Home Decor

His and her decor: Modern meets cozy and traditional

See how designer Julie Charbonneau was able to merge the couple's opposing tastes in this gorgeous farmhouse retreat.
By Andrea Mills
His and her decor: Modern meets cozy and traditional

Photo by Sian Richards

City in the country

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.”

Sept 2013 Modern FarmhousePhoto by Sian Richards

Stain a pine wall black

Add edge to country details like pine siding by choosing a modern stain colour like black, dark grey or navy. Cool fact: This wall wraps around from the exterior and becomes the interior wall in the entry.

Sept 2013 Modern Farmhouse Pine Wall Stained BlackPhoto by Sian Richards

Install floor-to-ceiling windows

Frame your view with massive windows and glass doors — and turn the landscape into art. In this living room, the gallery-like setting is perfect for displaying his modern art collection (which includes Damien Hirst and a self-portrait by Alex Katz) and Arco lamp. For her: a large comfy sofa in a luxe neutral.

Velvet pillows (on sofa), tray (on coffee table),

Modern living room dining room neutral black and white fireplace floor to ceiling panel windows Sept 2013Photo by Sian Richards

Decorate with things you love

Grouping three of his favourite pieces by Winnipeg-born artist Marcel Dzama was the starting point for this cozy reading nook with his Eames lounge chair and ottoman. They kept the original limestone fireplace and added a plush rug to incorporate her style

Modern and cozy living room, stone fireplace, Eames lounge chair, Marcel Dzama art, Sept 2013Photo by Sian Richards

Create a virtual closet

No hidden storage? No problem! Lay out a heavy-duty mat and mount stylish hooks like the Eames Hang-It-All close to your entry, and you’ve got the perfect place to store coats, scarves, hats, jackets and more.

Sept 2013 Modern Farmhouse EntrancePhoto by Sian Richards

Brighten up with fresh flowers

Whether it’s a bathroom vanity, kitchen counter or bedside table, add colour and warm up any room by adding fresh-cut flowers. Here, they bring a touch of feminine to the masculine stone vanity and can be easily replaced to suit either owner’s taste.

Sept 2013 Modern Farmhouse Bathroom with Flowers for ColourPhoto by Sian Richards

Frame inspiring messages

We fell in love with this “awesomely awesome” print. Art doesn’t have to be expensive. They scored this poster for free from the Jack Spade store in New York City. P.S. Typographic art is hot!

Sept 2013 Modern Farmhouse Wall Art TypographyPhoto by Sian Richards

Try interlocking flooring in high-traffic areas

Kid-proof with style! Super-affordable (and good-looking!) rubber checkerboard tiles cover the concrete floor in the kitchen and seating area so the couple’s young son can play safely. Bonus: For adult dinner parties (or magazine photo shoots) they can be removed in seconds and easily put back down later.

Sept 2013 Modern Farmhouse Kid Proof KitchenPhoto by Sian Richards

Build a chic wine cellar

The original cold room in the basement was the perfect candidate for the homeowners’ dream: a wine cellar. Interior designer Julie Charbonneau came up with the floor-to-ceiling racks to display the collection as art, and to make finding any bottle a breeze.

Sept 2013 Modern Farmhouse Wine RoomPhoto by Sian Richards

Mix chairs and benches

If you entertain often, surround an oversized dining table with a mix of chairs and benches to maximize seating. Here, a long bench with matching chairs provides versatility without breaking up visual symmetry.

Cowhide rug,

Sept 2013 Modern Farmhouse Dining Table with Chairs and BenchPhoto by Sian Richards

Go for warm metals like brass and copper

Copper has made a comeback. Plus, one of the few things these homeowners agreed on was that they couldn’t part with the sculptural beauty of this original tub, so they paired the antique piece with industrial sconces. As it turns out, its small size is also perfect for bathing little ones.

Sept 2013 Modern Farmhouse Brass TubPhoto by Sian Richards

Get a bed with drawers

A custom bunk with built-in drawers and an extra pullout bed will work easily in a teen room too — and provides plenty of sleepover space in the meantime. Tip: Big box stores like Ikea carry beds with built-in storage.

Faux fur throw (used as rug), owl pillow, sock doll, knit throw,

Sept 2013 Modern Farmhouse Kid's Bed With DrawersPhoto by Sian Richards

Use rich woods in a bedroom retreat

Create a cozy sleep space by choosing furniture and textiles that feel warm and inviting. Here, the custom-made built-in bed, headboard and nightstand appeal to his modern taste, while the rich bedding satisfies her love for comfort and softer, warmer interiors.

Samarcande blanket,

Modern traditional bedroom, white cowhide rug, wood, Sept 2013Photo by Sian Richards

The homeowners share what makes them tick, alone and together

Describe your decorating style in three words or less.

He: Minimal, mid-century modern.

She: Clean, cozy and welcoming.

What did you love most about the house when you first saw it?

He: The modern bones, the galvanized steel mullions, the concrete floors and the volume of space.

She: The short drive from our city home, and that equestrians and cyclists outnumber drivers.

What’s your favourite thing about the new house?

He: The wine cellar. But I also love that the modern architecture means you feel like you’re communicating with the landscape; you never feel trapped inside by the house.

She: The neighbours, the horses and that you can go up for just a night and feel like you’ve been away for a week.

What’s next?

He: I want to build another structure on the property, an outbuilding for an office and guesthouse.

She: I dream about an outdoor shower. And a bigger fridge!

Sept 2013, Modern Farmhouse KitchenPhoto by Sian Richards


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