In designing 40 cabins for a golf club on Bigwin Island, a forested resort on Lake of Bays, north of Toronto, architect Brian MacKay-Lyons became acutely aware of the sight lines. Deer had chewed out the undergrowth, so, on the initial site visit, he could see the lake even from the center of the island. Accordingly, he lined up the eaves of his cedar shingle roofs with the top of the grazing line under the boughs of maple, pine, and ash trees.

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MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, won the Canada-wide architectural design competition for Bigwin Island in 2014. The historic site, named after Ojibway chief John Bigwin, had been created in 1922 and, over the years, lured Canadian tycoons, Hollywood stars, and even the Dutch royal family to this preserve in the district of Muskoka. In building new guesthouses, which range from 1,230 to 1,350 square feet, the island’s owner, Jack Wadsworth, hopes that members of the golf club will want to use the cottages during the summer and let them be rented out off-season.

Recently, the firm completed the first three prototypes, each with a different template: one has a floor plan that is linear, for those properties that are close to the lake; the second has a courtyard-scheme for houses in the woods; and the third is a pinwheel type for those in the meadows. Cabins are sited to create village greens around meadows or offer vistas of the lake or golf course. Each emphasizes its immediate context. “I see the cabins as landscape-viewing instruments,” MacKay-Lyons says.

The architecture itself looks to the vernacular— a longstanding interest of the office since its founding in 1985. Here, MacKay-Lyons has created handsome, large, overhanging pyramidal roofs and screen porches that pay tribute to traditional Muskoka lake cottages and boathouses. Using local materials and building techniques, he constructed the cabins with glazed and shiplapped-wood walls, steel columns, and cedar-shingle roofs over conventional trusses. Other features of the two bedroom dwellings are hearths and asymmetrical skylights, along with geothermal wells. Although the architects furnished the prototypes with Mission-style furniture, each owner can choose his or her own décor.

In this picturesque cluster, MacKay-Lyons emphasizes not only the dialogue created between architecture and nature, but the sense of the community generated by the way the cottages relate to each other. The ensemble is as important as the sight lines.



MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, 2188 Gottingen Street Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3K 3B4, Canada, 902 429 1867,


Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:

Design Lead: Brian MacKay-Lyons, Fellow Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (FRAIC), Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA), Honorary Fellow, American Institute of Architects (Hon. FAIA)


Project Architects:

Jennifer Esposito, Diana Carl


Project Team:

Jonny Leger, Duncan Patterson, William Green, Rimon Soliman, Will Perkins, Matt Jones, Alastair Bird


Project Manager:

Dave Smith, Eagle Landing Company



Structural Engineer: Blackwell Structural Engineers


Landscape Architecture:

Baker Turner Inc.


General contractor:

Greystone Construction



Doublespace Photography


Exterior Cladding

Metal/glass curtain wall: Versa Wall: Alumicor

Other cladding unique to this project: All View Glass & Screen Room: Patio Enclosures



Built-up roofing:

Sarnafil PVC Membrane: Sika


Titanium PSU 30: Owens Corning

Ventgrid 12: Ventgrid

Extra A Clear Eastern White Tapersawn Cedar Shingles:




36100 VCM: Columbia Skylight




Signature Series 1 Panels Aluminum / Pine: Weathershield




Helios Multipoint Lockset: Emtek

Taymor: Vega Series


#BP39660900: Richelieu

Bathroom Pulls: 

#BP39660195: Richelieu

Wall Hooks: 

#BP39660195: Richelieu


Rod – 122208140: Richelieu
Flanges - 1223140 and 1225140: Richelieu


Interior Finishes

Paints and stains:

SDF Stain: Sansin (black finishes on screened porches, interior cladding)

Timberpro Clear Coat: Timberpro Coatings (clear cedar cladding)    

Solid surfacing:

Kitchen – Premium Black Polished Granite

Washroom – Hanstone: Royal White Quartz

Floor and wall tile:

Arctic White – Matte -4 x 16: Olympia Tile (Bathroom 1 &2, Water
Closet); NYX – Nero – Matte 12x24: Ubania; Harmony Series: Centura Tile

Wood flooring:

Regale Series 4106 Champagne Oak: Beaulieu



Interior ambient lighting:

LCOM LED Commercial: Visioneering

Toupie LA00 Matt Black: Luminaire Authentik



C4P20MH 4” 50W PAR 20: Lightolier


Tolomeo classic: Artemide


4” Round LED Slim Recessed Downlight: Liteline

Morilton Black Exterior Wall Lantern: Home Decorators Collection




#21600100: Duravit


K2882: Kohler; Vero Washbasin #070225: Duravit; KGS2U/8: Kindred;


#34270001: Grohe; Kindred


Pose 6030: MAAX


Euphoria System 180: Grohe



Gas Fireplace:

Vector 45 LHD45: Napoleon