Ontario retreat Nortehaus is a house of many layers

The forest hideaway offers hygge vibes and Japandi design two hours north of Toronto

German, Ecuadorian, Japanese, and Scandinavian influences converge at Nortehaus, a minimalist Ontario retreat that hunkers in the forest two hours north of Toronto.

Nortehaus is the brainchild of Willy Kuhne and Samantha Padilla Torres and was envisaged as a weekend escape from the couple’s busy lives working in Toronto’s tech industry. The pair were idly scrolling through listings when they came across a 1.13-acre plot in Kawartha Lakes, just south of Algonquin National Park, that caught their eye.

Despite being the dead of winter, the couple wasted no time visiting the site. Kawartha means ‘bright waters and happy lands’ in the Wyandot language, and it’s a very fitting description for the cabin’s setting, bookended by dense forest and a river.

‘We could immediately envision building something that would allow us to take a break and be in touch with nature,’ says Kuhne. ‘So we started designing a cottage from scratch that is vastly different from what is in the area.’

The couple enlisted MAFCO House and CDH Carpentry to bring their vision to life, designing a sleek single-storey cabin that perches above the forest floor. Keen to avoid damaging the existing eco-system, the 1,092 sq ft cabin sits snugly between mature trees on the plot, with only dead or end-of-cycle trees felled to make room for the residence. Its charred timber cladding and a flat-roof profile further bed it into the terrain and add to the sense of mystery awaiting inside.

‘Over time, nature has reclaimed its territory, and we wholeheartedly embrace the flourishing of wildflowers and shrubs as the land rejuvenates itself,’ says Kuhne.

Layering influences

‘My wife is Ecuadorian but has lived in Canada for 12 years, and I’m German but have lived in the US, Canada, Ireland, the Philippines and Portugal. So there are a lot of cultural influences that we are trying to balance’, says Kuhne.

Japandi aesthetics emerge across the interiors, designed in collaboration with All Ten Wards and Harvest House to honour materials, simplicity and cosiness. Think blonde woods,  natural textures and a restrained and organic colour palette.

A hygge log burner takes pride of place in the open-plan living room and kitchen, offering comfort and heat through winter. But floor-to-ceiling glazing also ensures that whatever the season, the views are always front and centre wherever you are in the home.

Fluted blonde cabinetry in Nortehaus's kitchen. The space is designed for entertaining while you cook.
Photography: Melissa Nezezon

In the warmer summer, the cabin opens to an outdoor deck. At the same time, the interiors bask in dappled light – providing guests with an extended forest bath, complete with a background soundtrack of bird song and river water rushing downstream.

One of Kuhne’s favourite spots within the house is the bedroom, where there’s a soaking tub perfectly positioned in front of the window to enjoy forest views. (A benefit of being surrounded by woodland is that it provides absolute privacy).

There’s also a forest sauna, which the couple constructed this year, that offers another chance to experience the landscape uniquely before following the trail down to the river, which flows all year round, even when the land is blanketed by snow.

Kuhne and Padilla Torres designed Nortehaus for their family and even contemplated living in the rural property full-time when the pandemic rolled around. But ultimately, life took them in a different direction – transporting them thousands of miles away to Portugal, where they now live with their young daughter and work in the country’s booming tech sector.

The bedroom is deliberately simple: colour and excitement comes from the surrounding views.
Photography: Melissa Nezezon

Nortehaus remains their anchor to Canada and, perhaps, their lasting legacy in their adopted country. This idyllic retreat embodies their aesthetic and their philosophy on life. And since their move, the couple has decided it up for others to experience, with the cabin available to rent through 2024 from $450 CAD per night.

‘Walking out of the door, you can trail right into the forest for a few miles. The river is canoe friendly and within a few paddle strokes, down the river you’ll find a tiny tavern in the city called the Riverside Inn,’ says Kuhne.

Neighbouring towns Fenelon Falls and Minden are also on the doorstep, and there’s also the chance to embark on a unique adventure to a nearby wolf preserve.

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