Floating inspiration for the weekend

PROJECT: Worple Residence
Becca and Doug Worple, a Cincinnati couple who spend summer vacations in the rugged coast of Georgian Bay on Ontario decided to strike out from the island that Becca’s family owns and find a getaway for themselves and their children, Owen and Emma. They grabbed onto a rare opportunity to acquire a U-shaped, three-acre chunk of rock in Pointe au Baril, with two aging cottages and a two-story boathouse. The island, Becca says, “was a bit scary. It looked like a lot of work. But you could tell that somebody had loved it once.”

The Worples were planning to rebuild in the typical style of the area, where some families have been spending extended summers for many generations. But they soon realized that they had a major project on their hands, and they’d have to get creative. “Generally, you give the contractor your paper illustration of what you want and he makes it happen,” Becca says. “But this boathouse wasn’t even safe to walk through. I knew I couldn’t do a little paper drawing of that.”

Good fortune connected Becca with the architects who would provide the answers. Trying to search online for an architect recommended by a friend, she found Michael Meredith of MOS, a young interdisciplinary practice then based in Toronto. “It was a sort of wrong number,” Meredith recalls with a laugh. “She was calling for a Martin Miller or something, with a name similar to mine.” But Meredith and his partner Hilary Sample were intrigued by the project. “So I said, ‘Come up!’” Becca recalls. “I showed him what island living is like.” Living in this area is about low-key enjoyment of the landscape and deep social ties—the Worple kids are friends with the children of Becca’s childhood pals.

The young teacher-architects proposed a series of buildings that would form a “necklace” around the island–a main cottage and a series of outbuildings that could accommodate the many overnight guests that go with summers in the area. For the first building, a two-bedroom sleeping cottage completed in 2005, they chose materials and shapes that wouldn’t stand out. “They’re really simple, almost Platonic forms,” Meredith says. The modest cabin has boat,a gabled roof and a cladding of untreated cedar, a material that shows up on docks and homes along Georgian Bay. “Allowing the buildings to weather seems the right thing to do,” Sample says. And it’s ready for winter: Sliding barn doors seal the place up as an impenetrable box.

Inside, the walls, floor, and ceilings are wrapped with warm-hued Douglas fir, and a fireplace is made out of local stone. The architects and some of their students from the University of Toronto handmade the bathroom fixtures: a massive bathtub and a broad, shallow sink, both sculpted beautifully from iroko wood. The relatively simple construction incorporates clever sustainable design: A two-level wood roof structure keeps the sun’s heat away from the interior, and small windows at either end facilitate powerful cross-ventilation. It’s natural air-conditioning, and it works beautifully.

Their next step was to do something wilder: to build a house not just on the water but actually in the water. Thanks to the old boathouse’s footprint, the Worples had the right to build a decent-size structure within the island’s cove. Meredith and Sample designed a waterborne two-story building supported by massive pontoons. That solved some of the problems of building in such a remote location: The pontoons and a skeletal frame were floated to the contractor’s workshop a few miles away for further framing while the lake was frozen and then tugged back to the site for the remainder of construction. “It was almost prefabrication, but not quite,” Meredith says.

The finished building is the family’s summer headquarters, despite its modest 1,250 square feet of indoor space. Downstairs are a boat slip, storage, and sauna; upstairs there are two bedrooms (the kids have bunkbeds), an office, and a galley area, with dramatic views from parallel windows. As Sample explains, the boathouse is the nucleus of the whole island. It’s connected to the island from the second floor by a bridge that reaches  toward the nearby sleeping cabin and at water level by a dock that connects to the other side of the cove. An outdoor stair is open to the sky above and the water below.

Photos by RAIMUND KOCH. Via Dwell


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