Muskoka Boathouse

Muskoka, Ontario
Shim-Sutcliffe Architects

Located on the southwestern shore of Lake Muskoka two hours north of Toronto, this boathouse communicates a certain resonance by responding to the contextual history of the region. Surrounded by the dramatic Pre-Cambrian granite rock formations of the Canadian Shield, the distinctly modern boathouse exists in a rich social and cultural landscape of ornate Victorian cottages, pioneer log cabins and custom wooden boats built by local craftsmen. This “sophisticated hut” in the wilderness attempts to strike a balance between modernism and the vernacular, building and nature, light and dark, as well as the intellect and the senses–all through its conceptual arrangements, material palette, spatial organization and construction methods.

The program consists of two indoor boat slips, one covered outdoor boat slip, storage for marine equipment, sleeping cabin with kitchenette, shower and bath area, bedroom/sitting room, and several outdoor porches, and terraces including a moss garden containing local plant species.

From a primitive submerged structure of crib foundations, the boathouse’s heavy timber outer walls emerge from the lake to form a protective outer layer. The timbers are milled from reclaimed industrial beams, and assembled with traditional log cabin methods. Interior finishes combine the ordinary and the sophisticated; Douglas fir plywood cabinets complement intricate mahogany windows. Further, the traditional Victorian beadboard ceilings transform into a shaped Douglas fir ceiling in the main room of the sleeping cabin, while mahogany duckboards in the bathroom echo the typical Muskokan boat deck. Material and construction techniques such as these define both the rustic outer layer and the sophisticated inner liner to create a juxtaposition defining Shim-Sutcliffe’s modern position of building in the Canadian landscape.

Andresen: This small architectural project successfully incorporates ideas about multiple landscape relations and the balance of formal contrasts.

Komonen: The architects of the boathouse have taken the most challenging starting point. They have made a building on the border between the forest and the water. This should be almost a forbidden site to make a building. Shim and Sutcliffe have however been successful on this architectural tightrope. The house is beautiful and well-proportioned in the landscape. The refined craftsmanship resembles a piece of furniture as well as the super-designed hardwood boats the building envelops.

Macdonald: In its instinct for situation as well as in its material execution the house acknowledges past habits and traditions of the region while advancing these practices to a level of exemplary resolution.

Teeple: In this project, North American “stick” wood construction is refined to a high level of artistic expression. The same level of care and precision is applied to every aspect of the project as well as to its siting. This results in a boathouse that has a familiar quality. It is like other boathouses in the Muskokas, yet is differentiated as an artful reinterpretation of the type.

Client: Shanitha Kachan and Gerald Sheff

Architect Team: Brigitte Shim, Howard Sutcliffe, Donald Chong, Jason-Emery Groen, James Song, Andrew Chatham, John O’Connor

Structural: Atkins + Van Groll Engineering

Mechanical: Toews Systems Design

Millwork: Radiant City Millwork

Custom Fabrication: Takashi Sakamoto

Budget: Withheld

Completion: 1999