Homes

The making of a modern farmhouse in Westboro

In 2017, Jessica and Neil Gosbee were eager to launch a fresh chapter. After a decade caught up in the hectic day-to-day of Toronto, the appeal of a lifestyle that offered more time and space for themselves and their two young daughters drew the couple to Ottawa.

Their decision to relocate also provided Jessica with the opportunity to take the lead in designing her family’s home — a refined version of the classic modern farmhouse. She would go on to oversee every detail of the project, unleashing her creative side while amassing an avid Instagram following for her pretty posts documenting the finer points of the build and her decor choices.

Photo by Gordon King

Long a fan of American design celebrity Joanna Gaines and her laid-back decor style, Jessica refashioned that look to reflect her own history and the two houses she has most loved. The first was her childhood home — she grew up in a rural environment in southwestern Ontario in a Craftsman-style house surrounded by farm properties. The second was the Toronto house where she, Neil, and the girls shared all their memories as a family. It was a small heritage Tudor redbrick backing onto a reverse ravine.

“I wanted our new home to be a mix of the feeling of those two places I loved — the rural and the urban. That mix reflects our style but also our personality.”

Photo by Gordon King

Westboro proved to be the perfect setting for the family’s new beginning. Though they began their house search in the more rural neighbourhoods of Manotick, Carp, and Stittsville, Jessica and Neil were quickly won over by Westboro’s village vibe. It reminded them of their previous neighbourhood of Bloor West Village, and Westboro’s close proximity to coffee shops and pubs was doubly handy given that both work from home. It didn’t hurt that Neil, who grew up in Ottawa’s west end, had close friends who had settled there and were enthusiastic boosters of the neighbourhood.

The front foyer is a microcosm of their home — curated but causal, with a neutral palette and lots of light. Photos by Gordon King
Just beyond the foyer, the casual piano room faces out onto the front porch, the floor-to-ceiling windows providing street views and lots of light. Photo by Gordon King

A tiny teardown on a large lot was too good to pass up, providing the impetus to design a sensitive urban infill that would please the Gosbees and their neighbours. Local friends introduced Jessica to design-builder Gordon Weima, who is known in Westboro as the man behind a number of contemporary houses that bridge the past and present.

The table and pendant lights set a rustic tone in the dining room. Photo by Gordon King
A Japanese-inspired charred-wood wall adds an element of sophistiction to the dining room. Photos by Gordon King

The two immediately hit it off, sharing inspiration photos and ideas before Weima walked the couple through a long-term vision of how the interior spaces needed to be designed to allow the house to grow with the family and suit their needs for years to come. He understood Jessica’s passion for juxtaposing the rough-hewn with the refined and shared her dedication to detail.

“Gord jokes that I sourced tile from every edge of the city,” says Jessica with a laugh. Off work during the nine months the house was being built, she scoured the city for just the right finishes and accessories, in the process forming close ties with an extended network of tradespeople, tile and lighting experts, and decor-store owners.

A stunning kitchn is anchored by an eight-burner stove. The eating room to the right looks out over the backyard. Photo by Gordon King

As Jessica discovered the perfect tile, pendant, or tub faucet, she would post her find on Instagram, sharing her joy for good design and celebrating the local businesses that made or carried the product. Over the past two years, her posts, originally meant for family and friends, have garnered her a following of nearly 4,000 design fans smitten with her curated vignettes of “life and finds” at the Gosbee house. Indeed, Jessica regularly finds herself answering design-related questions and offering advice. She has even worked directly with a couple of her Instagram followers to help them hone their own modern-rustic aesthetic as they renovate.

But even though she has become somewhat of an expert, Jessica is quick to acknowledge that her Toronto-based friend, designer Christen Oatley, played a central role as she began contemplating the possibility of designing her own home, helping her create mood boards and focus on her must-haves. Those essentials were as much philosophical as practical.

“I wanted our house to feel relaxed. I wanted family and friends to feel like they could kick their shoes off and feel casual and at home,” she says.

The master bedroom features weathered wood ceiling beams and a rustic barn door. Photos by Gordon King
Two views of the luxurious master bathroom, which includes a freestanding tub, large walk-in shower, and a fireplace. Photos by Gordon King

That casual tone was far from effortless, but rather the result of hours of research, an astute eye for detail, and conscientious editing. Today, natural light streams in, illuminating a family home that is subtle in tone but also filled with textures and patterns, modern and rustic elements. Oiled wood floors, perfect for masking puppy claw marks, anchor the house, and wood beams recovered from Ontario and Quebec farms are a design highlight on the main floor and in the master bedroom. In the dining room, a charred-wood feature wall provides a dark and dramatic backdrop to formal meals.

As she sits in the breakfast nook, Jessica surveys her world with a practised eye. “This house feels comfortable and cozy and full of light. It feels like us, which is exactly the point.”