The desire to get away from the city, to entertain guests and to enjoy some precious family time: some things never change for cottage owners in Muskoka. But as people’s lifestyle and tastes evolve, so too does the way they choose to create and present their outdoor spaces. For today’s seasonal residents, high-end, urban-influenced landscape design is being combined with traditional Muskoka elements to showcase the best of both worlds.
Historically, landscaping in Muskoka has been characterized by a rustic look featuring the natural stone and wood for which the area is known. According to Michael Flint of International Landscaping, clients from Southern Ontario and cities in other areas have begun applying their more urban aesthetic to their cottages. “People are trying to bring the feeling of being at home with them. But they still want a taste of Muskoka, so it’s more of a blending of natural freeform and the formality of new designs,” he says.
Recently, Flint worked on the landscaping for a gorgeous retreat on Burgess Road in Port Carling created by iconic architectural designer and master builder Ferris Rafauli. In keeping with the trends Flint has seen, the project featured more straight lines as opposed to natural curves, and a greater formality of materials. “We used cut flagstone, which had more of a tiled look,” he says. “Also, in the tile around the patio and walkways, there was a more consistent colour, as opposed to the more natural variation that is traditional.”
Even the area set aside for nighttime fires on the Burgess Road property has a polished, elegant, and comfortable feel as opposed to the more rustic rough stone with Muskoka chairs surrounding a fire pit.
Another trend Flint has noticed that is evident at Burgess Road is the use of more exotic materials. “For example, the dock there is made of a Brazilian hardwood called ipe. It’s beautiful and it seems to weather better.”
Barry Justus of Poolscape, an award-winning designer and builder of backyard retreats and experiences, also worked on the Burgess Road project. He says that pools are becoming more popular in lakeside settings because they allow owners to control water temperature, safety and water chemistry while also expanding the swimming season. “The addition of a hot tub or a pool really extends the enjoyment of the outdoors with a comfort level people have become accustomed to,” he says.
In particular, Justus notes that vanishing edge pools, also known as infinity pools, are gaining in popularity when it comes to high-end properties. To create a vanishing edge pool, water is pumped into the pool and then it overflows on a level side of the pool and then the water drops down into a surge tank, a secondary tank that captures the overflow. Finally, it is pumped back into the pool.
What draws people to vanishing edge pools? “They have a reflective quality,” explains Justus. “The water is perfectly still. No waves develop in them because they’re spilling over constantly on one side. You’ll see the clouds in the water; you’ll see any trees or buildings or whatever’s nearby reflected in the water, depending on the angle and the sunlight.”
When vanishing edge pools are incorporated into lakeside designs, the water-water look is visually stunning, as evidenced by the result at the Burgess Road property.
Vanishing edge pools also create a pleasant, constant sound of moving water. “The correct way to do a vanishing pool is to have the water just gently going over the edge. It’s not a waterfall. It’s a very subtle effect,” says Justus.
Modern technology and design allow for new approaches that enhance the mechanical efficiency and aesthetic enjoyment of outdoor spaces. In the case of the Burgess Road property, Justus devised a way to avoid having to install a large outbuilding to house the mechanical aspects of the pool, which would mar sightlines and add unwanted noise. There is a complete mechanical room underneath the pool, including boilers and pumps. It was fully engineered, and the pool is anchored to the granite hillside.
Bit by bit, Muskoka’s seasonal residents are bringing the best of the city with them to their cottage country retreats. The result is a juxtaposition of high-end design with the surrounding rocks and lakes and trees that only serves to accentuate the beauty at both ends of the spectrum and the harmony that can exist between them.