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Custom Cottages - Muskoka Room

The Ultimate Guide To Custom Cottages In Ontario & Canada [+ how to choose the right cottage for you]

Everyone deserves a beautiful, luxurious living space that fits their lifestyle. 

Including you! 

Gilbert + Burke specializes in helping you design and execute custom cottages throughout Ontario that fit all your needs and wants perfectly. From the walk-in closet to the cozy deck, we can tailor everything to fit your family’s lifestyle to a T. 

But let’s back up. 

What does “custom” really mean? And how do you go about designing and creating your dream living space? 

In the following paragraphs, we will explore what a custom cottage is and some tips for designing a space that fits your lifestyle. Plus, we will go over some popular cottage styles for inspiration. 

Let’s get started!

The Ultimate Guide To Custom Cottages In Ontario & Canada [+ how to choose the right cottage for you] 1

What Is A “Custom” Cottage? 

Let’s start simple.  What do we mean by “custom?” 

Let’s go over three different types of cottages: custom, semi-custom, and spec. 

  • A spec cottage is a ready-to-move-into structure designed and built to be sold. Companies build spec structures with the average cottage buyer in mind. They are outfitted with selections that appeal to nearly everyone, and they are made to sell to anyone looking for a cottage. Buying a spec cottage means you don’t have to bother with a lot of tedious decisions – you can simply purchase, set it up, and move in. However, you don’t get any say in the design and no customization.
  • A semi-custom cottage is a middle ground between spec and fully custom. A semi-custom cottage allows the owner to customize a previously made floor plan from a builders’ library. You don’t have to make all the decisions, but you get to choose things like trim and paint colour, door and window types, and siding colour. 
  • With a fully custom cottage, the owner works with the builder to design every aspect of their new cottage! They get to choose the layout, colours, fixtures – everything down to the doorknobs. 

With a custom luxury cottage, you get complete control over every aspect of your space, so you can add all the special features you have in mind and tailor it to fit your family’s lifestyle and wishes perfectly. 

custom cottages allow owners to design every aspect of their cottage

Maybe needing to make every single decision about your new custom cottage feels overwhelming to you. That is understandable – after all, building a new cottage is a large undertaking, and it involves a ton of decisions. 

But the good news is that you don’t have to feel out of your element with all your decisions. If you choose a great builder, they can help you with every step of the process and give you valuable input and advice. 

You won’t feel alone and helpless in your decision-making if you have an experienced team of designers and builders on your side! You can wield complete control over every aspect of your new cottage home, without the stress of being unsure about the next steps. 

4 Steps To Building A Custom Cottage That Fits Your Lifestyle 

Imagine with us: you want to design a stunning custom cottage that accommodates your family’s lifestyle to a T. 

Where do you start?  

What are the moves you should make toward ending up with a cottage that is precisely what you envisioned? 

Let’s go over several steps to getting started on your project, plus some tips for styling your cottage to fit your lifestyle. 

Step 1: Before you hire a builder  

 Hiring a good building team is a huge part of the process, but there are several things you should do before you look into builders. 

  • Determine a budget 
  • Determine a general timeframe 
  • Find a property to build on 

These things will help you find the right builder that can work with you within your budget, timeframe, and location. 

Step 2: Hire a builder 

Douglas George (Construction Manager & Custom Home Homeowner/Contractor) says: 

“The most important thing for a custom home – hire a good team. Work with competent people that you trust. It’s not about getting the lowest price; it’s about getting the right value.”

hire a good contractor when building a custom cottage

He is right! Hiring a competent builder can make all the difference between a great experience and a nightmare.

Here are some things to look for in a good building team: 

You will be working closely with your building team. If you hire an incompetent contractor, you could be in for a world of hurt: your needs may be misunderstood, your communication could struggle, and you’ll be frustrated when the project doesn’t turn out the way you envisioned it. In worst-case scenarios, you could even be cheated out of money. 

On the other hand, a good team can create an amazing experience. A competent contractor takes care of all the details you shouldn’t have to worry about, and makes for a painless process that results in just the cottage you imagined. In no time you can be peacefully relaxing in your perfect cottage!

With 20+ years of experience designing and building truly custom cottages for families in Ontario, the Gilbert + Burke team would love to help you as well. Click here to start a discussion today!  

Step 3: Design your custom cottage 

 Before you start working with your architect/designer, you should have some general ideas about how you want your cottage to look and function. If you have a general idea of what you want, your architect/designer can help you incorporate your ideas into a functional design. 

When thinking about designing your cottage, ask yourself these questions: 

  • What do I “need,” “want,” and “don’t want?” Prioritize the “needs” and do your best to work with the “wants.” 
  • Which rooms are most important to you? Which ones would you prioritize – kitchen, recreation room, wine room, or dining room?
  • Which of the features I “want” are most important to me? 
  • What about my current home or cottage do I like/dislike? 
  • Is this my full-time home or my getaway lakeside cottage? How will this inform my design? 
  • Ask yourself, “What if?” For example: “What if X happens? What would be my next choice?” 

determine which rooms are most important when designing your custom cottage

Knowing what you don’t want can be just as important as knowing what you do want. Bill Kaufman of WESKetch Architecture says: 

“I tell clients to bring examples of what they do and what they don’t like. Knowing what a client doesn’t like is just as important as knowing what they do. As an architect, I get clues for the design direction from both.“ 

Sites like Pinterest and Houzz can be beneficial for finding things you like/dislike. Create a collection of photos of features that stand out to you. 

