Milieu is a series that explores the unique ways in which we breathe life into our homes. From coastal towns to city living, our homes are a celebration of small, simple moments. They’re a reflection of our lives. Our stories. Our milieu.
For our next feature, we are celebrating story. We have found ourselves in the snow-covered fields outside of Ottawa, Canada to visit Stephanie Kenny. Stephanie lives with her husband and wolfhound-husky-shepherd in an 1890s white farmhouse, nestled amongst acres of walking trails and along the shore of the Ottawa River. The interior of their home features striking foraged finds, a remarkable blend of natural wooden accents, mixed-era vintage, and layers and layers of warmth.
Stephanie’s distinct style feels immediately apparent, inviting you in with the promise of good conversation and captivating views.
Please, introduce yourself. Whereabouts are you located?
My name is Stephanie Kenny and I live with my husband Alex and our wolfhound-husky-shepherd mutt Ferris on the shores of the Ottawa River in a small town close to Ottawa, Canada. I work as a doctor and my husband is in the military.
Can you tell us a bit about the history of your home? How did you stumble upon it?
I have a history of falling in love with old homes. My husband and I got married 8 years ago and bought a red brick century townhome in downtown Ottawa that we absolutely adored. I actually put a letter in the mailbox of that house to buy it even though it wasn’t for sale! It was perfect for that stage of our lives, but then our jobs evolved and we needed to relocate outside of the city.
I searched for homes in the area long before we were moving and the second I saw this listing, it was love at first sight. This was just before the pandemic and at that time nobody wanted a big home in the countryside so it sat on the market for close to a year before we were ready to buy. But I never doubted the decision to buy our home. The beauty and the romance of this place always had me.
Our home is an 1890s white farmhouse sitting on 60 acres along the river. We have 3 original barns painted black, a lucky boulder under the stairs to our basement left by the original owners as per German tradition, and exposed timbers from the original footprint of the house. We found old photos and newspaper articles about the family who built this house at our local public library, and have some of them framed on our walls. Surrounding our house are 5 km of walking trails through the forest, 30 acres of meadows, and 2 km of riverfront. It is the property of our dreams.
Had you always dreamed of living in a home that you would renovate and in some ways reimagine?
It would have been much easier to find a turn-key glass box house! But I’m very particular with houses and I need that history – the thick trim, the original hardwood, the ornate bannister – it can’t be replicated. We had never renovated a house before this one, so we were intimidated. But we were also dreamers. And doers. The truth is, this house is part of our love story as a couple. We have been together for 14 years since our university days and have spent nearly half that time long-distance, along with the challenges of military deployments and even a cancer diagnosis for Alex. Through all of that, we had the dream of the big country house on the water and so fixing up this house is a big part of our story. Alex lived here alone for a year while I finished my schooling and the day I moved in we drank fancy champagne on the front porch and cried happy tears.
What sparked your love of design and interiors?
I think owning this particular home has really lit a passion within me. I always enjoyed art and drawing as a kid, and my mom always had design magazines laying around that I would peek at. I unfortunately had to put many of my artistic passions on the back-burner during medical training but now I realize how important it is for me to have a creative outlet. My husband and I both have demanding careers, which makes it all the more important for us to have a calming sanctuary at the end of the day. I realize how important it is for my mental health to have a beautiful well-designed home. This house itself also commands a certain level of design-admiration and respect, so I am always trying to honour the history of the house in all my designs.
What is one of the most unique pieces (new, old, large, small) in your home?
We have a wine rack in our kitchen made from old terracotta drainage pipes salvaged from the fields around our property that feels very special. I also made a coffee table for our living room out of an old door from one of our barns.
When it comes to adorning your space, how would you describe your personal style?
I like to think that I have developed a distinct sense of style, such that if you saw a picture of my space you would know it was mine. I like warm neutral spaces, edited and uncluttered, full of cozy texture and mixed wood tones, with pops of black accents, mixed-era vintage finds, and always a few foraged personal treasures such as feathers from the yard.
The landscape you are surrounded by seems breathtaking at this time of year. What is one of your favourite things about living in rural Ontario midwinter?
Our home feels very alive in the wintertime. We see deer and rabbit tracks criss-crossing the paths when we’re out walking our dog. The snow on the pine trees seems otherworldly. Our white farmhouse feels at home under a white blanket of snow. We also enjoy the winter-time as a time to nest and recharge for the year ahead. The truth is that there is a lot of work to do for a big property outdoors during the warmer months, so we enjoy the break that winter brings and use it to focus inwards. We also aren’t afraid to take the good parts of rural winter like snow-shoeing our trails, and seek elsewhere for the other things we need like trips to the city for good restaurants and far-away travel to help reset.
Do you have any favourite ways of or rituals for bringing warmth into your home in the wintertime?
We have a European-style hot tub on our back porch and we keep robes, towels and slippers by the door just beside it to make it easy to slip out for a quick soak. We also have our wood-burning fireplace going any chance we get with wood stacked high on both sides. My easiest trick is to swap all my lightbulbs for amber bulbs – even warmer than warm white – to keep it feeling extra cozy. I also cover every soft surface in my house with sheepskins and every hard surface with candles.
Do you have a favourite spot or viewpoint that you find yourself gravitating towards in your home?
My favourite spot is our primary bedroom. I have worked hard designing this space and it feels the most personal. Our bed is cozy and layered with linen sheets. The ceilings are high with wood beams and anchored by an oversized round pendant that my nephew affectionately refers to as the beehive. I drape my clothes over a vintage cognac leather safari chair at the end of the bed which I had dreamed of buying for years. All my favourite antique pieces live in our bedroom so I can see them the most. We have an exposed bathtub in the middle of our open concept bedroom-bathroom which I know isn’t for everyone but I think it’s so romantic. Our bedroom also has 270 degree views around the property and really feels like you’re living in the trees.
Who or what are some of your biggest design inspirations?
I love Lauren Liess for her relaxed elegant approach and for making it feel okay to decorate my home with rocks and branches from my yard. I appreciate Madelynn Furlong’s effortless eclecticism. Natalie Walton has a refreshingly simple approach to style and great advice for living well.
We highly recommend following along with Stephanie on her Instagram page to see more of her Ottawa River homestead.
Shop a few of Stephanie’s favourites:
iron wall candle holder - single arm
beeswax taper candles 12 inch - set of two
brass pepper mill - 8"
JUNE handwoven cotton towel - striped
$ - CAD