Mat and Joyce each owned their own cottages on Caribou Island and spent lots of time with their families there over the years. But, as we tend to do, we are always eyeing up the next step, the next cottage and the next move. Joyce and Mat were no different in that they had their eye on a beach house down the road, but the timing wasn’t right. But a fire that burnt Mat’s cottage to the ground on May 31, 2014 sped up some of those choices.

They decided to take the leap and go after the one they wanted and in October of 2014, ‘Strait Up!’ became their new island getaway and new project.

Mat and Joyce’s purchase certainly didn’t reflect who they were – a dated pine interior was calling for a modern update, a solarium needed replacing and the exterior was lacking personality. But with their vision and lots of paint and new materials, the beach house is almost unrecognizable from its former self.

Supporting local was a theme that ran throughout the renovations, from using local contractors to supporting local industries and suppliers as well. Dave Phinney and Ardness Construction were the two main contractors for the renovation and building of the guest home while Kevin Lucas and Jack Langlois did the painting and Heavenly Stairs replaced the dated set of stairs with the clean-lined staircase that anchors the space now. Heavenly Stairs also designed and built the bunk room beds as well as the main floor wall unit with bottle collection display.

The main house building supplies came from Hector Building Supplies, with Ria MacDonald listening to Joyce’s ideas and offering the perfect product solutions. Sheri Reid at Home Hardware provided input on the construction material and design features for the guest house. The window coverings throughout both buildings were supplied by Jamieson Interiors and Glenwood Cabinetry, through the local Home Hardware, did the cabinet work and window seating.

The outside of the structures boast Cape Cod Siding. The windows and doors were sourced from Peter Kohler Windows and Entrance Systems in Debert.  The landscaping was done by James and Lynda Cormier of Brookside Village Landscaping & Construction and will be completed early in this cottage season.  They have worked closely with Mat and Joyce over the years and incorporated plantings from both of their former cottages in the new landscape design, boasting dry river beds, a variety of grasses and blossoming trees and shrubs.

But their choices also had to make sense for the way they use their home. The Torly vinyl plank flooring not only had to look great but had to be very easy to care for, leaving more time for enjoying life on Caribou Island and withstand sandy footprints from the beach.

Their live-edge dining room table, from Wicker Emporium, suits the setting by providing character and warmth while fulfilling a need on a reasonable budget. Even their propane fireplace is well thought out with its ability to be controlled off-site, meaning they can be en route to the beach house and fire it up so it’s cozy upon their arrival.

Their new cottage also boasts quite a unique ecosystem – not every cottage can claim a pond, forest and sandy shoreline.  The way the cottage is set on the land makes the best of all the incredible views provided. The kitchen and master suite take in the ocean view, while the sunroom overlooks the trout stocked pond and the drive into the cottage takes you through a twisting lane among the trees. The composite Fiberon decks all around make taking in the sights from outside comfortable and enjoyable, no matter the time of year.

As they worked on their new cottage, they used Joyce’s cottage as home base on the island. As the renovation progressed to allow them to stay onsite, it was used as their guest house.  But it wasn’t the most convenient to have to send guests down the road at the end of lovely day or evening spent together. And there wasn’t a great space for adults to sleepover at the beach house, as the basement bunkroom was geared towards the kids.

The decision was made to add a guest house to the property, but it had to fit into the landscape and feel of the land, too.

The guest house looks quite natural, like an extension of the main house. The guest suites on either side of the new building ensure privacy for company while the center space provides a fabulous entertaining area. After a trip into Pictou to Fat Tony’s, the decision was made to build a sports bar in the common room, making it the place to hang out, watch the game or chat with friends. Fat Tony’s was also the place where Mat and Joyce landed on the name for their beach house – inspired by its location on the Northumberland Strait and their values. The two storage lofts over the guest suites can add some over flow sleeping space.


The outdoor entertaining area alongside the pool, makes for an easy transition between the main house and the guest cottage.  Meals can be prepared in the main house overlooking the pool or at the outdoor kitchen while still feeling like you’re a part of all the fun.

The renovation of the beach house wrapped up in September of 2015 and the addition of the guest house and most of the landscaping in September of 2016. As the beginning of cottage season approaches for 2017, Joyce and Mat are looking forward to less upheaval and construction and more time enjoying the oasis they’ve created for themselves and their families. They are busy putting the finishing touches on both buildings, giving them their personal stamp and getting it ready to welcome family and friends back to ‘Strait Up!’.

They are determined not to just fill the space with ‘stuff’ but to take their time and curate their home to be a comfortable, welcoming space for friends and family. Already there are pieces that hold meaning, like the driftwood ball that guests are encouraged to sign with a word or two of what their visit at Strait Up! meant to them. For example, Joyce’s son added the word Oyster to the ball, as being able to pick oysters off the beach here is such a change from life in Toronto, where they are a much sought after treat. A treasured purple Hamilton biscuit jar sits among a collection of spritzer bottles on the main floor built-ins.

The frame by the entry holds black and white images of the addresses of their previous cottages with the center image being the sign of their new cottage, giving a nod to the past among their future.

There is a nautical palette to the beach house, with turquoises and blues being the main accenting colours, which reflects their passion for collecting beach glass. Every walk on the beach involves scooping up these tiny treasures, to be shared and admired back at the house then added to the growing collection. Beach glass holds a magical feeling for them, so much so Joyce can often be seen wearing an extra special piece around her neck, her first engagement ring, as the kids like to claim.

Time together on Caribou Island is about finding “Joy in the simple things”, says Joyce, “senses seem to be so much more alive.” Normally busy kids seem to slow down and lounge around together in the cottage, playing games or flipping through magazines, collecting oysters or splashing in the pool, just savouring the company of one another.

Every year they look forward to celebrating their July 1st anniversary with a firework display, having a friendly competition with their island neighbours for the best display. Meals are lingered over, the sound of the waves are like music and summer is soaked up, exactly as life at the cottage should be.

Mat and Joyce don’t just come to Caribou Island to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. They come to be a part of the community here, too. You can find them out on the town, taking in performances at the deCoste Centre, shopping in the local stores, and enjoying the restaurants in the area. They don’t seclude themselves in their own oasis and block out the happenings around them, they know the latest in the area because they make the effort to be included and make a difference here just as much as they do in the city.

Not everyone has the vision to take a dated cottage to the modern, inviting space that Mat and Joyce have done, but their families and guests certainly can appreciate all the hard work that went into the transformation that “Strait Up!” underwent. And now, they can kick back and enjoy all that hard work with a walk on the beach and a drink in their hand, strait up, no doubt.