Take your time brainstorming and designing your new cottage! And in the beginning, go ahead and dream big – this is your chance to create a unique “home away from home” that you and your family will absolutely love. You can always scale back your ideas to fit reality later. 

Now is your chance to add all the special features your heart desires, such as a wine cellar, home gym, or home office! Here are a few more ideas you could include: 

  • Workshop 
  • Media room or theatre 
  • Children’s playroom 
  • Formal dining room 
  • Large mudroom or entryway 
  • In-law suite 
  • Garage 
  • Muskoka Room (sunroom)
  • Attic storage
  • Walk-in closet 
  • Deck or porch 
  • Hot tub or pool 
  • Sauna
  • Basement recreation area
  • Sound-insulated music room 
  • Art room 
  • Library  
  • Fireplace 
  • Sound system 
  • And much, much more!

Get creative with designing your custom cottage

Step 4: Monitor the building process 

As the owner, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to monitor the building process the entire way through, so you can know everything is going to plan. 

Plus, if you hired a reputable builder, they should be happy to keep you informed about the whole process. 

Several things to make sure of during the building process include: 

  • Insurance: Make sure your builder has workman’s compensation and general liability insurance. In most places, contractors are required to have these in order to be licensed. It may be good to obtain copies of your builder’s insurance for your records.  
  • Permits: If you don’t have the proper permits, you may run into problems with your local authorities and possibly have to pay some major fines! Typically your builder is responsible for obtaining the right permits.  
  • Inspections: Reputable contractors perform regular third-party inspections throughout the entire building process. Be sure to confirm this with your builder. You will also need to get your finished cottage inspected before you move in. 

It’s also exciting to visit the building site and see each step as your house materializes! You will probably want to be in on the process from framing to finishing.  

Does all that red tape sound tedious and overwhelming to you? 

Don’t worry! The good news is that your builder can take care of you and help you every step of the way. With a professional like Gilbert + Burke on your side, you should never have to feel overwhelmed or confused.    

hire a builder that can help with inspections and permits for your cottage

Finding Your Cottage Style 

Your custom cottage is your opportunity to create something uniquely yours! You have full control over every aspect of your new cottage. 

But what is your cottage style? Do you like rustic architecture, or are you more of the farmhouse type? 

Here are a few architectural styles for cottages to help you figure out what you like. 

Bungalow Style Cottage

Imagine a low-built, one-story cottage with an open floor plan. It is small, but the interior is open and efficient, with big windows and a beautiful porch out front. The roof is low-pitched, and it might have some tapered pillars on the porch. 

That’s a bungalow design! 

Bungalows originated in India, and their hallmark characteristics are the things you pictured in the house described above. Their standout feature, however, is the essential covered porch. In fact, Architecture Magazine wrote an article titled “Bungalow: Small House Big Porch!” 

Cape Cod Style Cottage

If you picture the quintessential cottage by the lake, you probably are envisioning a Cape Cod cottage. 

The Cape Cod style is typically one-story and has steep roofs to shed rain and snow. The chimney is usually right in the middle of the roof. This style often features a weathered look, natural shingles, and wooden clapboard exteriors painted white with black or coloured shutters. 

If you want to build a beach or lake-side cottage, Cape Cod style could be a fitting choice. 

Rustic log cabin 

We all know what a log cabin looks like! The rustic log cabin is the quintessential choice when it comes to natural, woodsy design. 

This style uses lots of natural materials and woodsy, homey interior design. 

A log cottage is the perfect woodsy getaway

Contemporary Style Cottage

Contemporary cottages have a modern look that comes from the era of the 1960-70s. The look features clean, straight lines and geometric shapes. 

Contemporary cottages often include materials like metal, glass, stone, concrete, and large windows to let in the beautiful natural light. 

You can mix contemporary style with other styles to create a look, such as contemporary rustic or contemporary modern.

Modern Style Cottage 

Modern cottages look similar to contemporary cottages, with the same sleek, straight lines and clean feel. They often have broad, square overhangs and glass walls or large windows. Other features include asymmetrical designs and minimal ornaments. 

The modern look may be for you if you like clean, minimal cottages made for function rather than sentimentality! 

Tudor Style Cottage

When you think about those cute little cottages with the white stucco and half-exposed beams, that’s Tudor architecture. This type of architecture originated in England and makes you think about climbing vines and storybook cottages. 

Often Tudor cottages have rows of casement windows and stonework or brickwork. It’s a quaint and charming style! 

If you like old-world European charm you might be a Tudor-style person. 

Coastal Style Cottage 

Coastal design is about lifestyle as well as aesthetics. It’s made for sunny, outdoor living and looks fresh, calming, and balanced. 

Since coastal design is all about the wide, fresh outdoors, coastal cottage designs often include outdoor living spaces, big windows for letting in the natural light, and light, airy, calming colours. The style also includes lots of raw materials like jute, hemp, and weathered wood. 

custom coastal cottage in Ontario


If you are getting ready to build a new custom cottage or revamp your current lake cottage, your project probably seems like a huge mountain you need to climb. 

It’s perfectly normal to feel that way! Building a custom luxury cottage is a big project. 

Thankfully, Gilbert + Burke can help you every step of the way. When we are on your side, you won’t have to feel clueless, or like you don’t know how to make good decisions. 

Contact us today to get started on the cottage you’ve always dreamed of! 

Services we offer also include: 

We look forward to hearing from you! 

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Ken Jaquith Director Of Client Experience
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