Eels Lake Cottage

Modern Cottage


This project continues the Southern Ontario tradition of cottaging, while pushing the typology beyond one of occasional use into a year round dwelling. The home immerses itself in the surroundings, drawing from the beauty of the entire site, in addition to the powerful focus of the lake.

Clean, modern spaces, rich in material and texture, in concert with a solid sustainable foundation result in a prime example of enduring architecture.

Design Features

The side-split massing integrates naturally into the site, conforming to a subtle shift in the underlying Canadian Shield. This approach minimized the presence of the building and required few alterations to the existing landscape and no blasting of rock or changing of natural grades.

Built for a growing family, the program required a flexible separation of private spaces and accommodation for guests. The master bedroom sits in a distinct volume at one end of the building linked by stairs to the children’s bedrooms below.




The architects worked closely with the structural engineer to achieve an efficient structure of steel and engineered wood. Separated from the envelope, it allows a delicate glazed skin to wrap the main volume. The simple roof plane that connects the main program elements is emphasized by slender columns.

Through the use of a consistent palette of materials, wall and ceiling claddings link the interior with exterior. The varied textures of the simple volumes and planes provide a subtle but distinct reading of space.

Douglas fir cladding and millwork, lift + slide doors, steel structural members, slate cladding and counters, glass guards, radiant concrete floors, and douglas fir furniture.



Though the building features extensive glazing, the building was carefully oriented with extensive roof overhangs and high efficiency windows. In the winter, the south-shading deciduous trees drop their leaves and solar penetration exploits the thermal storage capacity of the concrete floors. Thick evergreens retained along the north and east elevations of the building fend off cold winter winds.

A lake-loop geothermal system supplies heating for the home, distributed through radiant concrete floors. In summer, the system is reversed to provide cooling when necessary. In addition to the lowered environmental cost, energy modeling of the geothermal system demonstrates a 5-year life-cycle payback period over a propane fired boiler.

A high-albedo flat roof membrane, low-flow plumbing fixtures, native vegetation, natural cross-ventilation, and local materials complete a strategy implemented throughout the design and construction phases that ensure occupant comfort at a reduced environmental cost.

  • Passive Solar Heating
  • Natural Ventilation and Passive Cooling
  • Natural Daylighting
  • High Performance Envelope Design
  • Renewable Materials and Finishes
  • Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and Non-toxic Materials and Finishes
  • Advanced Geothermal Systems
  • Radiant Heating
  • Heat Recovery Ventilation
  • Water Conserving Appliances & Fixtures


Taking full advantage of the granite mass upon which the building rests, the simple roof plane floats over a glass pavilion that is anchored to the site by an insulated concrete formwork [ICF] foundation. Clad in brick, the ICF base emphasizes the solidity of the site and provides the solidity for the light structure above, while creating a tightly sealed envelope for the lower bedrooms.

The architects worked closely with on-site trades to fuse new technology with traditional craftsmanship – a relationship that is all too infrequent in current practice. Completed within a reasonable construction budget, the project demonstrates the value of an integrated approach to building.

This project’s triumph was found in proving that green technology is viable for mainstream construction. Ultimately, the economics of sustainability make sense and the suite of green strategies this project incorporated appealed to a client with no green agenda at the outset.

Clean, modern spaces, rich in material and texture, in concert with a solid sustainable foundation, transcend the tendency for self-indulgent luxury and resulted in a timeless piece of architecture.


  • WoodWorks! Award for interior design

Altius Project Team Architecture

  • Trevor McIvor

Project Partners

  • Construction: Neal Brinkman & Sons - Apsley
  • Engineering: Blackwell - Bowick Partners Engineering / Project leader - Christopher Cucco - Toronto
  • Mechanical: Havencraft - Bancroft