Tell us about your company James

Lakeside Architecture Inc. is a full service architecture firm dedicated to the design of lakeside retreats –homes, cottages, boathouses and lakeside commercial resorts. I have projects have been completed in the Muskoka Lakes, Georgian Bay, Kawartha Lakes as well as Lake Huron and even lakeside Toronto! After I obtained my architecture license, I bought the firm of Smith Architect Inc. from Stewart Smith, a talented and experienced Architect that was the past President of the Ontario Association of Architects.  Smith Architect Inc. was founded in 1963 and is a residential and commercial architecture firm based in Huntsville, Muskoka.  The name of the firm was changed in 2017 to Lakeside Architecture Inc. to better reflect the firm’s area of expertise. Lakeside Architecture has continued the tradition of excellence set by Smith Architect Inc. and has built over a dozen cottages and homes, several boathouses and many residential additions.  

How did you get your start as an architect?

As a child, I had a fascination with the natural forms in nature. I found the structure of lakeshores, pine cones, birds wings, fish skeletons, rock crystals, driftwood and so on very interesting. How did they all come to be? As I would sketch the forms, I started to think about the arrangement of the parts and the overall purpose of the natural designs I saw. It was clear that there appeared to be a purpose and reason in the beauty and natural designs I saw. In high school, I combined an interest in mathematics and art with technical drawing courses so that I could create rational forms to share with others. This lead my family and friends to suggest that I look towards architecture as an outlet for the exploration of these ideas.  I graduated from the University of Toronto School of Architecture as their top student in 1995. I won the Gold Medal in Architecture and was nominated for school’s Governor General Silver Medal. I was also voted by the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada as a student most likely to be an “Architect of Distinction”. I interned as an Architect for over five years, four of those years in Alberta where I learned the design of timberframe homes and cottages and fell in love with this contemporary approach to traditional but modern design. I returned to Ontario in 2001, and in 2004, bought the firm of retiring Architect, Stewart Smith.  I have practiced residential architecture with a focus on cottages and boathouse and some resort commercial work since that time.   

What sets you apart from other architects?

I am not the typical architect.  I have the glasses (!) and some black clothing but I feel most at home in nature and on site. I believe that architecture should not just be beautiful but should also function well and work well with the site/environment. I want to design buildings that are built with natural materials and that follow the site contours and elevations to truly make a building look like it is emerging from the site and is part of it but still is new design that fits into modern life. When I was in my final year of university, I took a course at Central Tech (a technical highschool) where I learned simple carpentry techniques, joinery, simple framing and building techniques. My project was to build a large model (it became my friends kids’ doll house) with all the techniques I learned. I know how to frame, I know how to detail a building – my approach to architecture is not academic. I can work on site and have redone our cottage (flooding issue in 2013 meant we had to rebuild the foundation, floors, walls etc.)  There are those that do not believe that architects should know who to build but I think that the mind and the hands need to meet.  In my opinion, true mastery of architecture does not come from book knowledge but actually knowing how to put a building together in a true sense on site.      

What is your most memorable project?

All of my clients projects hold special memories for me. However, the big post-and-beam project on Pine Lake really sticks out in my mind as the first project that was a game changer for the Lakeside Architecture studio. As the owners were keen art collectors with an interest in Canadian Art and Architecture, they encouraged me to see the landscape through the eyes of the Group of Seven painters and explore ideas of iconic west coast Canadian architects such as Arthur Erickson. To me, this created a sense of connection to Canadian culture and landscape which has only gotten stronger over time. I have won two international design competition since that project. However, the focus always seems to come back to ideas home grown on the rock of the Canadian Shield.  Click here to read my explanation of the project to see how I worked with the site. 

What words of wisdom do you have for people looking to build a cottage?

Start building your vision of your design project. This is what we call in architecture your “Design Brief”.  The brief helps you develop a clear vision of what you want and need in your new cottage. I have developed a guide to the designing your cottage – I have a lesser version on my website but a full version is available in print. Basically it is a list of questions that you need to ask yourself and your family that assesses your site, what you want in interior spaces bedroom count, home office, and what materials and styles you prefer.  If these questions are filled out then it acts as a guide or a foundation for all your future design ideas and helps to establish your budget and timeline.  Essential to any building project though is the site.  You need to know where it is sunny, where it is shady, what views you want and others you want to shield from.  You need to design with contours and elevations – not fight the site but work with it.  I don’t recommend stock plans – even with some editing – as an approach as they won’t be able to suit the site in such a way that makes the cottage a special place to be and take advantage of all that nature has to offer.    

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Spare time – what’s that?  Well, I love to spend time with our family. This means cottaging, boating and tubing, swimming in secluded Canadian Shield waterfalls, offroading, fly fishing on both rivers and lakes with our kids and running our dogs. I have a keen interest in fly fishing and try to get out weekly if I can. I am also an avid birder. Basically, all up north stuff! Also we love theatre and the AGO and the ROM too! Our son is a first degree karate black belt and our daughter is a competitive dancer, so we like trying to keep up with all of their performances as well. It keeps us busy.

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