A Toronto designer escapes an overheated housing market and creates her own perfect weekend escape on the cooler shores of Lake Huron.
I just knew this was it!” says Toronto designer Tiffany Piotrowski, describing her first visit to the cottage. “It was only the second property I saw, and I put in an offer right away.” Other prospective buyers with less imagination may not have felt the same way. The interior left much to be desired, with dark wood panelling, popcorn ceilings, and orange and brown patterned carpeting. However, the location couldn’t be beat: the 800-square-foot cottage was just two blocks from the beautiful beaches of Lake Huron and a five-minute walk to the main street of Sauble Beach, a small town in southwestern Ontario. In 2018, the principal designer of Tiffany Leigh Design had expanded her Toronto property hunt out to cottage country as she searched for more affordable real estate. She envisioned a place that could be a weekend getaway, as well as a desirable Airbnb property — renting it out could recoup some of her renovation and mortgage expenses. “Looking at other listings in the area, I saw a gap in the market for an updated, aesthetically pleasing cottage rental,” she says.
To keep the budget under control, Tiffany and her parents tackled most of the work themselves, going up on weekends to paint, and install tile and new laminate flooring. The deck off the kitchen was expanded to make more room for outdoor grilling, and Tiffany uncovered flagstone on the property, which she used to pave an area for a cosy firepit. Cottage ownership did come with some unforeseen — and expensive — surprises: ripping up the carpeting exposed asbestos tile, which required professional abatement. The property also uses well water, which is high in iron and can stain bathtubs and sinks a rusty red. “We had to install an iron filtration system and a new septic system, which was pricier than we had anticipated,” says Tiffany. Despite these bumps in the road, she kept her vision firmly in mind. “I didn’t want it to look too traditional and cottagey. I wanted it to feel more coastal, like a beach house.” She kept to a soothing palette of whites and soft blues and natural textures of jute, seagrass and rattan. Many of the furnishings are thrift store finds given new life with a coat of paint. “I don’t think furniture at a cottage should be too precious — little nicks and dings are fine and give it a relaxed feel,” says Tiffany. After nearly a year of renovations, the cottage is now open for business and booked solid for the summer. “I might get to use it in September!” she says with a laugh.