A Lakeside Vintage Wonderland

An Etsy seller fills her lakeside B.C. cottage with secondhand treasures
BY IRIS BENAROIA PHOTOGRAPHY BY GRANT HARDER
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May 8, 2024

Mitzi Shields’ gig as a seller of vintage fashion and homewares began in 2022, when she spotted a pair of Prada pumps in a Vancouver thrift shop and purchased them for around $30. She posted them on Etsy and, only two days later, sold them for more than $300. (She originally thought she was getting scammed.) Since then, her Etsy store, called Vintage by Mitzi, has taken off. Now the only things she buys new are electronics, running shoes, carpets and underwear. “I don’t care to buy anything where there are a thousand available,” Shields says. “I like things that have been around the block.”

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Mitzi Shields grew up on a farm in Jamaica. After moving to Canada in 1999, she dreamed of living in a house near the woods with a garden by the water.

That’s clear from the smorgasbord of goods stuffed inside her cottage on Shuswap Lake in B.C. The lake, more than six hours northeast of Vancouver, has over a thousand kilometres of scenic shoreline and a mountain backdrop. She spends summers there with her partner, David Askew, who she met in 2019 when he approached her outside a post office. The couple belong to a grassroots-farming co-op and share an interest in books, politics and history. They play board games like Qwirkle and watch foreign films. “We’re not going to see The 40-Year-Old Virgin. We are old souls,” says Shields. Two years ago, they added a bubbly Portuguese water dog, Charly, to the mix. 

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Shields got fed up with an intense subway commute in Toronto and traffic in Vancouver. She now lives most of the year in Salmon Arm, a bucolic community five hours east of Vancouver, and spends her summers on Shuswap Lake.

Shields and Askew live most of the year in a cedar-clad home in Salmon Arm and spend summers in the cozy Shuswap Lake cabin about two hours away. The 1,500-square-foot, three-bedroom retreat is tucked among trees at the end of a winding driveway. They have a private beach, a sauna and a deck that faces the lake. A smaller porch at the back overlooks the forest where Shields is planting a lavender field. She originally wanted grapevines over her pergola to create a Tuscan atmosphere. “Luckily my neighbour talked some sense into me and told me it was guaranteed to attract bears,” she says.

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Shields overhauled the summer cottage with soft, nubby textures, earthy colours, lots of plants and lots of renovations. She and her partner, David Askew, repainted the kitchen a muted green and installed engineered-wood floors, a new chimney, a gas stove and a wood-burning stove from Spain—an epic undertaking.

Every room has gorgeous water views, and Shields made sure that the interior lives up to them. The pine kitchen, which she initially thought to be bland, looked lovely after she painted the surrounding walls a muted green. The couple also installed engineered-wood floors, a new chimney and a wood-burning stove from Spain. “The door had to be taken off the front of the house and the stove jacked into place. I’m telling you, that’s the last wood stove I’ll be buying,” says Shields, though she admits nothing compares to it for ambience. 

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Shields abhors empty walls, so she fills them with largely Canadian artwork.

Whenever Shields visits a new city, her first stop is the bookstore, then thrift stores to scope out mostly mid-mod homey treasures. (She mainly hunts for handmade pottery, dishes and glassware.) She hits the local shops twice a week, and her eclectic discoveries are displayed throughout the cottage: a pair of 1960s tubular chairs in the living room that were $10 apiece, collectable glass genie bottles from Empoli, Italy, in the guest bedroom. A recent addition is an exquisite, rare orange vase from 1967. “I google-imaged it and discovered it’s from the famous Finnish glass artist Nanny Still,” she says—and into her cart it went.

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As foodies and art-gallery enthusiasts, Shields and Askew love being sandwiched between two major hubs, Vancouver and Calgary. “You can do crazy things in a city, then come back to this quiet little corner of the world,” she says. 

Shields also uses the cottage as her Etsy store showroom, so the space is always evolving. Currently, an African kuba shirt hangs over the stairway, and a Don Freedman tapestry of a trio of tulips is over the couple’s bed. Brass candlesticks brighten the hearth, and lots of bulbous 1960s glazed lamps ooze nostalgia.

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Shields began scouting thrift stores years ago for cotton and silk clothes, which she could only afford to buy secondhand back then. Now, she’s on the lookout for handmade pottery, dishes, lamps, chairs and glassware to sell on her Etsy store.

These days the pair read books while splayed on their fudge-brown velvet sofa. “It’s ugly but comfortable,” says Shields. She is also a fervent cook and shares her dishes on her Instagram page @mealswithmitzi. With Charly in tow, the pair hike, kayak, paddle-board and literally stop to smell Shields’ white roses. Bears be damned: she’s even thrown in a few raspberry bushes. The couple take road trips in Canada and the States and sometimes spend a month in Spain and France, like they did last June. “Oh, the things you spot. I could have filled a ship in Spain.”

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Shields and Askew are proud of their quintessential Canadian cottage. “We absolutely do not rent our cottage because it’s our home,” she says.