This modern home stands out in the Muskoka woods

(Photography by Ben Carlin)

By the time he turned 18, Morgan Shaver had already moved in and out of 10 homes. His dad, Mark, was a house flipper who bought and sold homes around Hamilton, Ontario, and Shaver remembers packing up his toys every time he saw his fathering carry baseboards around the house—a sign a new building project was starting. “I remember thinking, Oh boy, we’re moving again,” says Shaver, now 43 and a father of two girls, who are 12 and eight. “It was kind of exciting.”

Yet his nomadic childhood did not deter him from joining the family business. These days, the younger Shaver is the one taking his family through frequent house hops: he builds family homes, lives in them for a few years, then sells them before beginning a new building project. “I guess history has a way of repeating itself,” he says with a laugh.

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For much of the 2010s, Shaver specialized in building what he calls “Muskoka-style houses” around Brantford, Ontario: stately mini-mansions with pointed roofs, board-and-batten siding and stony accents. But in 2018, while on a family trip to a resort in Deerhurst, near Algonquin Provincial Park, he and his family fell in love with the peace and quiet of cottage country. The next year, the Shavers sold their place in Brantford and rented a home 300 kilometres north in Woodland Heights, near Huntsville. The quiet, stately houses nestled in woodsy lots appealed to Shaver. “It was like a gated community without the gates,” he says. They immediately snatched up two empty lots in the area. Their plan: build a house on the first property and flip it, and use the proceeds to build a second one nearby—a potential forever home. 

It didn’t take long for the plans to run into trouble. Once he finished the first house in late 2019, Shaver listed it and went to work on the second lot: he cleared trees, updated the septic system, poured concrete to make a driveway, and laid a foundation. But the pandemic arrived midway through construction, and potential purchasers stopped inquiring about Shaver’s original build. Not wanting to be responsible for two mortgages at once, Shaver paused his dream-house project. “I was in a bit of a panic, wondering if we would sink or swim.”

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As markets thawed and home buying reached a mid-pandemic frenzy, Shaver found a buyer for the first home in October of 2020, seven months after listing it. With more financial breathing room and hard-earned peace of mind, he and his family finished their new house—a 3,600-square-foot family estate with four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and two acres of yard space. 

Unlike the Muskoka-style houses he’d built previously, this one was built more horizontally, with a flatter roof and more metal and wood than stone. “In Brantford, people loved the Muskoka home designs because the stone and timber made them look more rustic than GTA homes,” says Shaver. “But here, all of the homes looked like that, so I wanted to make ours look different.” He enlisted Alex Foreshew, a designer of luxury homes based in Carling, Ontario, who conceived of a modern barnhouse with black-stained metal siding, oversized windows and a slightly cantilevered gable roof. “It was made to stand out: one of only three modern builds in the community.”

Inside, the layout is open-concept, surrounded by three bedrooms. The family room anchors the home, with cathedral-style ceilings that shoot up 14 feet and tower over the wood burning fireplace. The Shavers have made it a habit to gather around the fire on chilly winter days as their daughters gaze through the sprawling windows to spy on local wildlife; they’ve spotted river otters, beavers and deer idling around the property. 

The kitchen features a two-seat island and modern stainless steel appliances, while the adjacent dining room opens onto a large wooden deck overlooking the backyard. On the opposite side of the living room, a long and narrow mudroom serves as an indoor passageway to the oversized two-car garage, complete with its own fireplace and secondary living room. Outside is a large, picturesque pond surrounded by a canopy of mature trees.

After living in the house for almost three years, Shaver and his family are ready to move on: they plan to build a new, one-floor super-bungalow across town on a larger 103-acre property covered in white pine trees and with a waterfall. He thinks his modern Muskoka home, listed at $2.2 million, could attract a range of buyers: the fact that there is no upper storey—just a main floor and a basement—accommodates residents who prefer to avoid stairs, and the proximity to Huntsville amenities like the soccer fields and Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Area makes it desirable for outdoor enthusiasts. So far, the place has piqued the interest of several families who are looking to relocate from the Greater Toronto Area, as they did. “We do love it up here,” says Shaver, “so we want to build something nearby that is nice and simple, smaller in square footage but with a larger surrounding property, and call that home—at least for a while.” 

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