Country living requires a willingness to coexist with the surrounding wildlife and an acknowledgement that your home-repair list will invariably be unpredictable. Those century-old farmhouses that dot the land-scape around Ottawa come with plenty of charm — they usually boast large lots with mature trees and a rural location that promises a quality of life reminiscent of years gone by. They also often come with resident mice, limited cupboard space, drafts, and dodgy plumbing.
After 22 years of loving their 1902 farmhouse just outside Stittsville, Jenn and Dave Duncan decided it was time for a change. They bought an estate lot not far away and set about designing a modern farmhouse — one that would be impervious to both the elements and rodents and with plenty of storage space and natural light.
By the time they really began to get serious about building something new, they’d owned the lot for six years. “We started to do some research on the internet and found a footprint we liked,” recalls Jenn. “We wanted to enter through the kitchen, like so many old farmhouses, and we wanted the garage at the back, hidden from the street view. It was important that it wasn’t all garage.”
Inspired by houses they had seen while on a trip to the Hollywood Hills in California, the couple returned to Stittsville enamoured with the idea of inside-outside living, plenty of natural light, and an open-plan flow. “We put a lot of thought into the flow,” explains Dave. “There are very few hallways, as they’re just a waste of space.”
With this in mind, the Duncans incorporated a three-season room at the back of the house. Here, floor-to-ceiling folding glass doors allow them to open the house wide on warm days, with the knowledge that they can have a screen descend at the push of a button when it gets buggy. During the early spring and late fall, a stone-clad fireplace and heated stone floors keep the room cozy, so the windows can remain open longer.
An outdoor kitchen with a chunky wood- topped island, barbecue, and pizza oven offers more incentive to get outside; it overlooks the in-ground swimming pool and hot tub hidden off the ground-floor master bedroom. South-facing views over the neighbouring horse property and trees to the rear of the house are reminiscent of their former farmhouse.
Inside, the house boasts soaring ceilings and plenty of both full-height and clerestory windows that allow light to wash through the main living space on even the greyest of days. A double-sided fireplace clad in riveted steel is fitted with a thick white oak mantel with tongue-and- groove corners. It commands full attention in the living room. On one side, there’s a large, cozy L-shaped leather sofa, on the other, a small table and pair of chairs for morning coffee.
The colour palette ties together rustic and contemporary. Soft white walls are paired with plenty of exposed natural wood in the oak flooring, cabinetry, and the occasional unpainted door frame. There is an abundance of charcoal grey and black in the fittings and fixtures, with the occasional pop of brass or gold adding a softer touch. Finishes are all natural — linen, leather, metal, wood, and stone — which layer the house with texture. “We wanted new and old together,” explains Jenn. “We like the warmth of old and the convenience of modern.”
When the couple realized that the scope of their project “was way beyond my skill set,” according to Jenn, they contacted designer Sonya Kinkade, who quickly put together a mood board.
“The first try was what we had envisioned,” says Dave. “We wanted a convivial space for entertaining friends and family.”
Kinkade created a scheme that successfully balances a country vibe with a contemporary feel and modern amenities. “Jenn and Dave didn’t want to lose the warmth of the country look,” says Kinkade, “and I wanted elements of the house to speak for themselves, such as the fireplace and the dining room. So that’s one reason that we left the walls as a fresh, blank canvas.”
In the living room, with its oh-so-high ceiling, Kinkade added shiplap to one wall to give it visual interest and texture, while in an upstairs bathroom, a feature wall is covered with unpainted leftover flooring. She also designed the plentiful bespoke cabinetry found throughout the house and built by Laurysen Kitchens.
Dark accents lend a contemporary feel to the space: the woodwork on the kitchen island is painted a dark smoky grey much like the concrete farmhouse sink, while the downstairs powder room panelling and dining room walls are both the same soft black and the herringbone floor in the master bathroom is grey with white grouting to make it pop. But it nearly wasn’t — a miscommunication with the tiler saw the floor originally grouted black. Dave spent countless hours scraping out the grout and applying a fix to bleach it white.
Luxurious touches abound. There’s a gourmet kitchen with white quartz countertops, an island-mounted induction cooktop, and a pair of ovens for Dave, who likes to cook. The Duncans’ contemporary farmhouse also boasts an extra-wide staircase and ensuite bathrooms for every bedroom.
“This was a fantastic project,” says Kinkade. “The great thing is that Jenn and Dave had complete trust in what I was doing. It’s not often that you get a project where you can be so hands-on.