A COTTAGE CALLED LOLA

Up on the island I am part of a community of not only wonderful neighbours but also included amongst an enclave of beautiful cottages that line the westerly shores of Snake Island on Lake Simcoe, Ontario. Eleven seasons ago when I purchased my island home I gained an idyllic little cottage for myself, but also truly made some of the best friends of my life. My neighbour and friend Christine Ralphs is one of these people. I purchased my renovated 1940’s cottage from her and her wonderful late husband Peter, both who quickly became like family to me. Peter and Christine introduced me to island life, while also keeping a watchful eye as I learned the ropes on how to have a cottage of my own. We truly share a love of getting away from it all, and throughout the years we have created our idea of the perfect escape and all the details that make it so.

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From the first moment I stepped foot on Snake Island I knew I had stumbled upon a special place and one which defined a different approach to Canadian cottage living. A unique variety of white cottages stood amongst the tall trees that felt so fresh and new to me as the cottage ideal.  After time on the island, I soon realized that I had become a part of a magical place and was so inspired by what Christine and Peter had created in their many years here. Known for her amazing aesthetic and unique approach to the perfect rural escape, Ralph’s idea of a weekend away requires a love for simple tastes and calming views. When you sit on her cottage deck overlooking the lake you might think you have been transported into the far away tropics, not a cottage in the middle of Lake Simcoe Canada. The calming and timeless pallet of the building’s white walls are encased in modern lines and functional design, that presents a beautiful contrast to the wild greenery and trees that surround the cottage property. Both unique and everyday pieces of decor fill the cottage rooms and are styled in a thoughtful and minimal way.

Christine’s taste is revealed, as each detail and decor piece in the cottage was collected and considered to compliment and enhance this distinct and tranquil oasis in the woods. Ralphs’ particular approach to style and design touches both her everyday life with her personal look and her longstanding career, first in the retail world and currently the interior design industry.  Her career history is one of note, when in the late 1980’s she came on board for the launch of Club Monaco and helped create the innovative brand as the Senior VP of Marketing and Store Design. Eighteen years later, leaving millions of us followers inspired, she then went on to find her next incarnation. Christine currently works as a highly sought after interior designer, along with her business partner and friend Michelle Lloyd, in Lloyd Ralphs Design. From Toronto to the US and further afield, both the residential and commercial work the team of Llyod/Ralphs leaves behind has a distinct, memorable and beautiful look to each space they touch.

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Now knowing the history of the demanding work life Ralphs and her husband had, it was this reason for a weekend get away to be considered. It was her husband Peter who convinced Christine that they needed to escape out of the city, and with help from good friends and island neighbours David and Michelle Bermann, Lola was found. From past stories told it Lola was described as a shack in the woods, but filled with charm and potential to be the perfect getaway. So many great weekends were spent together with family and friends, as Lola became Christine and Peter’s summer escape. As the seasons passed by and true cottagers they became, both Christine and Peter had a want for something more updated and current. They decided to tear down the old cottage and build a place of their dreams. They designed a modern style cottage with white walls and vaulted ceilings covered in thatching, a unique take on the Canadian escape and a new Lola they build together. As they say the rest is history and for the past twenty-five years island life has been a part of Christine’s life. Weekends of memories made, never forgotten and seasons yet to come.

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COTTAGE QUESTIONNAIREBest told in her own words, I put this questionnaire to Christine to talk about her life on the island, what makes her happy and what she can’t live without.

Q: WHAT MADE YOU BUY A COTTAGE?

A: I never wanted a cottage but my lovely husband (who was born and raised in Chelsea London, UK) was obsessed with Snake Island. Our friends David and Michelle introduced is the island and Peter fell in love. It took me several months to fall in love, but when I did it was a little shack named Lola. From the moment I saw the smaller carved and weathered Lola sing hanging from the porch, I was smitten.  We bought it immediately during this impromptu visit to the island….. even though we had only $10.00 between us at the time.

Q: HOW LONG HAVE YOUR BEEN ON THE ISLAND?

A: 25 glorious seasons

Q; WHAT MAKES ISLAND LIFE SO DIFFERENT FROM BEING ON THE MAINLAND?

A: I have several theories about this. When you arrive on the island by boat you feel a sense of true departure….. a break from city life. There are no cars on the island so you bring all your essentials with you and every weekend it feels as though you’re packing for a new adventure and escape. When you arrive on the island you are immediately aware of the lapping water, a gentle rhythmic pulse. After a little while you no longer are aware of the lapping, but it is the soundtrack to your stay.

Q:WHAT IS YOU FAVOURITE PART OF YOUR ISLAND HOME?

