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Island summer escape

Moving from an old farmhouse into a sleek new cottage, one family creates a summery retreat for all seasons.

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For John Bonnell and Cathy Lumsden-Bonnell, home-away-from-home is now where the heart is. After three decades of making do with their summer-only converted farmhouse cottage in Murray Harbour, P.E.I., it was time for the Halifax couple to move up and over to a new all-season retreat built on their property.

  • The Bonnell family relaxes in their lofty, light-filled living room of their home in Murray Harbour, Prince Edward Island. An Island scene by Halifax artist Fionnuala Reynolds makes a dramatic focal point over the mantel. Furniture from Bowring, floor lamps by Restoration Hardware, cage lights over island from ABC Lighting New York, painting on right wall by artist Lindsay Walker of Walker Studios in Charlottetown. Photo: Stephen Harris
  • An insert propane fireplace provides warmth on cool summer nights and in the off-season months. To keep clean lines, the electrical outlets in the floor correspond with the living room furniture placement. Photo: Stephen Harris
  • A stainless steel nautical railing with wood birch trim crafted by local P.E.I. tradespersons adds yet another marine element to the beach-themed home, which features a second-floor look-out nook with unique see-through floor panels. Photo: Stephen Harris
  • A massive wood dining table from Wicker Emporium is a rustic touch in the modern dining room. Chairs and pendants from Ikea. Towering pocket doors with tempered glass panels are standard throughout the house. Photo: Stephen Harris
  • A soft beige (Balboa Mist from Benjamin Moore) permeates the main living space, which includes kitchen cabinets from Ikea and stainless steel appliances from Sears, such as a six-burner Electrolux Icon propane stove. Photo: Stephen Harris
  • The Bonnell family’s connection to Prince Edward Island has deep roots and it shows in their love for the province’s history. Photo: Stephen Harris
  • No cottage would be complete without a homeowner’s name sign. Photo: Stephen Harris
  • The second-floor bedroom is crisp, nautical and navy with headboards crafted from salvaged barn boards. Photo: Stephen Harris
  • Beach finds like sand dollars and starfish bring the element of special outdoor memories to the indoor décor. Photo: Stephen Harris
  • The master bedroom on the second floor will eventually become a guest bedroom when the Bonnells add a second wing to their dream home. Headboard and side tables from Pier 1. Photo: Stephen Harris
  • Structural glass floor panels give a peek-a-boo view of the dining room below. Although they can easily bear the weight of anyone who walks on them, few visitors dare to venture beyond the assumed safety of the wooden floor. Photo: Stephen Harris
  • Although the Bonnell home is now open for all seasons, summer is still the prime outdoor fun time. Photo: Stephen Harris
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The new home has all the comforts of urban living, including an elegant propane-fueled fireplace and other cozy amenities, with the added bonus of tranquility that only nature can provide. After all, it’s heaven on earth just knowing the promise of a cooling dip on a private red sand beach and a meal of freshly harvested clams is just a barefoot grassy stroll away.

“When we walk in the door, we’re both like ‘Ahhh, it’s so nice to be here.’ It’s heaven. We love it,” Cathy says. “The summertime is basically filled with company or family, non-stop, which we love. And then in the winter it’s like a little escape for us.”

This multi-generational escape started out with an old shell of a house on a four-hectare riverside piece of a larger property purchased in the 1960s by John’s P.E.I.-born and raised father, who first made it livable. After acquiring it in the 1970s, the Bonnells added to the house and it soon became the P.E.I. place to be in the summer for their growing family. “Our children grew up here, with me being off every summer for five or six weeks,” says Cathy, who operates a pre-school in Halifax.

After roughing it in the farmhouse cottage for 30 years, they decided to create their dream home-away-from-home in 2012 when John retired from his career in medical sales and distribution. For its design, Cathy had long imagined having a breezeway that would connect the main house to a sunroom, which even on a cool spring day brings a breath of summery sunlight to the soul. “I wanted a separate building from the house so when we are having company, you can sit out here and the noise won’t carry to people who are sleeping,” she says.

