This Canadian Cottage Is Vintage-Styled and Incredibly Cozy

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A dining room with a round table and yellow chairs on a round floral rug.

Name: Jen Moffat and family
Location: Ontario, Canada
Type of home: Cottage
Size: 1,200 square feet
Years lived in: 1 year, own

Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: Our little family consists of myself, my husband, and our teenage daughter, as well as a rather grumpy black tuxedo cat and an over-the-top German Shepherd. We are from Perth, Western Australia, and have spent many years living overseas, including in Brazil, before we put down roots and bought our home in Toronto, Canada. Toronto just fits us. We love to go and see live music, film, and art festivals and prefer the bustle of a bigger city than the quieter life of Perth. Last year we purchased a vacation home in Ontario. Extending ourselves and buying another home in Canada has really anchored us to this country and gives us a secure feeling of home.

We’ve lived in Canada for ten years and really miss the relaxed vacation style of Australia. During the pandemic, my work as a drama educator went on hold and we decided to pivot and purchase a rental property as a way of creating an alternative source of income. We wanted to recreate the experience of an Aussie bush property here in the incredible Muskoka forest. We got lucky and found the place immediately during a property boom in cottage country here, our place was overlooked because it wasn’t directly on the water, which didn’t bother us at all. It felt so much like the place I vacationed at during my childhood, we knew it was the perfect fit. Our focus was not only on showcasing my unique design style, but on creating a beautiful property that welcomed guests AND their dogs. We have a German Shepherd and finding a property that suits her needs yet also has all the comforts our family requires was just impossible.

Once we purchased our retreat, I spent a fast two months furnishing the entire place with new and vintage finds from all over our province and beyond. An experienced relocator, setting the retreat up was still an enormous challenge. We had daily furniture and package deliveries and our usable living space in Toronto shrank with each new arrival. It was a huge relief to fill the truck and get it up to the retreat once we got the keys. Alongside all the regular furniture, appliance, and kitchenware shopping, was the consuming task of decorating. We needed to get it on the rental market as soon as possible to help pay the mortgage so I had to act quickly and think on my feet. It’s surprising how many gorgeous, Australian pieces I came across. I now have a variety of vintage sellers who always send me their Aussie finds, much to my credit card’s horror! Possibly the defining style element at the retreat is the bedlinen. I have long yearned for colorful and eclectic linen whilst living in Canada. Seeing the amazing brands in Australia that combine odd color schemes and retro patterns left me drooling.

The challenge of furnishing a rental property is that every piece of linen needs to be affordable and hold up to multiple washes. I spent hours and hours scouring online sites in Canada to find each pillowcase, duvet cover, and blanket at the retreat. I bought matching sets and broke them up, combining them with other sets to create the atmosphere I was after. I have an enormous collection of linen up there now, and to keep things easy for my turnover staff I pre-select the bedlinen sets for them. This extra effort ensures that my design aesthetic is maintained in my absence.

Waratah Retreat was opened in July 2021. The Waratah is a bright, bold flower from Down Under and speaks to the color and drama I love to include in my interiors, as well as representing my unique Australian style. The property is comfortable and vibrant, with guests exclaiming that it feels more like using a friend’s cottage than just renting an AirBnB. They appreciate the collections of Australian books and art, though I’m not sure how many of them have actually tried the Vegemite in the pantry. I wanted to show Canadians that a rental property needn’t be bereft of personal touches and that the white Scandi box-style of design so popular here is overdone and outdated. Making bold interior choices doesn’t exclude your property from guests, it gives it a more unique and sought-after style, which has certainly paid off for us. The positive response has given me the confidence to release my own interior decorating business, Waratah Avenue. Whilst still young, I have huge plans for this little business of mine.

Encouraging people to take risks in their interiors in an effort to have a more authentic home is my goal. You don’t have to follow rules or trends to create a space that feels like you belong there. It finally feels like I’ve found a way to express my authenticity and what makes me special as a designer. I’m super excited to get on with it!

Describe your home’s style in 5 words or less: Australian, Eclectic, Vintage, Colorful, Relaxed.

What is your favorite room and why? The living room at the retreat is my favorite. Even thought the property was built in the ’90s, it feels rooted in the ’70s. Pitched ceilings and enormous picture windows welcome in the light and the glorious forest setting of the property. To me, it feels particularly Australian with its views and open-plan layout.

I kept the space bright and light to maximize all that wonderful sunshine the windows can collect. The walls house our collection of thrifted and new artwork and the room is full of just some of my crocheted blanket collection. I wanted the Retreat to feel as though it has been passed down in my family for years, with some updated furniture but also a lot of the original pieces left behind. The view is the true hero, though, and I wanted the design to really enhance that. This is a room that is always full of life and activity, yet feels incredibly relaxing.

What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? Oh boy, I’m passionate about thrifting so there’s always another purchase! I recently started a huge landscaping project (I also love gardening) and have bought a zillion plants and soil. Of course, I also found some wonderful thrifted furniture and birdhouses and feeders to encourage those winged visitors to the yard.

Any advice for creating a home you love? Scour magazines and Pinterest and figure out which spaces give you that warm feeling inside. We spend so much more time in our homes these days, your space should fit your own needs and not necessarily reflect on trends and interior influences. Pulling a home together takes time. I’m very much a slow decorator by nature (despite pulling the retreat together in record time), and enjoy letting a space evolve over the years. The more you live in your home, the more you will understand the light, your needs and what it is that you want.

If you love a specific piece, let it be the hero and take your design cues from it. I’ve realized that I am actually quite passionate about the color pink, but had no idea until I purchased my pink eyeglasses. I had always rejected the color, but it is now a strong element in many of my schemes. Designing can surprise you and help you discover your true nature. It’s a delight. Of course, if you struggle with decision making or are time poor, a designer or decorator (like me!) can help you get over the hill and on your way to the home you really need. Asking for help is always a great idea.

This submission’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.