Our cottage-style home in the middle of the Arctic tundra

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us in front of the house

The offbeat occupant: Gloria Guns, Lawyer, musician, journalist
Other occupants: Rob
Approximate square footage: 1000-2000 sq. feet
How many bedrooms? 2
Lives in: Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, Canada
When did you move into this home? Four months ago.

sunrise  view from our living room window

Let’s start with the neighborhood. What’s it like where you live? Cambridge Bay is a fly-in only community north of the treeline and well within the Arctic circle. We’ve got a population of 1500 people, mostly Inuit. The community has two grocery stores, a hardware store, one bank, a post office, one restaurant, and a few government buildings. There are no bars, movie theatres, or shopping malls. It costs over $1000 one way to fly to the closest community. Despite that, there’s a lot going on here. We make our own fun at home.

Many houses in the Arctic come equipped with a cold room that acts as a buffer to the outside. We leave a hair dryer in the cold room, in case our front door lock freezes and we can't get our key in. And of course, you always have to have a snow shovel.
Many houses in the Arctic come equipped with a cold room that acts as a buffer to the outside. We leave a hair dryer in the cold room, in case our front door lock freezes and we can’t get our key in. And of course, you always have to have a snow shovel.

What makes your home offbeat? We live in the Arctic. It’s a beautiful but harsh environment up here, so we’ve gotten ourselves a cozy little place to keep us warm, safe, and happy — just like a cottage, but instead of by the lake or in the woods, in the middle of the Arctic tundra, by a frozen Arctic Ocean.

the mud room living room

We’ve found that the modern ultra sleek style of interior decoration doesn’t really suit us. We want to feel like we’re living at the cottage: a collection of vintage furniture passed down by one’s grandfather, old-fashioned china tea sets inherited by one’s grandmother.

video games

We like the warm look of wood, which is why we adore the fake wood panel flooring and the wooden kitchen cupboards. We like our spaces to look lived in by real people. We don’t want our space to scream luxury or wealth; we want it to whisper “comfort” while handing you a hot cup of crowberry tea.

kitchen food, lots of food

What’s the most challenging about this space? How do you deal with the challenge? Our bathroom is raised by a half story because the septic tank runs underneath. As I found out one day when I ran out of water, the ground is too frozen to install sewage pipes. Instead, the running water is delivered by truck, and the sewage is carted away by a different truck. So in our house, the bathroom is raised from the ground so the sewage tank can be stored underneath. And because we need to have our water delivered to us by delivery truck, sometimes we run out of water.

Our house used to be used by pilots, who would stay here short term on rotation before they had to fly out again. I am pretty sure it was one of them who put up this “operation zone” sign on the bathroom door.

The Arctic environment outside is full of extremes. In the winter, we get 24 hours of darkness. In the summer, we get 24 hours of daylight. It’s extremely disorienting if you’re not used to it.


herb the humidifierAlso, it can get as cold as -60 degrees Celsius, and the air is extremely dry. (You especially need a lot of storage space for lotion.)

But the people of Nunavut have been living in the Arctic for centuries, and they adapt. We’ve learned to deal with it too.

  • We’ve got a humidifier running at all times.
  • We store large containers of extra water, as well as other supplies in case the power goes out for a long time.
  • We’ve got an electric blanket.
  • And right now in the summer, since it’s virtually daylight all the time, we’ve stuck cardboard over the windows to block out the sunlight, so we can sleep at “night.” It’s not the classiest look, but it’s about survival.

the jam spacejam space amp stack

What’s your favorite feature of your home? Our jam space. We’ve got guitars, keyboards, amps, and all sorts of instruments all set up for recording and jamming. You’d think we were in a downtown music studio. You would never expect that just outside our window is the Arctic wilderness.

night view

My second favourite feature, however, is the fact that we can see the northern lights from our living room window. Some people pay thousands of dollars to travel to the northern wilderness on packaged tours to see this incredible sight. Me, I just pull up a chair, turn off the living room lights, and watch the sky from my window while I eat midnight toast.


What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from this home? It’s all about adapting. Do whatever you can to make yourself comfortable in a harsh environment – for example, buy lots of fun board games to play and a treadmill for when it’s too cold to go outside.

For the things you can’t change, learn to appreciate it. We may be far away from the movie theatres, but being so close to nature means that I can watch the night sky instead.

moon dogs

What’s your grandest plan for the space? Turning it into a venue for house shows! I already played a show that was streamed over YouTube as part of a music series called Tuestock, but I’d like to set up some house shows where people in the community can enjoy live music in the unique setting of a home. Kind of like what they did in Portland in the 90s, except in the Arctic instead.


What advice do you have for other offbeat homies?

Any stuff or services you want to recommend? We’ve got some talented Inuit artists that sell their artwork here, such as carvings and prints… not sure that they’ve got online businesses that other readers can order from. Readers will just have to come to Cambridge Bay!

Show me the decor porn!

Comments on Our cottage-style home in the middle of the Arctic tundra

  1. Just out of curiousity, how difficult was it to move your stuff there? It sounds like a massive challenge! How long does it take for mail to arrive at your post office? So cool!

