June 1, 2021

Visit A Designer’s Colorful Cottage-Style Barn

Rap music, midnight bonfires and wandering packs of teenagers. It wasn’t exactly the relaxing experience designer Emily Griffin and her husband, Norman Howe, a travel exec, were hoping for at the Balsam Lake cottage they share with their three kids, Grace, 19, Max, 17, and Oscar, 14. Desperate to turn off the lights and the teenage joie de vivre by 9 p.m., the couple set about planning a separate, barn-inspired great room and sleeping loft to help keep the peace. “Norman and I spent many nights lying in bed thinking, ‘We’ve got room to build a separate structure….'” They found an ideal spot at an out-of-earshot distance from the family’s cottage (an original Pan-Abode kit from the 1970s), and designed the 1,600-square-foot space using mostly scrap materials from the property.

The land has been in the Griffin family for more than 100 years. Today, it houses a number of cottages, including a main residence and icehouse turned cottage built by Emily’s great-grandmother, Mabel Griffin, daughter of Sir William Mackenzie, the transcontinental railway builder who also turned Toronto’s horse-drawn trams into TTC streetcars. The lot was later divided between her grandfather Anthony Griffin’s four sons. Emily and Norman occupy the Pan-Abode she summered in as a kid.

Emily’s grandfather had the land zoned as agricultural, so they applied for a barn permit. When the frame was up, they filled the barn with repurposed windows, doors, wooden shelves, vanities, side lights and staircases sourced from the oldest cottages on the property, all while organizing regular raids at Dunk’s Junk in nearby Coboconk, Ontario. Emily’s historical Canadiana touches brought it all together, from the colorful rustic kilims and pillows covered in vintage camel blankets to the old-fashioned skis and family-owned vintage snowshoes she hung on the whitewashed pine walls.

What started as a spot for adolescent shenanigans quickly turned into a favorite gathering place for the entire family. Scroll down to tour this cottage-style barn!

Author: Alison Garwood-Jones

Virginia Macdonald


House & Home July/August 2020


Emily Griffin