How To: Create The Perfect Family Cottage Escape with Cindy McKay

Cindy McKay is one of our go-to guests to share interior design tips.  She not only has flawless style but has two kids so knows first-hand how much wear and tear a living space needs to be able to take.  Plus her favourite shopping haunts tend to be budget-friendly.  This makes her tops in my books!  Today she shares with Plenty simple tips to create a welcoming family cottage retreat that are neither overwhelming or intimidating.  An avid DIYer could tackle the entire list, but one who is less confident could surely manage most of her suggestions like painting, personalizing and repurposing.  If, like me, a family cottage is not in the cards, Cindy’s tips can be applied to everyday living!


Designing cottages are at the top of my list of favourite spaces to work in. They are often cherished family places and I love to integrate family heirlooms and memories wherever possible. My own family cottage was no exception. It brought me great joy to be able to modernize my husband’s grandparent’s 1950 cottage while still maintaining its charm and integrating loads of special family pieces that tell a story and infuse the place with soul.

Open it up!

To me, the most important thing at a cottage is being on the water and ideally being able to see the water from every possible vantage point. The first order of business in our cottage was knocking down several walls and opening up the space to ensure gorgeous site lines of the lake from wherever you are. We removed one bedroom and a VERY tiny kitchen to allow for this more open floor plan. In addition to providing great views this also makes it an entertaining dream because everyone can be together; prepping meals, eating meals, having drinks… get the idea.

Lighten it up

The very next thing that had to be done was to paint everything white. And I mean, everything! There was really nothing wrong with the old wood panelled walls but they were over 60 years old and had turned pink with age. We literally painted every square inch of the place white and it makes all the difference. It’s light and bright and airy and you can really take in the gorgeous views of the lake without getting caught up in the darkness of the cottage. It also helps to balance the charming original wide plank pine floors and make them stand out.

Fill it with soul

Like most of my projects, I like to include vintage pieces wherever possible and this was no exception. In fact, I think it’s one of my best examples of using what we had but updating it and making it work better for today. Most of the pieces of furniture I either refurbished myself in one way or another or had them reupholstered. Old pieces that once belonged to my parents or to my husband’s grandmother are among my most treasured pieces in the cottage. A cherished water ski my husband used as a kid hangs proudly on display and is a great example of how to personalize your cottage space and add some soul at the same time.

Be ready for guests

Let’s face it, not everyone is as lucky as we are to be able to get away to a cottage very often. It’s a privilege that we love to share with friends and family but it takes good planning to ensure that guests are comfortable. We included bunk beds in as many rooms as possible and also had a sleeping cabin installed on the property that is ideal for older kids. Those cottage guests don’t just need a place to sleep, they also need somewhere comfortable to sit and eat. We enlisted my Dad to build a custom banquette in our dining area and an extra long table outside that seats 12. This way we are always ready to host friends and family for dinner, which happens often at the cottage – but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Read Plenty more by Cindy like her tips for creating a backyard oasis regardless of how much space you have.

Cindy is a Toronto based interior decorator specializing in creating beautiful, livable, family spaces with a budget in mind.  She loves working with pattern and colour and finds creative ways to personalize each client’s space to reflect their needs and lifestyle.  Cindy has many repeat clients and most of her new business comes from word of mouth spread by those happy clients!  To see her latest work visit her website or follow her on Instagram.

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