Usually when we talk about love at first sight, it’s not a little cottage set back on a meandering lane along the shores of Chance Harbour. But it was just that for Stella and Gary Hollett, when they purchased a property in a quiet beach neighborhood in 1998.

Like most cottages that never make it to the real estate guide Gary had heard about the property through the grapevine. The couple had made the decision to actively look for a summer home along the north shore where Stella had family and roots and it didn’t take long to find exactly what they were looking for. Gary did a solo tour of the cottage when Stella was working from home in Halifax, making sure he got a foot in the door knowing how quickly little gems like these were snatched up. He tells the story of taking an entire row of film and stopping to have it developed on the way back to the city so he could show Stella as soon as he got back to the city. Stella was in love too. They made an offer and the cottage was theirs.

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Gary and Stella entertain neighbours in the spacious living room, perfectly suited to a cozy evening for a few guests or equally as inviting for a large group, as well, which is exactly how they planned it.

Enamored with their new little nest and wanting to soak up the joy of a summer by the sea they did little during their first summer other than to bring some of their own possessions. Knowing they made the right investment they decided to plan for some practical renovations to bring the dwelling up to date and winter ready so they could extend their season and enjoy a few long weekends at the beach when winter set in. Giving up their Halifax lifestyle was never part of the immediate plan but they think that the little cottage had others ideas for them.

In 2003, when Gary retired from his career, they decided to do a major renovation, make the move and call Chance Harbour home. They started from the bottom up, lifting the cottage and pouring a full foundation. They added a sunroom and bumped out the walls along the front and driveway side of the cottage significantly increasing their square footage. The new space meant that Stella could work from the beach property and still be connected to her global consulting business. Updates to the heating system transitioned them from a wood-burning furnace to a heat pump, ETS system and a propane fireplace. The upgraded so they have the option to travel without worry.

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Stella Hollett tends to her plants on the back deck of their now year-round home in Chance Harbour.

Fast-forward a dozen years to 2015. That same little beach house that had beaconed them years ago was asking for something more and Stella and Gary were once again ready to respond. Breaking away from the old cottage style they would bring it into a new era. The thought never occurred to them to look for another lot and start fresh, this was where they wanted to be, they felt very grounded here, it was now home. So, they hired designer Kelsey Adams from Costandi Designs and got busy with a design that suited the location and Gary and Stella’s vision for the simple clean lines of a modern home that still related to their environment.

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A second seating area off the dining room takes in the ocean views, but is still open to the main sitting area and kitchen.

The plan was to open things up and create spaces to breathe in and exhale the sea air. They pressed the reset button, refreshing furniture and welcoming atmosphere that spoke to their love for entertaining but flexible for quieter times allowing them to feel relaxed and peaceful when it is just the two of them. Structural elements like the old brick fireplace in the middle of the cottage were moved. It had lots of character but was an obstruction to the open flow in the layout. It now fits seamlessly along a wall as a new propane fireplace. A generous island is a gathering spot and area to prep food while keeping connected with conversation areas in front of the fireplace. The room flow wraps around the staircase to the finished basement with an easy transition to the dining area. Another seating area reaches beyond this space and a great little space for a morning coffee or stretch out to catch a movie on the flat screen.

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Bright and airy, and yet very functional, the kitchen, with its white cabinets and counters allows for fun pops of colour through the accessories and artwork.

The Hollett’s stayed on point with their concept throughout the rejuvenation. The colour selection was kept neutral and calm so the meaningful pieces of artwork catch the spotlight. Their collection all has a “funky specialness” to them, whether it is pieces done by friends or local artists like Alan Syliboy, Bill Grant and Dan Munro. Some of the work commemorates their epic adventures. You won’t find knick-knacks filling up the shelves; they keep things unencumbered and pared back with a strong minimalist objective. Their lighting choices helps to maintain the style and were carefully selected so they did not compete with the artwork but enhance their inclusion. The main floor bathroom has a floating vanity in front of a bold, blue tiled wall where each tile was hand laid out by the designer to mimic the nearby playful bubbling waves breaking on the beach.

The other key element in the design was to make the outdoors an extension of their inviting interior making the most of the summer weather. An outdoor shower for a quick refresh after beach time and choice seating areas on the back of the house that incorporates privacy but still an ease in its approach for their neighbours. While the main reno is complete and they enjoyed their first full season with the finished project Stella and Gary say that there are plans for a beefed up barbecue area and deck extension that will enhance their view of the water.

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The sunroom addition, with its fireplace and cozy seating, offers more spots to put your feet up and relax. Again, the pops of colour are introduced through the art and accessories.

The Hollett’s emphasize that while they initially fell in love with the little beach cottage they have since developed a similar love for the tight knit community they have become part of. Of course, when they first moved into the community back in 1998, they were the new folks but were welcomed with open arms. They have held many ‘loaves & fishes’ type suppers where more neighbours wander into the backyard and somehow they stretch supper to feed the crowd, no one is turned away and all are welcome. It is nothing for a group of kids to run through the yard as they play their games. It’s an open concept philosophy inside and out as there are no fences to stop anyone from ambling by. They believe they spend their summers as carefree kids on the shore.

Gary and Stella have not been alone in this phase of transition from cottage to year round home. They have watched the shift from primarily cottage country to full time seaside living in their neighbourhood. The quiet of the winters are off set by the bustle of the summer season and each is enjoyed to the fullest.

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Colourful prayer flags add more colour to the back deck, serving as decoration and gentle reminders of positivity and fond memories of past travels.

They have become active members in the community, too, whether it is attending a local church, being part of the Beach Preservation Society and the Chance Harbour Community Center or even going to the Wellness Centre for a workout at the YMCA. While Stella still is working full time with lots of work-related travelling, Gary fills his days immersed in Pictou County life. And they both agree that Pictou County is a well-kept secret with its cottage industries and educated, stable work force.

It’s been 20 years but the embers are still burning for their little cottage on a quiet meandering lane. The dwelling helps tell the story of their own life transitioning with them, offering them what they needed just at the right times. 

VIAPhotos by Steve Smith/VisionFire Studios
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Lori Byrne
Fall means cozy layers, earthy palettes and majestic scenery. Chatting with Ruben and Raina among the colourful hills of Brookland was the perfect way to spend a fall day. Thinking outside the box for ways to upcycle everyday items is both fun and challenging, making you look at things in thrift stores and vintage shops with a new set of eyes! Happy Fall, everyone!