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On the Waterfront: A Gorgeous Lakeside Timber Frame Home

A Toronto couple builds a charming timber home getaway on the shores of Lake Muskoka.



When Sue and Joe Carmichael were looking to build a second home in the serene setting of Ontario’s Lake Muskoka, the Toronto couple knew exactly who to call. Local contractor Ron Downing had helped construct a boathouse and cottage for the Carmichaels a decade earlier and had since struck out on his own to form the Muskoka Timber Frame Company, which specializes in traditional, custom-built timber homes. Ron and the Muskoka team took the couple’s design and ran with it, completing everything from the excavation to the timber framing to the trim carpentry. Ron admits the Carmichaels’ 5,000-square-foot hybrid house, which took a little more than two years to complete, was one of the toughest challenges in his 12 years in the business, but, he proudly notes, “We’re still friends.”

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Challenge number one was the site’s close proximity to the lake. As a result, fresh gravel had to be trucked in for the foundation, and a 5-foot-high crawl space was built in lieu of a full basement. But it was well worth the extra effort: With floor-to-ceiling windows and a cedar wraparound deck, the design takes full advantage of the site’s 1,500 feet of water frontage. “You can see water from every part of the house,” Ron says.

The most difficult challenge? Building the intersection of the roof, where a distinctive cupola sits atop two ridges. “The design wasn’t timber-frame-friendly,” Ron recalls. “There was a lot of head-scratching.” Nevertheless, he and his crew pulled it off to stunning effect.

Inside the house, the use of light-colored wood imparts an airy feel. Besides a few heavy structural timbers made from Douglas fir, most of the wood is Eastern white pine, grown locally and milled at a nearby timber mill.

The Carmichaels’ love of entertaining was a major driver for the interior design. The focal point of the kitchen is an island counter with a built-in wine rack. A 600-square-foot screened-in space (dubbed the “Muskoka room”) lets the summer breeze in and keeps the area’s ubiquitous mosquitoes and black flies out. In cooler months, warmth is delivered via a massive Rumford fireplace, built with Muskoka granite by local company Signature Stone Masonry. Topping the fireplace is a mantel crafted from a birch tree felled on the property. 

Although there are three bedrooms in the main house, the most sought-after accommodations on the property are the 650-square-foot living quarters poised above the boathouse (the design of which echoes the main house). In fact, this cozy space is so welcoming that the Carmichaels themselves have slept there on occasion.

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While the couple loved both the boathouse and the timber home that went with it, they have since moved on. (“They like to build,” explains Ron.) But the success of their vision, coupled with the Muskoka team’s quality craftsmanship, was apparent: The house spent only one day on the market before it was snapped up by a new owner—one who undoubtedly could see the imprint of carefree lakeside living on every inch of the home.

TIMBER HOME DETAILS:
Square footage: 5,000 (main house), 650 (boathouse)
Timber producer: Muskoka Timber Frame Company

Tour this Gorgeous Lakeside Timber Frame Home