Habitat: A mid-century sanctuary by Ontario’s Chandos Lake 

“The words we kept using were quiet and calm”

Isabel Slone 
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(Photography by Greg van Riel)

In the spring of 2007, Michael Cherney noticed a small lump on his tongue. After a biopsy, his family doctor delivered the diagnosis: mouth cancer. Within six weeks, Michael, a financial adviser, underwent surgery to remove the tumour. To recuperate, he headed to a quiet place with his wife, Shari: their 1960s cedar log cabin–style cottage on Chandos Lake, which they’d purchased the year before. “Being by the water brings me a sense of peace,” says Michael. During their stay, the couple’s affection for the cottage grew, and they spent every summer at Chandos Lake from then on. 

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The cottage, perched on a ledge with 100 wooden steps leading down to the lake, was in a state of disrepair when the Cherneys bought it. By 2016, mice were overrunning the property, mould bloomed in the basement and unsealed windows let in cold drafts. “We were hoping we could renovate it, but it was like putting lipstick on a pig,” says Michael. “It made sense to start from scratch.”

With the help of architect Cathy Garrido at Altius, the couple came up with a vision for a mid-century-modern sanctuary. “The words we kept using were ‘quiet’ and ‘calm,’” says Shari, who works as a nursing professor. The finished product, completed in 2019, is heavily influenced by Michael’s childhood home in Peterborough, which had been designed by legendary Canadian architect Eb Zeidler, the mastermind behind Ontario Place and the Eaton Centre. The new 3,200-square-foot cottage is decorated in earthy tones, with floor-to-ceiling windows that reveal the cerulean blue of the lake and a thicket of treetops. 

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The interior is sparsely furnished so as to not detract from the natural beauty enveloping their property. “We don’t have side tables or coffee tables yet,” says Shari. The open-concept space consists of five split levels, and the ceiling and kitchen are all built from Douglas fir imported from B.C.

Typically, the best lake view is reserved for a cottage’s primary bedroom, but Shari didn’t want to waste it on a room where they’d spend most of their time sleeping. Instead, Michael’s office is there, and he works at the same mid-century-modern children’s desk that used to be in his childhood bedroom. “It’s a wonder he gets anything done,” says Shari. The view has turned Michael into an amateur birdwatcher. “My first was a yellow-rumped warbler,” he says. “Then a pileated woodpecker.”

For the Cherneys, their cottage is much more than a summer getaway. When the pandemic struck, the couple expected to stay for 10 days and ended up living there for two and a half years. “Chandos is a beautiful community,” says Shari, who does yoga at a studio nearby and goes on regular walks with neighbours. Even after her arthritis diagnosis, she and Michael plan to enjoy the breezy lakeside pace of life and serene vista for as long as they can. “We always say we’ll carry each other down to the lake, if need be.”