A Cabin Builder Succumbs to the Lure of Cottage Life
STORY BY HARRIET ZAIDMAN
THE COTTAGER, JULY/AUGUST 2018
Most articles about cottage families relate the stories of several generations that have watched the sun rise and set over lakes and forests. The family narrative usually includes cabins that evolved into cottages and now, decades later, into fully equipped four season homes. Their stories always include the appreciation of the coming together that cottage life provides.
Less common is an article about new cottage owners; a refreshing reminder about the value of family life spent in communion with nature.
Jason and Gerrilyn Fehr have been building cottages and homes for 15 years from their business, Timber Ridge Homes, in Mitchell, Man., near Steinbach. The company slogan is “Cottage is Family,” but until 2016 the husband/wife duo hadn’t owned a cottage themselves. That’s when they bought a tear down on the northwest side of Caddy Lake, with the intention of building a new timberframe structure and selling it right away.
But like the thousands of their neighbours on the lakes in the Whiteshell, they’ve now been bitten by cabin fever.
“What’s really nice about it is get to come here and it’s just us. There’s no interference and that’s what I love about it,” says Gerrilyn. Their business, as well as activities for their four sons, aged 8, 9, 12 and 14 — usually involving motorized vehicles — keep her and Jason busy at home.
“Cottages bring families together and memories can be made. We didn’t know how powerful that was until we (got) our own.
“Even if it is just for a couple weekends here and there, we can just be a family.
They built a beautiful cottage to foster those family connections. It took nine months to construct the three bedroom, loft-style structure from Eastern White Pine their company sources from Northwestern Ontario. Finished wood was used in the main part of the house, but the sunroom is roughshod, to give it a rustic feel.
The cottage is designed with maximum exposure to the lake. “We made it as light as we could and gained as much lake view as possible,” Jason says. Gerrilyn describes being enthralled by eagles soaring at great heights above the water in the mornings.
The Fehrs, who build between three and six cottages a year, as well as residential homes, use the cottage to showcase their business. It’s been really good for us to have something people can feel, see, touch, smell and enjoy the view.”
Before they began construction, Jason hauled in fill to raise the cottage four feet above lake level. They put in sod where their sons play catch or other games. But most often the boys head to the water, swimming, boating and kayaking from the moment they arrive. “The boys love the cottage,” Gerrilyn says. “They fish from the dock, sometimes catching five or six fish — smaller northern pike, black crappie — in only a few minutes. And they love the campfires in the evening.”
Because of other commitments, the family uses the cottage only on weekends in the summer, hoping to extend their stays in the future. But they’ve made good use of it during the past two Christmas holidays. Jason bulldozes the snow off the ice for the boys. “They’re out on the ice, skating and playing hockey,” Gerrilyn says.
The Fehrs, who build between three and six cottages a year, as well as residential homes, use the cottage to showcase their business. “We use it as a show home for our company, to give people a feel for what
timber frame is,” Jason says. “In cottage country no one has had open houses, but we do. It’s been really good for us to have something people can feel, see, touch, smell and enjoy the view.”
The open concept design provides a large family area, flanked by a comfortable kitchen. “I wanted something that was a little more modern. I wanted it to be warm and cozy and relaxing, airy without feeling too big,” Gerrilyn says of her vision for the cottage.
If the boys want some privacy, they can climb the ladder to the loft and veg out. They’re already looking ahead to when the boys are teenagers, when they’ll build a boathouse with a guest room above to give them the space they’ll need.
The design is low maintenance. To that end, they’ve used Eldarado stone and cedar shakes on the outside, and have included WiFi and air-to-air- geothermal air conditioning to make their time at the cottage comfortable and convenient.
“We’re here to chill,” Gerrilyn says. If the original idea was to flip the cottage quickly, the Fehrs are now experiencing the vision they sold to others for so long. “We exceeded our expectations,” Jason says. “We didn’t know how powerful that was until you have your own cottage. That is the truth. That is for real.”