Creating Refuge

Cottages have special importance in our lives. Many families have less attachment to their homes than they do to their lakeside retreats. Throughout Muskoka you see the names that have been given to these treasured family havens, most of which suggest a place of comfort and refuge, such as Solid Comfort, Linger Longer, and Abideawhile.

This is because every human being has a strong need for refuge. The level of need is determined by your temperament, your geographic location, and by your gender. There is an increased need for the feeling of refuge when your building is situated on an open plane, or on an exposed promontory, than when it is a cabin nestled in the woods. Women statistically have a preference for greater ratios of places of refuge to places of prospect in their homes, than do many men.

Older Muskoka cottages traditionally had many sources of refuge built into them. It was common to see window seats, alcoves near the stairways, inglenooks in front of the fireplace, covered porches with low ceilings, small sleeping porches, and so on. It is more common for more modern buildings to lack spots of refuge, being constructed with soaring peaked roofs, huge windows, or 10 foot ceilings throughout.

Sources of refuge are usually private areas where one or two people go to read, nap, or just to curl up and dream. There are a number of ways to build spots of refuge into your cottage.

Consider the ceilings in your private areas. A lower ceiling creates less volume, making the space seem right for a solitary activity. As well as physically lowering the ceiling in private areas, you can create the illusion of a lower ceiling by giving the ceiling visual weight. Painting or staining it a darker colour makes it seem lower. Our friend’s cottage has 10 foot ceilings throughout the main floor. The public rooms like the living and dining areas have the wood ceilings painted a creamy white, while the master bedroom has the wood ceilings stained a deep walnut, bringing it down around them in their bedroom. This makes the bedroom feel more like a protected haven than the great room does.

Installing beams on the ceiling will give the illusion of a lowered ceiling, as will adding any source of texture, such as the addition of batons, or tongue and groove wood.

Hanging things from the ceiling reduces the volume of a room and creates a feeling of refuge. Anything from canoes or kayaks, to grapevine wreath suspended from the ceiling, makes a spot feel more intimate and cozy.

Human beings like the have their backs covered, so having nooks and alcoves into which they can escape, provides a sense of refuge. In a large room, even having a high backed over stuffed chair, sheltered by a good reading light, and tucked into a protective corner will provide a spot for an individual to escape safely to. You can anchor and define the area with the use of an area rug.

Rather than planning ceilings of a consistent height when designing your cottage, consider lowering the ceilings in the private spaces. Having lowered soffits around the exterior of a high ceiled great room will provide cozy sitting areas or alcoves to which individuals withdraw. Consider having a physical barrier such as a window wall which can be opened wide or closed off to make this area part of the main room, or a cozy nook, as need dictates.

Coming from a very large cottage to a compactly designed version, we worried about having enough privacy. Therefore, in our cottage, our architect designed an inglenook, which we use as a get away. It has a lowered, dark stained tongue and grove pine ceiling, and it is upholstered and piled with cushions to create a cozy retreat where either of us can go to read, nap or watch a television show alone. If we aren’t feeling well, this is an especially good spot to curl up with a cup of tea, as the minimal volume of space makes you feel like you’re in a ‘womb with a view.’

Whether you are designing a new building or re-evaluating your current cottage, create enough places of refuge for all your family and guests. You will find it takes more imagination than money.

For more ideas contact or go to

Thelma Jarvis Sales Representative

Port Carling: (705) 765-6855
Bracebridge: (705) 645 5257
Cell: (705) 644-3554
Fax: (705) 645-1238

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