Northern Woods Retreat

June 15, 2018

Way out in the wilderness of Ontario, a curiously shaped house bends along a tricky ridge.

Dwell, Jan 29, 2018








It was always about the dogs. Toronto veterinarian Mark Dilworth and lawyer David Bronskill hadn’t even considered building a cottage until they saw how excited their rescue dogs, Stanley, AJ, and Piglet, were when they visited Mark’s sister’s place on Haliburton Lake in secluded Central Ontario.


Soon they found themselves scouring real estate listings in the area, but the standard 100-foot-wide lots were too close to their neighbors. As Mark puts it, "The dogs aren’t very well behaved." When his mother told them there were huge lots for sale on adjoining Oblong Lake, he and David drove over right away to see one. With 1,400 feet of shoreline and 61 acres of bush, the site provided plenty of space for both the dogs and owners to romp around. That was in 2009. "I’m not sure we were ready for it," says David, "but we took it with a five-year plan in mind, camping the first year and taking our time to build."



The main corridor bends 100 degrees from end to end and leads to three guest rooms, each with a different color door. "Roland took a Lawren Harris painting and matched the colors perfectly," says David. Photo by Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott


They also took their time to find an architect. David’s law practice in urban development puts him in contact with some of Toronto’s best, but most of the candidates they interviewed didn’t get what they were after—until they met Roland Rom Colthoff of RAW Design.


The couple’s requests weren’t ordinary, recalls Colthoff: Instead of a certain number of bedrooms or baths, they asked for "minimal tree removal, a master bedroom like a forest ranger tower, and a place where their dogs could run wild."


On his first site visit in 2012, the architect walked the property, swam in the lake, and stood on a small hilltop where the last owner had cleared a space for vehicles to turn around. As he looked down over the valley, with its two bays and acres of poplar and ash trees, the landscape unfolded before him like a panorama.


That vista prompted an unusual, curved design for the house. Although Colthoff typically avoids rounded buildings—too whimsical, too constructivist, he says—his initial sketches kept coming up curved, so he stopped fighting what the terrain was telling him to do.Colthoff, project architect Jon Jeronimus, and general contractor Derek Nicholson used two techniques to build the house: post-and-beam for the great room and master suite and stick-frame for the guest wing and entry area. Near the front door, there’s a special tub for the owners to wash their dogs in after hikes. The basin has a low opening and is made of durable concrete, courtesy of Mag’s Concrete Works. The wood paneling is walnut.


Rounded buildings are generally more complicated to make. Colthoff estimates the curve added a month of construction. (The cottage, finished in 2015, came