Three wintry retreats that make the most of snow season
A Nordic-inspired family getaway
Who: Mark Muia, a sprinkler and fire technician; Katherine Cott, a media and communications consultant; their kids, Ethan, 14, and Ella, 17; and their beagle, Leo
Where: The Haliburton Highlands
Katherine Cott grew up visiting her Finnish grandparents’ Thunder Bay cabin and dreamed of having a retreat of her own. But it wasn’t until the pandemic that her family took action. “We felt like it was time to step back from the hustle and bustle and find a place where we could take the kids to escape,” says Katherine. They wanted to purchase a plot of land where they could build a cabin in stages.
Being near a ski hill was a must: the family goes to Blue Mountain and Horseshoe Resort several times each winter to hit the slopes. By February 2021, they had purchased four acres of land on Eagle Lake, a short drive from Sir Sam’s ski hill, north of Haliburton.
The family spent the summer of 2021 camping on the property with plans to build their cabin in the fall. But, when they learned that their neighbour was selling his 1,700-square-foot raised bungalow, they pivoted. In June 2022, they bought the home and lot in a private sale and set out to transform it into a Nordic-style retreat, or mökki—a Finnish term for a small cabin. They set their original land aside for future building projects.
The home’s walls, previously dark red, blue and purple, were repainted white. Then came the rugs, wood and cozy accents, like faux shearling and animal pelts, most of which they found on Facebook Marketplace. The couple also added an outdoor sauna—another must—by True North Saunas. “It’s a big part of Finnish culture,” says Katherine.
A log cabin with contemporary flair
Who: Peter Dawe, chief growth officer at a food manufacturing company; Samantha Margis, a stay-at-home parent; and their kids, Henry, 12, and Freddie, 9
As parents of young kids, Peter Dawe and Samantha Margis spent weekends shuttling between recreational activities, rushing from their Riverdale home to gymnastics or swimming lessons.
In December of 2016, tired of the routine, the couple purchased a chalet in Creemore, two hours north of the city. The 2,900-square-foot 1980s cabin had a dated yellowish interior, but its log construction was solid. They planned to renovate the inside and spend weekends up north year-round.
The following winter, the couple retained Toronto designer Olivia Botrie of Dart Studio. Alongside local Creemore contractor Ken Zeggil of KBZ Construction, Botrie transformed the four-bedroom retreat into a cozy home peppered with vibrant blue accents. The refreshed basement, outfitted with two bedrooms and a bathroom, is perfect for hosting out-of-towners—though the couple now count locals among their friends.
When they bought the house, the family knew they would enjoy Creemore, but the town has exceeded their expectations. “It’s picturesque and charming,” says Samantha. “At least one Hallmark-style movie has been filmed here since we bought the place.”
Weekends are much more relaxed now. The family hikes on nearby trails like the Creemore Nature Reserve and Devil’s Glen Provincial Park and has outdoor bonfires in the evenings.
A modern escape by the mountains
Who: Malcolm Anthony, an investment adviser; Robin Anthony, an independent art adviser; and their cockapoo, Gus
Where: Blue Mountain
Malcolm and Robin Anthony and their three grown kids have spent weekends in Blue Mountain for the past 23 years. They’ve owned two chalets near the Blue Mountain escarpment, where the family enjoys hitting the slopes.
They bought their first place in 1999 but outgrew it when their kids started bringing their friends along. They sold it in 2010 and bought a 4,500-square-foot chalet surrounded by old-growth conifers. But the home’s tucked-away kitchen, separated from the living and dining areas, was a buzzkill for socializing. Plus, the decorative ceiling beams and dark floors felt dated.
The goal, says Robin, was to optimize the space for hosting. That meant busting down interior walls, redoing the bathrooms and one of the bedrooms, and replacing an old deck. So, in late 2019, the couple enlisted Michael Taylor of Taylor Smyth Architects (alongside construction firm WPML) to give the place a warm, contemporary feel. Thornbury-based landscape architects the Landmark Group turned the backyard into a picturesque chill zone. New sliding glass doors seamlessly connect the great room to the outdoors, where a multi-level deck with a shade awning provides extra lounge space. The team also installed a firepit, a hot tub and a putting green.
Now, the chalet is the family’s gathering place. “It’s dramatically different,” says Robin. “We’re so happy with it.”