A: The sky bar the end of the deck that is attached to Lola and goes from the cottage to the top of the trees over the water. It is the first place I go when I arrive and I just stare, I  have been doing this since 1992. I also love the grass thatch on the front of the cottage and the grass ceiling inside. I feel I could be in an island home anywhere in the world. Also I never stop being wowed by the view from my bed.

Sorry you asked for only one part, but that’s too hard.

Q: WHAT IS YOUR MOST CHERISHED COTTAGE POSSESSIONS?

A: The original Lola sign and a larger one my sister gave us as a gift. Also the white lamp with raffia shade that was in the original cottage. I made the lampshade and gave the raffia a Chanel bob. If I had to choose one I guess it would have to be the original Lola sign, but please don’t make me choose.

Q; WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE TIME OF DAY ON THE ISLAND?

A: Around 3-4 pm in the afternoon, when the sun on the lake looks like diamonds…. it stops me in my tracks every time.

Q; WHAT IS YOUR IDEA OF A PERFECT DAY ON THE ISLAND?

A: Scenario 1……. sun is out, no wind, warm/hot

A swim in the early sun before breakfast, so quiet. Then an outside shower. A great breakfast, lunch and maybe dinner at the sky bar. A run around the island at some point or paddle boarding with Lucky (my dog) as co-pilot. Enjoying time with friends, my neighbours or friends that visit for the weekend. Ball time in the water and out on dry land with my dog Lucky. Taking time to sit down outside and enjoy it all, and not do anything.

Scenario 2……… Sun is out, lots of wind.

Keep everything the same, but scrap the run and go windsurfing.

Q; DO YOU HAVE ANY WEEKEND RITUALS?

A: As mentioned I go to the sky bar and chill the minute I arrive. I swim every morning before breakfast no matter what the weather is like. Every night cocktails at 7:00 at one of our cottages along what we call the Snake Island Gold Coast.

Q: FAVOURITE WEEKEND MEAL

A: At the moment I am really enjoying some recipes from FOOD 52’s Mighty Salad book. Love the seared scallop salad with black lentils and garlic sesame crumbs…… I could eat this every weekend!

Q: WHAT IS YOUR WEEKEND DRINK OF CHOICE?

A: Scotch and Bombay Sapphire Gin Martini, no vermouth and lots of rocks.

Q: IF YOU COULD INVITE A FAMOUS PERSON LIVING OR DEAD TO THE ISLAND, WHO WOULD YOU CHOOSE AND WHY?

A: I would invite John Irving, one of my favourite authors, who would really get Snake Island. I would also like to invite Kate Moss and Zoe Kravitz, because I love them and the music would be so good. Also invited would be Esther Williams because I never have anyone to swim with, and I hear synchronized swimming is making a comeback. Lastly I would like to invite John Stuart and Bill Mahr as I have crushes on both of them. Kind of dangerous inviting Kate and Zoe at the same time, but I love a challenge.

Q: WHY DID YOU CALL YOUR COTTAGE LOLA

A: Viola, the person we purchased Lola from,named the cottage, in fact  she named everything Lola, the boat the cat, etc.

Q: WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR MOST SPECIAL COTTAGE MEMORIES?

A: When the electricity was disconnected from the original Lola to the new Lola. I cried, but knew that the good times and memories would only grow. (Honestly, every weekend is full of special moments)

Q: WHAT IS YOUR WEEKEND MOTTO?

A: It’s island time.

Q: WHAT MUSIC IS ON REPEAT EVERY WEEKEND IN THE COTTAGE?

A: Peter’s music library.

Chaka Kahn, Zoe Kravitz and Cheryl Lynn.

Q: WHAT IS ONE GREAT TIP YOU CAN SHARE THAT YOU HAVE LEARNED IN YOUR YEARS OF COTTAGE LIVING?

A: Make a beautiful haven, but keep it simple and fun.

Q: WHAT ARE YOUR 5 TOP ESSENTIALS YOU MUST HAVE FOR YOUR ISLAND WEEKENDS?

A: My dog Lucky, dear friends, a black racer back swim suit, right now something with a bit of a ruffle for dinner, great if it can be thrown over the black racer back suit, and CE Ferulic from Skinceuticals.

Q: WHAT IS ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOUR WOULD GIVE SOMEONE WHO IS THINKING OF STARTING A COTTAGE LIFESTYLE?

A: As someone who never wanted a cottage in the first place, Lola truly changed my life. I discovered the magic of getting away once a week to a special place and sharing the joy, inspiration, personal growth and (most importantly) fun with others. It’s a lot of work having a cottage but when I sit at the sky bar or look at my thatch roof, I feel not just Lola is mine but the lake and the sky are mine too.

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