CAPE BRETON ISLAND, Nova Scotia
ELIOT ANGLE’S favorite spot in the getaway that he and his wife, Alexandra, designed has to be the outdoor shower.
“Sure, the weather makes it a little challenging to use at times,” he said, noting that 100-mile-an-hour winds and driving rain are not unheard of here, even in the summer. “But the romantic rusticator in me sticks with it.” (For the less adventurous, there is a 1920s footed bathtub indoors, bought and refinished in nearby Halifax.)
Inspired by local barns, with a nod to the spare Scandinavian aesthetic, the Angles’ 2,400-square-foot shingled cottage is all about the outdoors. The windows frame views in every direction: Cape Breton Highlands National Park to the north, the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the west, forested hills to the east and headlands to the south. And the landscape dictated the way the house looks inside as well.
The Angles, interior designers who live in Los Angeles, took long walks, photographing the densely wooded terrain in different seasons — the changing colors of the spruce, pine, birch, maple and cedar trees, and the goldenrod, rosa rugosa, blueberries, raspberries and cranberries.
“We designed this house based on the color palette of the land and sky,” Ms. Angle, 43, said. “There are 10 different shades of blue, gray and green.”
A lobster-crate-style deck wraps around the exterior; inside, a channeled window seat — her favorite spot — spans the width of the living room. Built by a local car upholsterer, it is covered in spruce, celadon, ice blue and lavender cushions. Green pots and chartreuse goblets sit on the open shelves in the kitchen, over blue-gray cabinets. The maple floors are all stained white.
Northeast Maine was where the couple had intended to build a vacation home, but in 2006, after deciding that the area was overdeveloped, they headed up to Nova Scotia, where they fell in love with the region’s most remote corner.
“Cape Breton is sort of the next Maine up the coast,” Mr. Angle, 41, said.
Ms. Angle added: “Your closest neighbor is half a mile away. I love that feeling.”
Their plans for the 54 acres they purchased for $450,000 were initially much grander. Working with an architect, they conceived what Ms. Angle describes as “a wildly impractical fantasy”: a sprawling glass-and-steel structure with a sail on the roof, the kitchen and bedrooms in separate buildings, and a central deck.
“The sail would have ripped in a week,” she said. “The glass would have blown in.”
Plan B was to buy a 19th-century Presbyterian meeting house with 50-foot ceilings that they heard about through an architectural salvage company, and transport it 50 miles, from inland Nova Scotia to their coastal hilltop. “It was a glorious space,” Mr. Angle said. “And we liked the idea of reusing this abandoned structure.”
The contractor nixed that idea. With the high winds, he told them, it would collapse in a year, if not sooner — possibly while he was putting it up.
By now, the Angles were starting to feel not just overly ambitious but also self-conscious.
“Our land is in a prominent place, the highest point around,” said Ms. Angle, who imagined their new neighbors thinking, “Oh, my God, these people fly in from L.A. and throw up this huge steel-and-glass house, or this 50-foot-tall church.”
So, over a bottle of Glen Breton, the local single-malt whisky, at a waterfront pub, they sketched out ideas on napkins, coming up with a plan for a more modest house that would complement, not compete with, the environment. The two-story, two-bedroom, two-bath structure, made of local birch and maple, was completed in 10 months, for $350,000, and the Angles spent their first summer there in 2009, with their daughter, Elefe, now 3, and their Tibetan terriers, Sturtevant and Augustus.
Although the Autoban Octopus chandeliers were imported from Turkey, the Gio Ponti Superleggera dining chairs are from Italy and Ms. Angle’s Piet Boon desk is from Amsterdam, many of their furnishings are of the region: several pieces are from antique shops in the area; Mr. Angle built an end table out of driftwood found while beachcombing; and Ms. Angle designed a hooked rug with a pattern inspired by the region’s underwater plant life, working with local women who make rugs for lighthouses and fishing boats and who jokingly call themselves “hookers.” “Sailors used to while away the hours working on these rugs together,” Mr. Angle said. “It’s a great old tradition.”
The house isn’t finished yet — this summer, the Angles plan to break ground on a second structure with guest quarters and an office for Ms. Angle — but the gradual pace suits them. “Unlike projects for clients, when I have a year to be 100 percent done,” Ms. Angle said, “this one can take time.”