Colin & Justin: The Great Escape

Colin and Justin discuss falling in love with Canada’s cottage country, and why their new book, Escapology, offers the escape we all need.

With a career that spans interior design, hosting TV shows, interviewing celebrities and style journalism, Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan are a Scottish couple with an eye for detail. Their newest project, Escapology: Modern Cabins, Cottages and Retreats, is a book that continues that vision, celebrating both their connection with Canada’s cottage country since moving here 14 years ago and the idea of losing yourself in a moment of escape.

“The book explores people across the world in Canada, the U.S., Britain, South Africa, Norway, Sweden whom we like to term ‘escapologists,’” says Colin. “They’re people who have escaped the city and want to be closer to nature, and it’s about how their architecture and design provides for that.”

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Rather than realize Escapology as a coffee table publication, full of stunning pictures with few descriptions, or a handbook, packed with descriptions but lacking visuals, Colin and Justin wanted to create something that met in the middle and was accessible to everyone. As Justin says, “Cottaging isn’t the preserve of the wealthy. In fact, going back to the very early times of cottages, they were done by craftsmen and artisans, and it was a very humbling thing.” The book is a reflection of that notion, showcasing properties from Scotland to Vancouver and discussing everything from how to design a cabin on a budget to creating an outdoor kitchen.

“We wanted to try and split the difference by telling the story of people who live in these [properties], how they developed them, but then give you an idea of what you’re looking at, so, even if you’re not in a rural environment, you can make your home more escapist and more personal.”

This love for cabins and cottage country began when the pair first moved to Canada and they rented a cottage in Ontario’s Muskoka region. Soon after that, they bought their first cottage and worked hard to renovate it, picking up tips and tricks along the way of how to make an inexpensive purchase look great. “We’ve recommended [to] so many of our clients who want to buy in the city, but can’t bring together the deposit required to jump into the cottage country area, [that they] buy something that’s a low price point, renovate it, sell it for profit and bring that profit back to the city. We’ve seen a lot of people doing that,” Justin explains. “We’ve also seen people selling their big city home or condo and downsizing to a smaller space in the city or suburbs and using their extra capital to buy a place in the country, and I love that.”

It was during this process that the pair noticed the impact being surrounded by nature can have on us as humans. “When we got back from the cottage [to the city], we felt completely renewed. And it’s not just the countryside and the energy and the lake, it’s the whole package,” says Justin. “The harder we worked in cottage country, the more refreshed we felt. The harder we worked in the city, the more tired we felt […] We really hope Escapology will show people, even if they don’t have a cottage or an ambition to have a cottage, that having a home that’s influenced by aspects of the great outdoors — whether it’s the textures, colours, mood — can give you the same thing.

“There’s a move toward people looking for a quality of life and for spaces and homes to deliver something for us. They’re not just walls that we’re looking at” – Colin McAllister

There’s no reason you can’t have that magic in your home in the city.” There’s also something to say about the timing of the book. Though work on it began two years ago, the stress of a pandemic has seen us all eager for escape. “Because of the pandemic, there’s a new wave of pioneer spirit for people who do want to leave the city,” Colin says. “This was happening before the pandemic as well, but there’s a move toward people looking for a quality of life and for spaces and homes to deliver something for us. They’re not just walls that we’re looking at. They’re looking for their homes to be personal, practical and beautiful, so we feel totally refreshed.”

Even the format of the book, a different approach to the usual speed and immediacy the pair are used to with working in television, was an important part of creating that feeling of escape. “We all look at Pinterest, Instagram and things online, but there’s something different about seeing a photograph in print,” Colin continues. “There’s a permanence, solidity and realness about it that you don’t get from a screen, and that adds to the escape. It made sense to us to take this notion of escapology and put it down on paper and to make sure the pages, print and design of the book are beautiful. It’s all about the experience.”

With the book’s recent release on October 13, 2020, the pair have garnered another success story to add to their resumé. But, for both, true success is about being happy, healthy and with each other. “Success is about finding someone in your life that you don’t compete with. Someone who’s always got your back, always supports you and tries to bring the best out of you,” Colin says.

Having been together for 32 years, they’re described by their family as “the sum of two parts.” “You’ve got to feel good when you get up in the morning and when you go to bed at night,” Justin says, continuing where Colin left off. “We only have the window of opportunity between those two events to make the best of each day. We’ve had such a busy career, done so many things and are still doing them. We love that, and it’s nice to look back on those successes and enjoy them as we have them, but our biggest achievement is that we’ve been a couple since we met 32 years ago.”


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Josh Walker

Josh Walker