Escapology by Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan

Modern Cabins, Cottages and Retreats

It's been two years now. More than 730 days living inside a 115 km² bubble with my partner Charlie and my pets. Before the pandemic, I was on a flight at least once a month. I had the freedom to see the world on my terms, when and as I pleased. Today, I would do anything to stand at a crowded airport gate, board the plane last, and sit, squished, in an aisle seat. Oh, I'd give anything at all for that feeling. 

But now, I fly only in my dreams. 

Before COVID-19 hit, I have to admit that sometimes even going to Whole Foods, six blocks from my apartment, felt like an escape from whatever I was doing. Now, it's a chore I've grown to hate. It's a part of the painting someone has drawn of me, the one where I only get to walk so far, and then I must stop, and return to the familiar sight that is home, the place I've become so comfortable with over the past two years.

The craving for adventure in my life has always been strong. It's taken me to many places. But since the pandemic started, the word escape has been growing in presence.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of escape, is to get away or to get free of. I very much feel as though I want to get away and get free of the restrictions imposed upon me. 

Perhaps that's what brought me to this book.


The first thing that I noticed about this book was its stunning cover image, which filled me up with warmth just by looking at it. Studying it closer, I saw the change of season, the glorious sun reflecting off the window and casting a shadow of the trees in the water below.

Looking at it, deeply, I felt as though I wanted to step right into it. I had an intense desire to take Charlie by the hand, to scoop up my cat and dog, leave our cell phones and laptops at home in Vancouver, and walk right onto that boardwalk. I wanted to lean back on one of those wooden adirondack chairs and watch the sun set before my eyes. I inhaled, and exhaled. 

I hadn't even opened the book yet.

Courtesy of Figure 1 Publishing

Another thing that drew me to this book, aside from my desire to escape, was the authors, Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan. I grew up in Belfast watching the duo on television. I remember many of their shows, and I also remember hearing about them being an openly gay couple, at a time that I was struggling to come to terms with my own sexuality, and I looked up to them in a way. 

In my pre-teen years I thought, wow, it's pretty awesome that you can be gay and still be successful. I have so much respect for what Colin and Justin have built for themselves over the years, and am thrilled to hear that they're still together personally and professionally after all these years.

Courtesy of Figure 1 Publishing

Colin and Justin state in their introduction, "Lost in our pages, we hope you’ll be seduced by the escapist nature of the assembled retreat.  Perhaps you’ll feel driven to chase your own cabin dream, or be inspired to modify a regular urban or suburban residence, and thereby create the feeling of escape without so much as leaving the comfort of your own home." 

After reading that, I closed my eyes and imaged myself living in an A-frame cabin deep in the woods, far from humanity. It's furnished thoughtfully with mid-century modern pieces, the walls are lined with bookshelves containing first edition Penguin titles, and perhaps there's a coffee table stacked high with art and photography books next to a second hand Eames lounge chair and ottoman. There's an old oak table in the corner with a notepad and pen, where I'm writing my book. 

I allow myself to dream in the space for a few moments. Chasing my cabin dream.

"Sure this is a book for dreamers," the authors say, continuing, "We hope our disparate library of cabins, (and the wide and varied stories of their owners, designers and architects) may inspire you to dream of and perhaps one day create—your very own fantasy retreat."

Courtesy of Figure 1 Publishing

Diving deeper into Escapology, you'll find it's more than just a book of beautiful photographs, and that it's actually quite practical. The authors are experts, in that they've seen many cabins, cottages, shacks, and retreats, throughout their extensive travels. They explain, in-depth, the different kinds of cabins, everything from log cabins to post and beam, and modern minimalist to shabby chic. They ask the reader to consider whether cabin ownership is really for them in a section that contains some truly thought-provoking questions. 

Colin and Justin also talk about things like renovating, living on or off the grid, and designing your space, which includes elements like which woods to use, lighting fixtures to consider, furniture, and textiles. The duo touch on how to design a cabin on a budget, which reminds me of some of their earlier shows, when they would transform homes on a shoestring budget. They say, "To fail to plan is to plan to fail. Focus ambition, manage your budget and stick to it."

After the practical advice from the authors, the reader is taken on a global journey to some of the world's most spectacular cabins and retreats. Each one is described in detail, with its location marked, its size, the owners, architect, contractor, utilities, and notable building materials. It's fascinating to read about each of the escapes, especially if you're considering building your own. 

Turning the page, I wasn't sure where I would end up, would it be a grounded airship located in Drimnin, one of the most remote places in the Highlands of Scotland, a serene one-hour retreat from the city in Elgin, South Africa, or would it be a red-roofed log-built cabin on the water in Suker Lake, Ontario? 

Courtesy of Figure 1 Publishing

What I really loved about this book was its attention to every detail throughout. The cabins themselves are magnificent, but what really stood out were the thoughtful descriptions and captions that accompanied each photograph. Mentioned are the kinds of woods that are used, the types of lighting fixtures, the furniture and textiles that have been selected. 

Escapology could have been a book filled with inspirational cabin photographs and I would have purchased it, and perhaps that would have been enough to take me on an adventure, but this book is so much more than that. Each and every cabin has so much depth to it that I could fill an entire day just looking at one cabin. The cabins felt almost like meditations, with the detail so rich I could imagine myself stepping into each one of them. 

This remarkable book is surprisingly filled with so much practical advice, design wisdom, and a wealth of knowledge from two leading industry experts. I read through it once for this review, and I feel like I haven't even skimmed the surface of what it has to offer me. It's an absolute must for anyone looking for an escape from the times we find ourselves living in right now, and also a helpful guide if you are serious about building a cabin, cottage or retreat in the wild.

Thank you to Figure 1 Publishing for my gifted copy. Escapology is now an adventure in waiting taking up residence on my bookshelf.

Courtesy of Figure 1 Publishing

Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan have hosted numerous acclaimed TV shows including “The Million Pound Property Experiment,” “How Not to Decorate,” “Colin & Justin’s Home Heist” and “Cabin Pressure.” The two also write a weekly design and decorating column in the Friday and Sunday editions of the Toronto Sun and have an interior range that can be found in stores such as Homesense, Winners and Marshalls (in Canada), TJ Maxx (US) and TK Maxx (UK).

Escapology is available in hardcover format from Figure 1 Publishing or Indigo

Popular Posts