Raise your hand if you could use an escape right about now. With everything going on in the world from COVID, politics, work stress, personal struggles, and more, a getaway is certainly a welcome thought. Clearly we’re not the only ones with escapism on the brain as Scottish interior design powerhouse duo Colin McAllister & Justin Ryan have just released a book all about it. Escapology is part style bible and lifestyle manual and yes — it’s all the goals. In addition to the beautiful images, the book is chock full of design and building advice that Colin & Justin have become known for.
We had a chance to chat with the dynamic duo to not only find out more about Escapology, but what they pack in their travel bag, and even their go-to cocktails!
WanderEater: Hi gentlemen! Congratulations on Escapology! What was the inspiration behind the book?
Colin & Justin: The inspiration behind Escapology was to deliver a book that would allow our readers to escape. That said, it’s purely coincidental we’ve brought this book to market at a time when people need to escape, perhaps more than ever before. Our three previous books focused on the urban landscape, and we suppose it’s also fair to say we felt it was time we showcased a more rustic, rural inventory in our writings. You know: an inventory that would reflect the way in which our careers have gone in the last period: we definitely work more, of late, with clients in cottage country, and our recent TV shows (Cabin Pressure and Great Canadian Cottages) have focused on this area too. So Escapology, we hope, speaks to all of this…
WE: 2020 has been a wild ride for all of us — what’s your idea of the perfect escape?
C&J: A perfect escape, for us, certainly, is all about being somewhere where the stresses and strains of life can be left far, far behind. We like feeling as chilled out as we possibly can, so there’ll be loads of books, DVDs and music. If we can be near the water (as we are at our own Haliburton cottage) then all the better. And, as much as we’re pretty private in our day-to-day media lives, we love having friends around to enjoy the fun when we’re not working. So plenty of living space and loads of bedrooms complete the deal.
You’re known for your home reno and design advice: what’s worth splurging and saving on when taking on a renovation project?
C&J: Spending and splurging? It’s all about balance. Whenever we tackle a project, it’s super important to fix ‘the box’. That means – invest in insulation, good flooring, fix windows, clear the yard, repair the roof, update plumbing and electrics. Yup: do all the big-ticket stuff to protect your investment first, and then – and only then – move on to the next level: stuff like kitchens (Ikea’s ranges are great value) and bathrooms. All this attended to, get your head around furniture and – later – accessories. Invest in a good mattress (Endy are great) and good quality flooring: we always use Bruce hardwood (find it at Home Depot Canada: it’s super well made and great value) as our projects’ go-to. After all that, it’s time to hit up stores like Homesense where you’ll find the ‘Colin and Justin Home’ range! Accessories? We prefer to call ‘em ‘successories’!
WE: What’s your favourite property in the book?
C&J: Our favourite cottage featured in Escapology is called Airship 002, a wild affair made from aluminum and glass. Perched at the side of the water in Scotland, it’s a commanding beauty with stark modern lines and loads of windows. Imagine an Airstream trailer and a Zeplin made love. Aye, it’s like their love child: super unique!
WE: You bounce back and forth between Scotland and Toronto. How does your time in Scotland leave you with inspiration that you bring to your projects?
C&J: Ah, Scotland: our homeland. We normally travel to Scotland every month, (and have done since we arrived in Canada in 2008) but due to the pandemic, we’ve not been there since March. We have a ‘grand old lady’ waiting for us, though: a five floor Georgian townhouse that was built in 1836. It’s across her heritage layers we can truly unwind. We bought the house some 20 years past, before Canada was even on the horizon for us, and fixed her up over the first 8 years. We’re across every inch of that place. When back, we truly unwind. And it’s there we take stock. We plan everything from our dark grey paneled drawing room. It’s all moody black velvet sofas, huge mirrors and a dramatic ebony slate fireplace…
WE: Fixer-uppers have lots of charm and character but are a labour of love to say the least. Where do you draw the line on a fixer-upper? At what point is it a money pit that just needs a wrecking ball.
C&J: We have a very good quantity surveyor on our team, and the first thing we do is let him wander each project before it starts. With his assistance, we’ll work out costings and appraise everything that needs to change. Nothing is left to chance: there can be no surprises. Margins are narrow, these days, so we need to account for every part of our spend. Thus far, all our projects (in Canada, certainly) have been ‘saves’ as opposed to ‘knock downs’. But we wouldn’t be scared of full-scale demolition: as long as the land price and the rebuild costs made sense, we’d be happy.
WE: Cottages are no longer limited to primitive wood cabins, some are now 6,000 square feet with heated floors and sprawled kitchens. What’s your ideal cottage situation?
C&J: Our ‘ideal cottage’ is our client’s ideal cottage, at least professionally speaking. We create each project to suit the market. Some clients seek to create or refurbish small spaces, whereas others want grand commodious spaces for entertaining and big gatherings. Personally speaking, we’re somewhere in the middle. We have lots of friends visiting, so we always shoot for a half dozen bedrooms. We’re strictly ‘no one crashing on sofas’ (!) so bedroom count is important if we want to throw parties. Our look is modern rustic, and super casual. We don’t stand on ceremony. Apart, that is, from the aforementioned no crashing on sofas rule…
WE: Do you design differently in Canada than you would in Scotland? Do we use our homes differently?
C&J: There’s no real difference to how we work in Scotland and Canada, though we use a lot more insulation in our Canadian projects. Hello – did someone say ‘Antarctic’?! That said, it’s fair to say most of the Scottish homes we work on are in cities, so they’re more urban than our Canadian client spaces. Whilst there are, certainly, those who have cottages and second homes in Scotland, it’s not a ‘thing’ like it is here in Canada. In Canada, whilst it’s cold in winter, there’s scope for glorious summers where the barometric shift is almost tropical. In our beloved Scotland, however, we don’t have the same weather to look forward to as we do here. Google the term ‘brass monkeys’…
WE: Do cottages follow design trends to the same degree as a primary residence or do you find they’re more influenced by nature?
C&J: Our principal homes tend to be bought and designed with the head, dictated by school catchment areas, travel links, and the day to day rough and tumble of busy lives. Cottages, however, seem more casual and ‘anything goes’ in people’s mentality and design logic. We really like the casual look where the vibe comes together over time, assembled by junk store shopping and markets. Mix in lots of exposed wood finishes, Mid Mod furniture and barn board detail and we’re at our happiest. Yup, nature and the environment seem to play a bigger part in the decorative ambitions of cottagers everywhere…
WE: What’s in your cottage weekend bag that’s a must have?
C&J: Our weekend must-have bag? Red wine – LOTS of it. And bourbon, so we can mix cocktails such as Boulevardiers and Paper Planes. And we always carry an orange (to zest up our boozy concoctions) everywhere we go. Come on – it’s Canada: you can generally find liquor, but just try getting your hands on a nice piece of fruit in the wilderness!
We also never leave behind our iPads loaded with Netflix and Disney+ downloads in case we need to catch up on Mandalorian. AirPods are also a must-carry item so we don’t disturb anyone as we watch. We generally carry Jo Malone Lime Basil and Mandarin for personal day scenting, and Acqua di Parma Oud Eau de Parfum for nighttime aromatics. We also carry Lime Basil and Mandarin travel candles by Jo Malone (for day time room scenting) and Ortigia Sicilia room scenting reed diffusers (Sandalo is a favourite) for night time room scenting. And books – as many as we can fit into our truck. And… most importantly – our beautiful cats Beamer and Brutus Small who we take everywhere we go in Canada….
Feature Image: Colin & Justin