Decorating: Modern Muskoka

Interior designers shape environments for a variety of situations. They design apartments, townhomes, mid-size homes, and mansions for singles, couples, and families. But what happens when there is an unoccupied house with no client to represent? How can a designer develop a home with personality and style identity with no one to interview? LeAnne Bunnell of elle design in Calgary, Alberta, came up with a clever solution to this challenge. When elle design was asked to style the interior of a local builder’s showcase home, Bunnell simply invented her client. “We felt that the home and neighborhood were appropriate for a family, so we created a couple with a child,” says Bunnell. “We actually assigned names to them.” Her staff chose occupations, hobbies, likes, and dislikes, and used these details to create a showcase home with individual character.

This 2,075-square-foot house with three bedrooms and two-and-one-half baths, is located in Calgary but the “owners” love the outdoors and wanted their home to resemble the so-called cabin cottages in the scenic countryside of Muskoka, Ontario. The imaginary homeowners tended toward a softened contemporary style with traditional aspects combined with an essence of nature. The original house had smart use of available space, according to Bunnell. “It was not ‘over grand,’ but rather well laid out and reasonable in size. We kept a neutral canvas of black and white, and then added touches of nature, history, and a little whimsy,” she says. “This new construction had a modern flair, using contemporary and family-friendly elements and modern finishes for a more carefree home. We needed to humanize it and add some depth and personality.”
The kitchen, although interior, is kept bright and airy by light cabinets, stainless steel appliances, and a crackled glass-tile backsplash. “Our ‘owner’ is an avid baker, so we added a dark wood bake center,” says Bunnell. “It grounds the room with a traditional feel, yet, because of the open shelf, it doesn’t block the flow of the area visually.” The kitchen opens to a dining area and living room where mirrors reflect the light of the large living room windows. A light, birch-pattern wallpaper introduces a touch of nature to the dining space. And a natural wood bench, delicately scaled modern seating, and a simple serving piece keep the airy, light feel.
 In the living room, the fireplace surround is a neutral stone. “We used texture and pattern to add interest and a sense of structure and order,” says Bunnell. “Stripes are very architectural. We introduced them in the rustic flat-weave wool rug and decorative pillows.” The classic Hudson Bay blanket adds a touch of history and an outdoorsy Canadian feel to the space. A brightly colored cork lampshade and vibrant pillows add a soft splash of color against the neutral chairs.The media room also has a neutral foundation. “We found chairs upholstered in a fabric with Old World Latin sayings to add a subtle pattern to the room without overpowering it,” explains Bunnell. “Heirloom film reels lend an interesting and appropriate history to the space; vintage items always add character to a home.” Bunnell’s vintage touches can be seen throughout and make a new construction house look more lived in. Accessories such as old snowshoes on the wall of the stairway and a basket of classic paperbacks in the living room, give the home a feeling of humanity and add a comfortable warmth.

 Pieces of nature appear all over the house. Gatherings of stones, framed collections of butterflies, vases with bunches of leaves or flowers, small statues of animals traditionally found in the Canadian wild, driftwood, charger plates that are actually slices of real logs, and, of course, the delicately patterned birch wallpaper, are there to remind the “owners” of the countrified land they love. The master bedroom repeats the soft neutral tones. Striped plush bedsheets are subtle against an upholstered box and cream coverlet. A multistripe Hudson Bay blanket adds a punch of color as does the whimsical bright yellow papier-mâché deer head that hangs above the headboard. The “son,” Max’s room features more punches of color with blues and yellows. The basic room is neutral to blend with the rest of the house, but Max’s name in cutout blue letters on top of the rustic cabinet and the blue headboard keep the room youthful, yet not overdone. The walls are adorned with a playful puzzle moose head and animal artwork by a Vancouver, BC artist. Bunnell looked to the “owners” as if they were real clients. “We established what they would like and what furniture and decor would actually work for their family,” she explains. Real owners might consider following the same steps when redesigning their own homes. Analyze your family, lifestyle, work, hobbies, likes, and dislikes, and use this information to create an environment that fits exactly who you are, and a place you can grow into for the future. 

As Featured in Home By Design 
Information deemed reliable but not guaranteed.
All measurements are approximate.
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