the waterfront, with four holes directly on the shoreline.

While real estate agents groaned at this use for what they saw as prime lot frontage, McLeese says, “We wanted to do this differently.

“The way our property tiers, you see Georgian Bay on 18 of the 18 holes and most of the homes will have water views as well,” he explains. “So those views and water access will always be available for everyone.”

The views were “the impetus for everything,” agrees architect Richard Wengle, who designed the clubhouse and other public buildings (the homes are built by Reid’s Heritage and Northridge Homes) with a nautical flavour that he calls “shingle style,” reminiscent of the East Coast.

“It’s all about the views and trying to build (something) that’s not going to block them and not dominate or take over,” he says.

So the buildings, and in particular the clubhouse, which includes a 10-room boutique inn – incorporated primarily as extra space for visiting family – have what he describes as “a lot of articulation to open up to the views.”

They also pay homage to the area. For example, Wengle points to the pumping station, housed in a recreated lighthouse. “With the historical nature of the area and the navigation along the water, (we thought) a lighthouse might be thematic.”

There are 14 kilometres of trails through the property and, in winter, a unique activity is dogsledding, compliments of The Singing Dogs – Dog Sled Adventures at Wiarton.

In addition to the natural features, McLeese has added built-in amenities on the 600-acre property like elite-style tennis courts, a plunge pool and spa and fitness facility.

Silver Beach also has plans for a clubhouse, which Kowalski believes is critical for this demographic. “An exercise facility is a must because these people like to be active. And a grand hall, with kitchen and bar facilities for social gatherings is equally essential.”

Developers today gotta go green

Developers of two Ontario cottage-country communities recognize one fact full well – today, every new development has to incorporate state-of-the-art green technologies as part of a new-home package.

At Cobble Beach, on Georgian Bay north of Owen Sound, owner Rob McLeese, who has won environmental awards for two commercial developments in the U.S., says, “Everything we did was keeping sustainability and environmental aspects top of mind.”

Cobble Bay’s clubhouse uses geothermal heating, its piping hidden in an adjacent pond. The 18-hole golf course uses a third less water and a third less herbicides and pesticides than a regular course by virtue of the grass strains planted.

Silver Beach, a lakefront community just outside Haliburton, has incorporated a new heating and cooling technology with “smart zone control.”

“We’re one of the first builders to adopt this technology and use it as standard,” says owner Gerry Kowalski, who’s been hired by Natural Resources Canada to spread the word to other builders and developers.

The system uses a combination of condensing boilers and air handlers with computerized dampering and programmable thermostats to open and close the dampers, allowing specific areas of the home to be set to different temperatures.

Kowalski says the technology is a bit more expensive to install but saves the homeowner in energy and heating costs and results in a more comfortable environment.


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