The 350-square-foot space features a wraparound expanse of transom-topped windows that let the natural light in while providing an almost unhindered view of nature’s best and screened-in protection against mosquitoes. “It’s almost like being outside,” she says. “If we’re not on the beach, we’re here.”

One of their priorities during building was tapping the talent of local tradespeople, one of whom was architect Lorin Brehaut of Guernsey Cove, near Murray Harbour. He designed that breezeway to act as a teaser portal to the scenic space that lies beyond. “It creates a big entrance: a protected area at the main entrance and entrance to the screen porch,” he says. “It also frames a view to their beach, the Murray River and the Murray Islands,” he says.

The Bonnells also did their research to situate the structure so it would take advantage of the property’s natural sightlines. “We looked at Google Earth to see the way that the sun was going to be coming in the afternoon [during the summer], so it would be nice and sunny,” says Cathy. “And we can see the sunset up the river the way [the house] is angled. That’s the whole idea.” Beachy is the theme for the décor and colour. The couple enlisted the services of friend and decorator, Janice McCrea from Halifax, to pull everything together.

In her free time, Cathy (who is a consummate bargain shopper) went hunting for quality items that were in keeping with the rustic-modern feel they both enjoy. The 99 boxes-worth of kitchen cabinets came from Ikea, and Cathy had a local person who specializes in their assembly install them. But there were some essential design details for which the Bonnells spared no expense, such as the sliding doors and the windows. In both the sunroom and the main house, they tower above the typical standard height. “We splurged on windows because we wanted to bring the outdoors in,” Cathy says.

There is also a series of 2.5-metre pocket doors with tempered glass panels, which are standard for all rooms but one. “It had to be in keeping with the large windows too,” Cathy notes. “We tried to keep everything in proportion.” The Bonnells also invested in details that made the space more comfortable. The kitchen island, for example, is a four-metre long, one-metre-wide seemingly seamless island of Staron, a manufactured product by Samsung. It was custom made with a five-centimetre-thick profile so the bar stools hunker up with a 35-centimetre leg space instead of the standard 30. “So you can actually pull up and put your knees under and your elbows on it,” John says.

Also on Cathy’s must-have list was a walk-in pantry for an easy-to-access storeroom for food, extra dishware and also all the usual kitchen gadgets that clutter countertops. They also integrated the sound system into the house and onto the large outdoor deck so they can play two series of music simultaneously. And then there’s the unique second-floor look-out alcove that’s a combination of both the architect’s and homeowners’ concepts. On each side of strategically placed pair of chairs is a structural glass floor panel through which light flows. The initial design was for two open spaces with railings on each side of the nook, overlooking the dining room below, but Cathy suggested they be like glass-bottom sea boats with a view of the dining room below. The end result of solid glass panels, that allow natural light to filter through, while providing additional floor space and openness, freaks out even the most stalwart. “Some people won’t even stand on it,” she laughs.

They kept the proportion for dream and budget in check, however. Cathy initially had bigger ideas in mind for her dream cottage home. “I really wanted a house with two wings,” she smiles. “I wanted the master suite downstairs but when we got the quote, that was nixed. Some day.” To keep their options open, they did put in place unseen but essential elements for the possible master suite wing of the future. Meanwhile, what will become the dressing room is now a den. On its back wall is a doorway to what will become the master bath that now exists on the main floor level next to the living room.

The old will now be the new for the next generation who come to visit, especially this summer when the Bonnell vacation homestead hosts the wedding of one of their four children who grew up there. “Now that they’re getting married and our family is getting bigger they will have their space,” says Cathy, who celebrated their new abode this past December by hosting a Christmas in the old place that has been such an important part of their past.

The multi-generational aspect continues for the Bonnells as their old cottage now becomes the heirloom place for their adult children and their future families to begin making their own memories. “Family is such an important aspect of life on the Island,” John says. “When we’d come back [for the summer], one question I’d always hear from people in the community is, ‘When did you get home?’ I think that’s very welcoming and warm and it’s a reflection of the values in the community, it’s very close-knit.”

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