General Store Finds New Life as Architect's Home and Office


all photos by David LeBlanc

Muskoka, a district north of Toronto, is thought of as the playground for the rich and famous, even in a lousy summer like this one. But not everyone has a monster home on the lake; Architect Catherine Nasmith and landscape architect Bob Allsopp converted an old general store and post office into an architect's office and residence, leaving most of its historic character in place. David Leblanc of the Globe and Mail visited.


So many old Muskoka properties get ripped down or renovated to within an inch of their lives, so that they are little more than McMansions on a lake, waiting for the Friday night SUVs. Not here; a lot of money was spent on the foundations and the stuff needed to hold it up, but a light touch was used everywhere else. LeBlanc describes it:

A walk through the front door today reveals an open-plan, multipurpose room that's "much like the rec room in most peoples houses" as it serves as a family gathering space, Ms. Nasmith's country office, and even a movie theatre on guest-heavy weekends. Over the general store's original long counter is the framed watercolour of the building. Weathered wood wall cladding contrasts with others that are smooth drywall and with the creamy white ceilings punctuated by Swedish ball fixtures


LeBlanc describes the collision of new and old:

Order here, disorder there; into the chaotic and intricate beamed ceiling (exposed after the old drop ceiling was removed), an orderly clerestory was added for light and ventilation. Wobbly original wood floor bumps up against crisp new boards. Clues to the building's heritage are everywhere — a nod to Ms. Nasmith's passion and profession — yet the deft hand of a planner reveals itself also, suggesting Mr. Allsopp's influence. "A lot of what you see here are happy accidents and capitalizing on things that happened, then making decisions," says Ms. Nasmith.


Whenever we look at second homes, there is the inevitable question about whether they can ever be considered environmentally correct, given the duplication of resources and the travelling between. But one must also consider that Nasmith and Allsopp have taken what was basically an abandoned and deteriorating bit of Muskoka history and, with a very light and sensitive touch, made it live again.

More photos in the Globe and Mail

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