Q & A with Colin & Justin and Their New Book —Escapology

14 mins read
Airship 002 Escapology

Right now couldn’t be a better time to escape, or dream at least and so I was excited to receive a copy of Escapology, Modern Cabins, Cottages and Retreats, a new interiors book by two of Canada’s greatest imports, Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan who divide their time between homes in Canada and their beloved Scotland. Many of you I’m sure already know of these adorable, entertaining two chaps who have graced many a magazine/newspaper article, and television, not only here in Canada, but all over the world.   Above photo: Airship 002 | Photography Nigel Rigden

Escapology cover
Book cover image courtesy The Backcountry Hut Company.

Their newest book “is dedicated to those who choose to leave the city in pursuit of a greater connection to nature and a quieter way of living and to those who dream of following their example”. And now more than ever, I think each and everyone of us can relate. So this book comes at a perfect time, and the best kind of book to give as a gift this holiday season. So I was thrilled when Colin and Justin agreed to a little interview here on Poppytalk to accompany their new book that we’re honoured to feature.  

Colin and Justin Escapology

 Q1. Congrats to you both on such a stunning book! We have a lot in common with our mutual love of rural retreats. In fact, a couple of the cabins in your book we’ve featured on the blog in the past. For me it pulls me back to my roots in rural Alberta and brings me comfort to a more quieter, tranquil life, something I long for more and more these days. What brought you both to Canada and the love to escape to a home in rural settings? 

 We arrived on Canadian shores some 14 years past with ‘Colin and Justin’s Home Heist’: our first North American series. Airing on HGTV Canada, it ran for four 13-episode seasons – in total we made 52 fun filled hours of décor and drama, comedy and home style. Coming off the back of ‘How Not To Decorate’ (one of our UK shows that also aired on HGTV Canada) we travelled the land, whilst filming Home Heist, in search of needy abodes. And we made them pretty: with LOTS of colour. There may also have been a preponderance of out scale boutonnieres. We couldn’t possibly say… And, with the passage of time, we soon fell in love with the great outdoors. Our first cottage was in Muskoka, but we didn’t truly embrace the art of escape until we discovered our beloved Haliburton, home of many C+J fixer upper adventures catalogued during ‘Colin and Justin’s Cabin Pressure’ on the Cottage Life network. We love rustic modern: it’s our professional lifeblood – one of our other shows (also on Cottage Life) is Great Canadian Cottages. Check the network’s listings and schedules and give it a watch. Sure, one or two of the homes on that show feature in Escapology, but the book and the TV series are very different. Very different, but both exciting and inspirational.

Casa en el Bosque | Photography - The Raws
Casa en el Bosque | Photography - The Raws

Q2. As you mention in your book, the book is not only for dreamers, but also for doers. So having renovated multiple dwellings in your past, what are the three most important aspects to you for choosing a fixer-upper?  

1. You can change everything about your subject cottage, but you can’t really change its location, unless of course you hire a lifting company to literally pick it up and transport it over land to a new spot. And yes: just for the record, we’ve done that too. Generally speaking, though, our point is this: a cottage or cabin you can improve, but its location and topography are kind of fixed, huh? So choose wisely, and enjoy your beautiful location for years to come. 2. Unless you’re buying a wicked deal ‘off market’, search in conjunction with an accredited realtor to appraise the best opportunities. Sometimes a realtor will have ‘pocket deals’: in these cases, if a seller wants to avoid the hassle of loads of people marching through their home, they’ll have told their realtor to quietly sell at an agreed price, without advertising. These opportunities can work in your favour as they avoid the prospect bargain cottage being exposed to a larger quantity of potential buyers. 3. Know your limitations: that diamond in the rough could turn out to be a can of worms if you haven’t properly evaluated its every detail. Are you up to replacing a roof, digging a foundation or knocking down walls? If you feel better suited to décor, new floors and replacing old faucets, then choose a cottage or cabin you can realistically tackle. DON’T bite off more than you can chew. Invest in a good inspection, and factor in all costs and associated spend. Then, and only then, dive in…

Reeds Bay | Photography Shai Gil
Reeds Bay | Photography Shai Gil

Q3. When it comes to decorating a getaway space, what are your suggestions for keeping it looking authentic, and real? 

