Designer Joel Bray takes a cottage porch from tired to terrific in just two days.
My partner, Andrew Dunn, and I have been renting this cottage in Ontario’s Kawarthas region for five summers. You can actually see the cottage Andrew’s family rented when he was a kid from the dock,
so it feels a bit like a family place. I’ve been making little tweaks around the home each summer, and the porch was one project I was dying to tackle. (Full disclosure: I’m the kind of person who will rearrange a hotel room if it doesn’t look quite right.) Last summer the cottage’s owners thanked me for the little changes I’d made over the years and agreed to let me give the front porch a makeover. I tackled it in one action-packed weekend — we drove up on a Friday, and I got to work the next morning!
My first project of the day was rearranging the dining area and hanging a hurricane lantern. I opted for something that wasn’t hardwired to avoid bringing in an electrician. After that, I painted some dining chairs I had with an aerosol spray primer and two coats of Olive (13) by Farrow & Ball. The round table was a bit too wide, so I swapped in a rectangular table from the kitchen and added a striped blue rug beneath. I kept two of the original wicker chairs as end chairs — they’re weathered, but in a white space like this it’s nice to have a few things with patina.
Since this is where we spend the most time on the porch, I wanted it to feel layered and less pretty-pastel. The wicker chairs were in great shape, and I was able to save some cash by keeping them. I considered replacing the white wrought-iron sofa, but it felt quintessential cottage to me, so I didn’t mess with it. I replaced the glass coffee table with a feet-up-friendly option and brought in a sisal rug and rope lamp to warm up all the white. The Hudson’s Bay point blanket is something I bring up every summer — it’s perfect for cool nights, not to mention an Instagram picture here and there!
I chose nature-inspired fabrics that would age well and be in keeping with the cottage’s rustic-trad charm. They’re from Robert Allen’s Sunbrella line so they will stand up to wet bathing suits and sun. I had the cushions sewn professionally and upholstered the sofa base myself in a fabric that nods to the sofa’s floral past.
This area was underused. It just held a couple of spare chairs, but needed to function more like an entryway. I mounted metal hooks for towels and coats and hung a mirror. I used a gently faded rug from the kitchen to break up the porch’s blue and green scheme. The console table was also from inside the cottage; I thought it could work harder here, so I gave it an update with a pair of oil-rubbed bronze bin pulls. Now, we have somewhere to store clean towels, sunscreen and all the little grab-and-go things we need for lakeside life.
I’ve always loved the classic atelier shape of this reading lamp, but the original nickel finish didn’t feel quite right for a cottage. With a quick coat of matte black spray paint, I was able to give it a whole new look. Whenever I’m painting metal, my go-to spray paint is Tremclad Professional — the finish is impeccable: it doesn’t flake off, and you’d never know it was an at-home paint job!
I stumbled across a boat ornament and all these books inside the cottage. Removing the glossy dust jackets on the books revealed their matte bindings, which have a charming, timeworn feel. Shadowboxes are great for displaying foraged finds. I tucked in a sentimental sprig of lavender — my Mom’s favorite flower!
One of the final tasks of Day Two was looking through the forest for some natural elements to dot around the porch, like driftwood and a mossy bird’s nest. After a busy weekend making over this porch, it’s nice to take in the view. Having a cottage with a great location and good bones makes it a lot easier to redecorate quickly. If you also want to make over your home away from home, remember to plan ahead, reuse some of what you have and make it a reflection of you. This really is my favorite place on Earth — now more than ever!