  2. Thanks! It was quite expensive to move all our stuff. Everything – including the furniture – had to be brought on the airplane, so you can imagine how much that would have cost to fly as cargo. Most employers won’t pay to move your stuff, but luckily, mine did. It also took a while for all of our belongings to get here too – 6 weeks!

    As for mail, it really depends. Sometimes letters and packages arrive just as quickly as it would “down south”, and sometimes it takes longer. If there’s a storm and the planes can’t land, then things tend to get delayed. Also, couriers won’t deliver to P.O. boxes sometimes, and that’s all we’ve got here (they don’t deliver mail to individual houses), so that can complicate things sometimes. I can tell you though, we’ve memorized all the online shopping sites that promise “free shipping”.

    • Amen to the free shipping! I live in Alaska and it’s the same for us here. Granted, I’m still in “civilization” but you’d never know it based on some of those online websites!

  3. If it’s not too nosey, can I ask what type of job brought you to live in Nunavut and if your partner also found work there/was happy to go along for the ride? Absolutely fascinating profile, thanks for submitting, I am craaaazy jealous of your Northern Lights views!

    • I work in law, but there are definitely a lot of opportunities in general up here in Nunavut, although it’s a lot easier to find work once you’re already up here in the communities. That’s what my partner did – he got hired after we moved up here. It seems like any hard-working, culturally sensitive, competent person with even just a high school education can go pretty far here.

  4. I’m curious – how far from you is the nearest hospital? Do people have to be airlifted in emergencies? By the way I will never complain about Maine winters and feeling cooped up due to the cold ever again after seeing this! Nice music room, too 🙂

    • Thanks! Although we have a health station here staffed with nurses (and a pharmacy!), for more serious matters we have to be med-evacuated by charter airplane to the closest hospital – which is in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, some 800 kilometres south of us, and a two hour (minimum) flight. The women usually fly there to give birth, too.

      • Thanks for getting back to my on question about jobs – I’d love to live somewhere quite isolated one day (I’m in the UK so I always think of the outer Scottish Isles as isolated, and this doesn’t begin to compare to your situation!). I cannot believe people need to fly 2 hours for a hospital, that’s the equivalent of me flying to Switzerland from London! I am totally fascinated by your life and will definitely be adding your blog to my rss feeder.

  5. Utterly fascinating.
    As odd as it sounds, I spent the most time trying to figure out – where did you get your toothbrush holder?

    And a second question, do you (or your husband who cooks[!]) find that you have to adapt recipes due to the dryness or cold?

    • Haha…I stole the toothbrush holder from my cousin, so I’m afraid I’m not sure where you could buy it! You’re not the first person to notice it though. It’s a great toothbrush holder.

      My partner says that he’s had to make some adjustments especially when baking bread because of the dryness here. Our house is well-heated inside so the cold isn’t a problem. A different challenge with cooking is the fact that some ingredients are not available in the community here (especially certain Asian ingredients like sesame oil and brean sprouts), although there is more variety in available food than I first expected. Another more important issue is that groceries are expensive, and it’s hard to eat healthy and get fresh produce. Our grocery bill last month for two adults came to $800. Given the fact that so many families in Nunavut live in poverty, nutrition and food security is a major issue here unfortunately. (you can see a sample grocery list for us here: http://rungloriarun.blogspot.ca/2013/02/the-price-of-tea-nunavut-food-politics.html)

      • I’m so glad to have a link to this! It honestly featured in my dreams last night. I think once I’ve got a job again I’ll have to acquire one.

  6. I gotta give props to your “comfort” decorating style; it’s feels so loved! I remember reading once that while we love to look at a color-coordinated, professionally-styled, unliveably-clean homes in magazines, there’s something wonderful about being able to sink into a comfy seat, kick your shoes off, and put your feet up. I totally want to curl up on your sofa with that cup of tea. To me, that’s home. 🙂

  7. Wow, what an amazing view. I’m curious about how the weather is in the summer? Does it get warm EVER or is it snowing all summer long? Being from Texas, I can’t even imagine a cold summer.

    • Don’t worry – my family also thought I was nuts to move up here. In short, I had the opportunity to do the work that I love for decent pay in a really interesting environment. We all know that the job market is not the best right now down south (“down south” = the rest of non-Arctic North America). Also, the north has always intrigued me.

      Before I moved up here, I was doing similar-ish work in Namibia – talk about moving from extremes, Africa to the Arctic. I guess I have a thing for beautiful wide open spaces, dry & extreme weather, & sparse populations?

  8. It’s hard to believe right now since it’s almost June and the Arctic ocean is still frozen, but in the height of summer, the ice is all gone, the tundra flowers and plants are in bloom, and the mosquitos are crazy. The warmest month is July, with an average temperature of 12 degrees Celsius (53 degrees Fahrenheit). You might not think that’s very hot, but you know, it’s -1 degrees Celsius right now (30 degrees Fahrenheit) and everyone’s commenting about how warm it is, and opening all the windows in the buildings. It’s all relative, I guess.

    Also, 24 hours of sunlight. And the hole in the ozone layer is right above us, so we actually have to wear sunscreen.

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