By Meredith Parsons
One project that caught my attention recently is a beautifully crafted custom cottage on Topajo Road on Lake Joseph in Muskoka. The cottage is a contemporary masterpiece designed by Sophie Clapperton Designs. Clapperton has become known for her “unique, yet timeless, designs” throughout the GTA and Muskoka, gracing homes and cottages on Lake Joseph, Lake Muskoka, Lake Rosseau, York, Etobicoke, and elsewhere. Clapperton is at the vanguard of a new generation of designers who seek the perfect intersection between their craft and social and ecological responsibility.
I recently sat down with Sophie to discuss inspiration, design, and the Topajo Road project, a newly come-to-market property on the exclusive Muskoka jewel, Lake Joseph. Naturally, I wanted to know from where she drew her inspiration for this project.
“I have a lot of connection to New York,” says Clapperton. “We spend a lot of time in New York each year, so styles and inspiration I pull come from the New York aesthetic. Even [with the Topajo Road project], it’s a cottage but the colour schemes – for instance, the primary bathroom – are very Art Deco, black and white; and in the materiality, the way that we mixed metals from the New York scene. Inspiration also comes from a couple of other places: other designers and works that I see online, Instagram, and real estate on the lake.”
The Topajo Road, Lake Joseph, property is a marvel, nearly 6000 square feet with 450 feet of frontage on one of the region’s most majestic lakes. Nestled into the landscape, the five-bedroom plus two-storey boathouse is every cottager’s dream.
“I like the juxtaposition of this one,” Clapperton says of the house. “We’ve got a dark exterior, which is trendy and really in. It’s very dramatic when you’re up close, but from a distance, on the lake, you almost don’t know the cottage is there. Most can’t see it unless you’re right up close to it, which is really, really nice. But then on the inside, it’s totally opposite. Everything’s very light and bright, which is unexpected, especially for an east-facing view.”
The challenge of designing for Muskoka is to balance the intention of the structure with the traditions of the region. As Clapperton notes, “The other part of this project that I really love – and it was one of the main concerns and focuses when designing it – was that we wanted it to be modern and contemporary, but still pull traditional aspects of Muskoka. We achieved this by doing simple things like exposed rafter tails outside. On the inside, even though we don’t have a lot of wood, we went with a variety of shiplap textures and replicated beams. You still feel like it’s a cottage without it being a wood cabin.”
“The exterior has some modern aspects – for example, the roof overhangs have been cut short,” she adds, “[with] a sleeker profile siding and larger windows. We incorporated shed curved dormers with exposed rafter tails. Having those little elements brought it back to the classical scope, which will allow it to have more longevity – much more timeless. I didn’t want it just to look good for five years.”
And that’s the true challenge: standing the test of time in an environment that is timeless and natural. With natural beauty comes natural challenges. When I ask Sophie what she thinks is important when deciding what to spend on, she says, “Spend more money on windows and insulation – you’re going to save money in the long run. Those are things that you’re not going to change in 10 years.”
She continues, “The element of the interior that people need to put more money towards is flooring. That’s something that you’re walking on every single day. If you have kids, they’re going to be playing on it. If you’ve got pets, you want to make sure that your hardwood is going to be durable. Make sure you’re picking something with a decent thickness to it, even an engineered product that you can resand and finish at least once or twice.”
In the Topajo Road property, every square inch was taken into consideration. How do you achieve something that is crafted in such a detailed way but does not appear busy? As Sophie explains, “We balanced the use of texture by being consistent with the colour.” Most walls and ceilings are cladded with MDF details. Being intentional with the colour choice softens all these details for the eye.
“Going with a white or light colour on the MDF will soften the lines. If you were to go with a mid-tone colour, that can cast heavier shadows, which can be jarring to the eye. When you get to dark colours, the lines soften, however, almost too much – to the point where you can’t see them, eliminating all the work that you did.” It is important to find balance between these things. We can see examples of this done successfully throughout the interior of this cottage, from the intricate ceiling detail in the foyer inspired by a boat, to the unique patterns on the walls that were designed for each room.
To highlight and enhance the craftsmanship of the building itself, light and décor had to be taken into consideration. Clapperton and I agree that these two things make the biggest impact on making the building feel more like a home, instead of a construction site. “Artificial and ambient lighting makes a big difference,” she explains. “You want to ensure you layer the light, and have a mixture of overhead, decorative, and accent lighting. For example, by adding wall sconces in a room, you have an opportunity to add light to highlight a feature such as a piece of art; however, it also adds a soft layer of light that isn’t overhead.”
Art, décor, curtains, and furniture add the final pieces to the puzzle that will make your home or cottage feel lived-in and cozy. “Adding furniture transformed this space and made it feel completely different,” Clapperton observes. “The finishing items like curtains and décor pieces filled up the space and got rid of the bare feeling. It also helped to eliminate echoes throughout the space.”
The passion that Sophie has put into this project is left to speak for itself. Once you step through the door, the space is inviting, cozy, and warm. The connection to the outdoors and the lake is magnetic, with breathtaking water views from every room.