Back in 2010, Sydney Carlaw of Langley, B.C.’s
Purity Designs had it all planned out. She had recently finished a 4,200-square-foot new-build that had been completely customized for her family — husband Vance, daughters Jessica and Jolene, and their golden retriever, Burch. They intended to repeat the process: building new and flipping every few years. But when they went to move in 2014, a nearby property had hit the market — a much smaller 1,600-square-foot ramshackle farmhouse with just one dated bathroom — and the plans all changed.
“It had been vacant for two years and was desolate,” says Sydney, “but the property felt like an enchanted forest right out of a Walt Disney movie — and just five minutes from the grocery store!” Their girls, then nine and six, were especially taken by its magic, and the idea of flipping went straight out the window. “We felt like we were destined to be here forever,” she says.
Scroll down to see this charming family farmhouse decorated for the holidays!
The Carlaws (
pictured with their kids, Jessica and Jolene) couldn’t spot one bit of plastic on the two-hectare site; even an old wooden broom left behind had been handcrafted. A former Dutch mason had purchased the two-hectare plot in the 1970s and, with the help of his sons, built the homestead, including a three-bedroom, one-bathroom rancher and two small outbuildings (a hay barn and another for his sheep). He meticulously sourced the cedar walls and cladding from Pender Island, B.C., and hand laid the river-rock hearth.
When it comes to the designer’s holiday style, because the farmhouse is straight out of Christmas central casting, the decorating is subtle and simple. “With all that pine and cedar just outside our door, I bring the forest in,” she says. “I love the look of berries and holly, and they already smell like Christmas!” A Christmas tree decorated with twinkly lights and simple ornaments takes centre stage in the living room.
Tree-trimming requires a family-friendly approach. “I’m a designer who doesn’t like fussy trees, so the kids’ decorating direction isn’t always my favorite,” says Sydney with a smile. The solution: two Christmas trees, one crafty and cute, with fun school-made ornaments while the other features simple lights and natural eucalyptus inserted throughout. “Honestly, that’s all you need, and it always feels festive,” says Sydney. Birch bark paper stars reflect the woodsy setting outside.
New white oak engineered hardwood floors brighten the house while whitewashed cedar walls downplay the wood’s red tones, and the formerly brown beams are now painted grey. “I love the clean modern vibe this chair brings to the living room,” says Sydney.
“Natural, organic elements are often my first choice,” says Sydney of the kitchen’s linen chair set against a rift-cut white oak cabinet.
“This is an authentic farmhouse,” says Sydney, “but I wanted to add some small contemporary elements.” Modern-rustic barstools suit the farmhouse aesthetic.
Sydney chose new flat-front cabinets and modern lighting to update the kitchen. Floating shelves and a farmhouse sink strike a balance between the contemporary and the classic.
Sydney eschews holiday trinkets in favor of mixing greenery with fresh flowers and then weaving in fairy lights, and natural wreaths and garlands abound (including a 42-inch wreath for the barn). Christmas baking sets the stage for a festive holiday.
The kitchen’s heritage hearth features a built-in stone seat crafted by the home’s original owner.
Layers of natural texture create a refined yet rustic vibe in the dining room. The art is by Canadian artist Sara Genn.
The home’s only bathroom went from 1970s green to clean and airy in white. A mirror is flanked by brushed brass sconces and the new marble counter includes an extra-high 10-inch curb backsplash.
The bathroom works double duty as a laundry room and features a deep farmhouse sink and bridge faucet.
During the pandemic, Jessica and Jolene’s grandmother surprised them with a keyboard. The family’s golden retriever Burch hanging out in the sitting room which is also known as the “teen wing.”
Sydney forages most of her holiday decorating elements from the surrounding forest on the property.
Daughters Jessica, 17, and Jolene, 14, have bedrooms joined by this playroom turned teen hangout.
Twinkly lights add holiday sparkle to Jessica’s bedroom.
“Sometimes I fall so in love with a piece that I just need to find a home for it,” says Sydney (
pictured) of this console table in the barn conversion’s foyer.
Sydney dreamed of renovating the squirrel-infested gambrel roof barn to create an office for her design firm. The former gambrel roof hay barn now serves as
Purity Designs’ HQ.
“I lean toward a modern West Coast style that’s serene, comfortable and welcoming,” says Sydney. “I love warm, organic neutrals with lots of texture.”
The homestead came with an accompanying thicket filled with mice, rats, squirrels and four Romney sheep. “There were so many times when we thought, What are we doing?” says Sydney. “I own a business that employs three others, my husband is in IT having to work from the dining room table; people must think we’re nuts — I think we’re nuts!” The family had just two months to renovate the house and studio barn, but, thankfully, only a light touch was required.
Sydney and Vance’s charming farmhouse is living proof that taking a leap of faith, just when you think the story’s already written, can lead to a new — and very happy — ending.
Author: Amanda Ross
House & Home December 2021