 We’re all about the rustic vibe. Avoid fitted carpets as these are hard to maintain at the cottage. We tend to install engineered boards as they have sufficient structural integrity to endure all seasons. We love mismatched furniture, but finding a ‘connection’ that pulls it all together is important. Maybe you’ve got six ‘odd’ dining chairs? Paint (or stain) them one colour to make them feel like they have a relationship. Keep accessories in the ‘country’ mood. Think chunky ceramics in lovely earthy tones. And warm textural throws and cushions to amplify the cosy, indulgent feel…

Q4. In your book you feature escapes of all styles and sizes. I’m sure it’s hard to choose just one, but with that in mind, what style do you naturally gravitate towards? 

We TRY and love all our ‘babies’ with equal measure, and we’ve space in our hearts for all the home from homes in Escapology – whether those we’ve personally designed or those by other creatives we admire. But Blackbirch in Haliburton is a joy to behold: all modern rustic and cool woodsy tones. Similarly, the Tree House by Lynne Knowlton is spectacular: imagine hiding up there, amongst those beautiful branches. Oh, and The Vipp Shelter in Sweden is a modernist joy, the rectilinear edifice beset with acres of glass and jet toned steel.

The Treehouse | Photography Lynne Knowlton
The Treehouse | Photography Lynne Knowlton

Q5. What tips would you have to help someone save money when renovating an old cabin? 

Shop smart! Second hand stores and garage sales are our hallowed hunting grounds. And be prepared to re imagine and upcycle items that you find along the way. And we’re never scared of big box stores, where we often find great deals on lumber and materials. Yup, it all comes back to budget, and setting a regimented outline of costs and expectations BEFORE buying or renovating. Take it from us: it’s all too easy to go overboard, so take care of every cent… and the dollars will take care of themselves!

Q6. When it comes to an escape, form or function? 

 BOTH. BOTH. And BOTH! It’s gotta look good, but it’s gotta endure so you feel indulged and cossetted at every turn. That’s why our book is as much about advice, experience and counsel, as it is beautiful pictures. Sure, it’s a coffee table book, but it’s a reference guide of practical ideas into the bargain. From how to choose a realtor, or select the best lake, to planning a septic system or balancing budget, it’s all in there. And much, much more…

Grand-Pic Chalet - Photography Felix Michaud
Grand-Pic Chalet - Photography Felix Michaud

Q7. One thing I’ve always loved about you both, are your DIY ideas. You always have the coolest projects. How did you become so good at creating things? 

 We started out A LONG time ago! Twenty year ago, our first show on BBC 1 in Britain was called Housecall. On that series, we up-cycled and created magic using stuff that other people discard. It’s a habit we’ve always had, really. In short, we see opportunity and magic in other people’s discard. And come on: being Scottish our budgets are always ‘careful’. Lol – we’re not ‘tight’, just sensible when it comes to spending…

Q8. And finally, if you could go anywhere to escape in your book, where would you go first? 

We’d be happy in any of them, but Airship 002 (in our native Scotland) would be a dream getaway. We normally fly between Canada and Scotland at least once a month, but due to the Covid crisis, our travel itineraries have become strictly compromised. It’s 8 months since we were on the other side of The Atlantic, and we are SO homesick. Guess we’re missing our family and our friends in Scotland. But as we said we’d be happy in any of the 24 escapes, or any of the 125 or so featured rooms. Casa En El Bosque in Mexico is astounding, and The Back Country Hut (which features on the cover) is super lovely, as is Park Corner Barn in England. We truly hope everyone finds something to love in the pages of Escapology. With our world as it is at the moment, we believe everyone dreams of getting away. Of taking their feet off the gas. Of releasing the pressure. And we hope Escapology helps people (if even in some small way) to escape. If only for the time they’re lost in its beautiful pages…


Thank you Colin and Ryan! You new book is perfect for someone who likes to dream, is living the dream or needs help making it happen. It’s a beautiful inspiration. Escapology, Modern Cabins, Cottages and Retreats is available through Figure 1 Publishing, as well as in bookstores and online.

Escapology, Modern Cabins, Cottages and Retreats

Old Macmommy | Photography Greg Cox, Bureaux
Old Macmommy | Photography Greg Cox, Bureaux

Jan Halvarson

Jan founded Poppytalk in 2005 while a student at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design (now ECU) to catalogue inspiration from typography to interior design. Since then she’s collaborated with Target (creating a limited edition glamping collection), a wallpaper collection with Milton & King, as well has written as a contributor at Wired, Martha Stewart and Huffington Post.