Beautiful By Design: The Makings of a Magnificent Lakefront Abode

Find out how a Toronto couple with an eye for art found their dream beach home in Port Colborne, Ontario, and then made it even better.

Jessica and Joshua Jensen-Nagle shared the same dream — a beach house. But given their background — Joshua is a fine art photographer and Jessica is a former leather goods designer who now helps run her husband’s business — they were looking for something beyond a cookie-cutter cottage. 

So when they followed the winding, forested drive that led to a mid-century modern house designed by architect Emanuela Frattini Magnusson, they perked up. The striking exterior, layered with flagstone from the local quarry, was inspired by the architect’s native Italy. The couple fell in love with the design and bought the “House on Lake Erie” in the winter of 2021.

“This is my happy place,” Jessica says. “Sitting inside feels like you’re outside.”

Indeed, the home is perched high on a hill with sweeping views of their private swath of Lake Erie beach in Port Colborne, Ontario. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the blue-green waters, leafy trees and lilacs. The double-glazed windows are held in place with steel that can withstand 120-mile per hour winds, and they’re framed with cedar for natural warmth.

“I’ve always been in love with the beach,” Jessica says. “Being on Lake Erie is wild; no two days look the same. I love every season, but maybe winter is my favorite for its quiet solitude.” 

Finding this postcard-worthy perch seemed meant to be. “When I was young, we moved quite a bit,” Jessica says. “My dad was an architect and built our homes. I was always drawing C-shaped homes that wrapped around a central courtyard.”

The courtyard Jessica drew her whole life looks remarkably, if not exactly, like the courtyard where she sits today. Likewise, the leather hand railing on the floating stairs looks just like the ones she’d sketched in college. “It was almost as if I’d been manifesting it my whole life,” she says.

And then there are the touches that Jessica and Joshua added.

Joshua’s mural-sized photographs on glass further celebrate beach life in Australia and Italy’s Amalfi Coast. One of their favorite pieces is an original 1950’s Artichoke Lamp by Poul Henningsen that once hung in a Copenhagen restaurant. Now the unique piece hangs from the tall ceiling near the great room’s soaring bookshelves, which are filled with Joshua’s colorful beach ball sculpture and their books on design and travel.

Another whimsical touch is a wall display of straw hats from beach trips in the guest house, which is connected to the main house by a 52-foot-long, slate-tiled hallway.

“We’ve stayed in different hotels over the years, so I want my family and friends to have these special touches,” Jessica says, while pulling open a fully stocked snack drawer that works in tandem with a nearby mini bar to make sure guests are comfortable.

While they’ve only had the home for a few years, the family has found their rhythm, dividing their time more or less equally between Toronto and the beach. Mornings are spent relaxing with tea for her, coffee for him. Their third floor serves as a fitness room area with 360-degree panoramic views. Watching Lake Erie’s sunrises and sunsets anchors their day. 

Finding solace here is only part of the equation though.

“I’d like to say it’s relaxing, but it’s also a whole lot of work,” Jessica says. Jokingly, they call the home “The Hole” because it eats up so much time and money. From installing a backsplash to custom-fitting copper around the fireplace, there’s always something to be done.

Recently, they’ve glassed in the floating staircase and added 60-inch-wide wooden beach stairs. The multi-tiered staircase has a resting spot Jessica calls the “lilac lounge” where you can breathe in water and lilac — and just sit a while. 

Steadily they’ve created “spots for comfort and relaxing.” Sun-washed furniture and classic elements mix to achieve balance. “I want a playful energy, but also warm and cozy,” Jessica says.

Every day brings subtle shifts in sunlight and watery blues. From sun-kissed sparkling ripples to frozen winds that shape ice into sculptures, Lake Erie acts as a constant companion and muse. 

It’s hard to leave, even for the family’s goldendoodles, Trip and Finn, who love beach life as much as their owners.

 “Finn plays dead when it’s time to leave and go back to the city,” Jessica says with a laugh. “He revolts!”