City in the country
There’s a moment as you drive through the lush greenery and red rolling hills of Ontario’s badlands when you realize you’re no longer in the city. Suddenly, nature is more prominent, and it occurs to you that houses and cottages must be hidden from view by the dense forest. Here horses and bikes are more common than cars. Tucked into the landscape at the crest of a hill sits “the little black house.” It’s easy to miss. From the road all you see is the side of the garage. Unbeknownst to most neighbours, who refer to it as small, the home is a spacious gem of modern architecture, with sophisticated yet warm interiors and a massive, impressive art collection.
The homeowners, a busy couple who work in advertising, bought the property almost on the spot, three years ago. They were instantly sold on the location — barely an hour’s drive away from Toronto — the black-stained siding, the galvanized steel window frames, the concrete floors and the sheer amount of space. It even had a cold room that could easily be turned into a dream wine cellar. So they moved into a low-maintenance pied-à-terre in the city, to free up their budget and time to focus on the reno project.
Now they have the best of both worlds: Their city house allows them to feel connected to arts, culture and nightlife, while their country getaway provides a much-needed year-round retreat where they are immersed in nature.
It wasn’t until it came to decorating that the couple discovered their divergent tastes. The country home’s bones are modern, but when they took possession, the interiors were a mish- mash of contemporary and country. They knew they wanted an overhaul. The problem? His style is minimal, mid-century modern, while hers is new traditional, comfortable and warm.
Enter Julie Charbonneau of De Poitiers Interiors, who was charged with the task of merging the couple’s opposing tastes to come up with a look they would both love. Julie acted as “design mediator,” to ensure the result would be stunning and would work for all. The homeowners also wanted to maximize the amount of guest space, so their city friends could stay over after wine- fuelled dinner parties.
To Julie, the pre-reno interior didn’t quite suit the vibe of the sleek black exterior. “Everything had a yellow tint from light wood that hadn’t aged well,” she says. Julie started by staining the stair- case, kitchen cabinets and wood floors (on the second floor) dark. Then matching custom storage was installed in the mud room, and fussy floral wallpaper in the main-floor powder room was replaced with a faux-Venetian plaster finish and stone sink. Most of the furniture was custom designed so the scale would fit the space and fulfill the style vision Julie had for her clients.
In the end, they agree their designer more than met the challenge. “Every time we walk in the door we exhale. It’s where we can relax and get fresh air. We plan to hold on to this place forever. As far as we’re concerned it’s perfect.”