Image Credit : Brian So




Project Overview

For this cabin getaway on Ontario’s Rice Lake, Design Director Zoe Lee channeled a creative combination of inspiration. “The design concept for Away Cabins was primarily a mix of tropical style, along with elements of local Canadian cottages,” says Lee.
This project reimagined five existing cabins as family-friendly getaways awash in wellness. “When I first saw the cabins, they were in poor condition,” Lee says. “They had very low ceilings and felt really dark. I wanted to create a bright, welcoming place where families could relax and enjoy each other’s company.”
She and her team increased the cabins’ ceiling height by removing the drywall ceilings to expose original structural roof beams, which were painted black for cool contrast. New windows – skylights in the Boat House and Lake House and triangular windows tucked under the eaves of the other cabins – imbue the spaces with natural brightness.
Wrapping the walls with shiplap signals the Canadian cottage vibe, while the choice of rattan as the primary material for furnishing speaks to the tropical tone of the design brief. Bunk beds in two of the cottages tick the family-friendly box, and increase accommodation capacity. One cabin even features a whimsical chalkboard wall that invites guests of all ages to unleash their creativity. Yoga mats in each cabin and an outdoor yoga deck elevate the wellness aspect.
“Away Cabins are fresh and welcoming,” says Lee. “They complement the natural setting but are true standouts from other cottages in Ontario.”

Project Commissioner

Away Cabins

Project Creator

Dexign Matter Studio


Zoe Lee Design Director, Oliver Tan Team lead

Project Brief

Embark on an extraordinary retreat that redefines the art of escapism – "Away Cabins" emerge as a symphony of design brilliance and natural allure, harmonizing the beauty of tropical elegance with the charm of iconic Canadian cottages. This is not just a destination; it's an immersive narrative waiting to unfold.

Nestled along the serene shores of Ontario's Rice Lake, "Away Cabins" stand as an epitome of visionary craftsmanship. Led by Design Director Zoe Lee, our journey commenced by breathing life into seven existing cabins, each a canvas ready for transformation. With a stroke of ingenious creativity, we elevated ceilings and introduced new windows that flood the spaces with natural radiance. Structural roof beams, painted in striking black contrast, lend an edgy sophistication, while shiplap walls evoke the warm nostalgia of Canadian cottages.

But our vision surpassed aesthetics. "Away Cabins" transcend as holistic havens, embracing wellness at their core. Yoga mats within each cabin invite rejuvenation, while an outdoor yoga deck under open skies beckons introspection amidst nature's embrace.

The narrative we've woven encompasses sustainability too, honoring local partnerships and repurposing materials for an eco-conscious footprint. With unwavering commitment, "Away Cabins" redefines retreats, an innovation-driven sanctuary seamlessly integrating design, nature, wellness, and sustainability. Join us in experiencing a getaway that transcends the ordinary, as "Away Cabins" beckon – a testament to design excellence and nature's serenity.

Project Innovation/Need

The heart of "Away Cabins" beats with pioneering innovation that elevates the very concept of a retreat. Our journey began with a compelling need: to reimagine dilapidated cabins into captivating family getaways. Design Director Zoe Lee orchestrated a symphony of creativity, blending tropical allure with the cozy charm of Canadian cottages – a fusion unseen in the market.

Innovative transformation marked every facet. Ceilings were boldly elevated, unveiling original beams painted black for dramatic contrast. A meticulous play of new windows invited natural luminosity, profoundly altering the ambiance and connectivity with the serene surroundings.

Material selection served as an artistic compass. Shiplap walls harmonized with the Canadian cottage vibe, while the bold choice of rattan furniture embraced tropical luxury. Bunk beds addressed a need for versatile accommodations, while a whimsical chalkboard wall ignited interactive engagement.

Yet, the true innovation lay in the project's very soul – holistic well-being. Yoga mats and an outdoor yoga deck carved spaces for rejuvenation. In tandem, a commitment to sustainability emerged, nurturing local collaborations and repurposing materials to curate an eco-conscious haven.

In its entirety, "Away Cabins" ushers in novel outcomes, fusing diverse elements seamlessly. It redefines the realm of retreats, setting new standards for relaxation, nature affinity, family bonding, and sustainable design. This innovation-driven haven stands as a beacon of transformation, inviting guests to a getaway experience that defies conventions.

Design Challenge

Off-the-Grid Complexity: The cabins' rural location lacked urban conveniences like municipal services. Overcoming this, the team embarked on a venture into self-sustainability. Navigating the intricacies of electrical and pumping solutions without typical urban infrastructure showcased a pioneering spirit that aligned with the project's innovation-driven ethos.

Seasonal Constraints: With construction feasible only during Canada's summer, the team strategically harnessed this limited window to orchestrate the entire transformation. This dictated meticulous planning, ensuring every detail aligned flawlessly to deliver the envisioned oasis within a tight timeframe.

Pandemic Resilience: Amid the disruptive waves of the pandemic, the project faced unforeseen challenges. Lockdowns and material shortages intensified the complexity. Flexibility became paramount, as the team pivoted swiftly to secure resources, adapt to changing conditions, and ensure uninterrupted progress amidst uncertainty.

Revamping Foundations: Reshaping "Away Cabins" began by shoring up foundations and embracing lightweight materials for upliftment. To harmonize the seven distinct cabins for operational ease and an enriched guest journey, power and water connections were deftly interwoven.


Sustainability is the very heartbeat of "Away Cabins," echoing across diverse dimensions. Our approach embraces a multifaceted strategy that weaves local ethos, resource consciousness, and environmental stewardship into every fiber of the project.

Local Sourcing: We fervently champion local partnerships, sourcing materials from nearby communities to minimize transportation emissions while nurturing regional economies.

Resource Rebirth: Salvaging and repurposing materials played a pivotal role, bestowing a second life upon elements that might have otherwise been discarded. This ethos not only reduced waste but also injected character into the cabins.

Innovative Materials: Exploring innovative, eco-friendly materials enabled us to craft spaces that exude sustainability. These materials, carefully chosen for their lower environmental impact, showcase our commitment to responsible design.

Carbon Footprint Care: Our architectural decisions were guided by a quest to reduce carbon footprint. We integrated energy-efficient systems and adopted construction practices that minimized environmental strain.

Economic Resilience: Sustainability transcends environmental concerns; it encompasses economic vitality. By creating an economically viable model, "Away Cabins" ensures longevity, benefiting both guests and the local community.

In sum, our sustainability journey traverses local collaboration, material reincarnation, inventive choices, carbon footprint consciousness, and economic durability. "Away Cabins" is a harmonious blend of responsible practices that breathe life into sustainability across all its dimensions.

This award celebrates innovative and creative building interiors, with consideration given to space creation and planning, furnishings, finishes, aesthetic presentation and functionality. Consideration also given to space allocation, traffic flow, building services, lighting, fixtures, flooring, colours, furnishings and surface finishes.
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