Inside A Designer’s Rustic & Refined East Coast Cottage
Designer Fenwick Bonnell gives his beloved family cottage on the coast of New Brunswick a mindful makeover.
“This cottage has been in my family for a long time — my grandparents began renting it when my father was a teenager, and my parents finally bought it in the 1950s. We love it but, up until recently, we hadn’t done a lot to it. Two years ago, my sister Suzanne — who is now a lawyer with the New Brunswick government — and I renovated the cottage along with my brother-in-law, Wayne Burley, who oversaw the eight-month construction. We decided to save the original structure and build a winterized 700-square-foot addition so we could visit year-round.
Happily, Suzanne is very handy. She re-wove and restored chairs, and reupholstered and repainted furniture. Other pieces were sent to Toronto to be redone. Once everything was shipped back, I came down to install it. When my sister arrived, she burst into tears. Knowing that I had nailed the mood and honored the cottage’s memories was very heartwarming for me. It’s as wonderful to spend time here now as it was when I was a kid. And thanks to the renovation, cottage season has been extended. Now, my happiest days come around more than once a year.”
Click through to see inside the space!
Fenwick made concept drawings for the cottage’s new addition, which was designed by architecture firm Fellows & Company. The updated exterior is shingled in white cedar shakes and black corrugated steel to blend into the landscape.
The new addition has an inviting white-panelled entrance and black-framed windows that match the new ones in the older part of the dwelling. The coat hooks are cut from foraged alder branches and have brass fittings and black lacquer blocks. They’re also an update of an original cottage feature. “In the former entrance, they were attached with roofing nails to the log walls,” says Fenwick.
The great room’s 15-foot-high, trussed-wood ceiling has always been a grand feature of the cottage. Designer Fenwick Bonnell had the leather ottoman custom made with legs from his old cottage bed. Even in the summertime, temperatures on the coast can be quite cool. Here, Fenwick’s brother-in-law, Wayne Burley, stokes the fire.
Fenwick’s parents brought the mahoe wood coffee table in the great room back with them after a trip to Jamaica. Many of the furniture pieces and accessories preserve the cottage’s history.
A traditional ladder-back rocking chair and two watercolor paintings by Fenwick’s mother create a classic cottage vignette. He found the damaged chair in the trash in Toronto and sent it to Suzanne, who fixed up the frame and re-wove the paper rush seat herself.
Black-oiled, rough-sawn oak flooring keeps the new streamlined kitchen from feeling too contemporary. Open to a sitting area, the room features a stained-oak island and white lacquered cabinetry.
The cottage’s original log cabin frame opens into a quaint dining area. “This room was always here, except there were benches rather than armchairs,” says Fenwick. A contractor replaced the windows and redid the exterior walls with painted V-groove panelling, while Fenwick added floor-length linen drapery to dress up the space. Suzanne sourced the pendant light at Scandimodern in Fredericton and Fenwick contributed a pine plank–top dining table from his design firm, Powell & Bonnell.
Architectural details visually link rooms. For instance, the white V-groove panelling and frieze band on the sun porch repeats in the dining area. The rattan sofa and chair were reupholstered and paired with wire chairs for a modern twist. Fenwick’s late mother, Lois Ramsay, bought the coffee table on a trip to Vancouver in the ’60s and Suzanne restored the top.
The family’s venerable cribbage board can usually be found on the sun porch. Years of exposure to the elements have oxidized the sap in the log walls, turning them black. An old door frame marks what was once the cottage entrance.
The simple white bedroom in the new addition was designed with ceiling-height built-ins that maximize storage. The blanket chest at the foot of the bed was moved from the original part of the cottage, while sunny yellow accents brighten the space.
The cottage’s large windows can be cranked open to let the bay breeze pass through. A wool felt womb chair and a pair of paintings by New Brunswick artist Caine Harris are tasteful newcomers.
The new bathroom has heated porcelain tile floors, a walk-in shower and dapper black fixtures. It’s a significant improvement to Fenwick’s childhood memory of “the cold, damp outhouse.”
One of the three small bedrooms holds twin beds. Fenwick designed the headboards and the night table, and refreshed the other two bedrooms with identical furnishings.
Towering evergreen trees dot the property on Maces Bay.
Fenwick and his sister, Suzanne Bonnell-Burley, used to play along the rocky beach as kids, but the water was too cold to go swimming. “Every year there’s a little less of the beach because of rising tides,” says Fenwick.