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Molly’s Cabin in The Globe and Mail Dec. 2009

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Molly’s Cabin in Globe and Mail: John Bentley Mays

John Bentley Mays—Designing a perch to witness nature

For thousands of Torontonians, the oncoming winter is but a long prelude to the all-important Victoria Day weekend, when cottages open and the Friday night treks up the 400 begin. Most cottagers already know where they’re going to spend their summer holidays. But for those who are still dreaming of acquiring a getaway or who are thinking of involving an architect when they build their dream cottage, I’ve found an interesting book worth leafing through during the holiday season. It’s called Arcadia: Cross-Country Style, Architecture and Design). 

[…] nothing in this book embodies more wisdom about its environment and its occupants than the featured Georgian Bay house known as Molly’s Cabin. (Reporter Carolyn Ireland visited the cabin and wrote about it in these pages earlier this year.) Designed by Adam Thom and Katja Aga Sachse Thom, principals in Toronto’s Agathom Co., this fine 1,000-square-foot building occupies a stony island thrusting out from the shoreline toward open water.

Instead of springing the cottage wide toward Georgian Bay, where the savage storms come from, the Thoms have turned a largely featureless wall in that direction. The cottage’s other three sides allow views of the more docile nature round about, though the emphasis throughout is on protection from the elements, not the provision of natural spectacle. A sharp plunge in the roof edge—it looks like a tent flap pulled down—allows a peek, but not a panorama, beyond. Even the widest prospect here, off across the channel toward rough bush above sheer stone drop-offs (with a glimpse of Georgian Bay), is still framed mindfully.

The result is a humble Muskoka cottage that’s had a complete makeover by a sensitive modernist beautician. The rustic simplicity, the solid build, the straightforward manner that everyone found so attractive about her in the first place have not been styled right out of her. But she’s contemporary now, with everything updated—the cut of her profile, her posture in the landscape—to suit the best sensibilities of the present age. The Thoms’s excellent reinvention of the old cottage-country house is something many designers could learn from. Arcadia: Cross-Country Style, Architecture and Design is full of still more hints and suggestions for building wisely and beautifully in the wilds. It’s a book to put on a bedside table and occasionally dream on until summer and Victoria Day arrive at last.