When Sarah MacNeill (on Instagram @foxybanksbuild) and her husband Scott both finished school, they designed a concept for a house that, at the time, was nothing more than a pipe dream. They imagined it in the Prince Edward Island landscape, however, where Scott is originally from. In their vision the house had a modern Scandinavian aesthetic, but also referenced the vernacular architecture of rural PEI with its straight gables, simple form, and wood shingles.
Fast forward to early 2018. They were living in their Cordova Bay home when the couple semi-spontaneously decided to move to the Maritimes and fulfill that dream of building a house on a piece of rural waterfront property, raising their three girls there, close to their extended family.
The family had spent a very memorable month on Prince Edward Island the previous summer – filled with lobster feasts, fiddle music, warm neighbours, and bonfires beneath a blanket of twinkling stars. 18 months later, they found themselves on the East Coast to embrace a simpler way of living.
Scott’s brother’s construction company poured the footings on the seven-acre property (in 2019, one could purchase waterfront acreage on Prince Edward Island for less than $100K). The design was already complete by this point, but of course a few things changed throughout construction, and the project is still ongoing. The house was built by Scott’s brother, Scott’s father, Scott, Sarah’s father, and a handful of other specialized tradespeople.
Sarah’s parents, who had lived in Victoria for 30 years, decided to move to PEI as well, and are building a house right next door.
Sarah’s career evolved as the house was built; she is now a graphic designer, photographer and Creative Director for GMC Projects. She is also a published children’s author and illustrator and her book One House is coincidentally about the steps involved in designing and building a house.
The house is distinctive in their neighbourhood because it is by far the most contemporary.
The family lives in an area along the Northumberland Strait surrounded by farmer’s fields and acres of woods, so most of the surrounding structures are older farmhouses and barns. “The reception from the locals regarding the architectural style of our home has been mostly positive, but I’m sure there are a few traditionalists who are aghast at how different it is,” says Sarah.
They kept the roof profile as simple as possible, so there are no eaves, and the massing consists of two perpendicular barn-like elements with straight gables that are connected by a wood and glass “box,” which is also the main entry point.
As far as the interior goes, the most distinctive elements are the 12-foot walls with vaulted ceilings that feature 200-year-old reclaimed wood beams, and also the south-facing facade of floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors that provide 180 degree views of the ocean. Sarah is also proud of the floor plan itself.
They started with a bubble diagram to map out how the spaces would flow, and it ultimately evolved into a layout that works really well for the family. Sarah hired the talented team at Bidgood + Co to provide her with some initial direction for spaces like the kitchen and bathrooms.
The private and public realms are separate; one of the “barns” houses the kitchen, living room, dining room and loft, while the other contains a studio and office space, family room, guest room and all bedrooms.
Sarah and her husband both love texture, pattern, and natural materials, but usually opt for a calming, neutral palette. “We are not fancy so nothing is too precious, and with three kids we definitely have to embrace the art of wabi sabi – finding beauty in imperfection,” she says.
Overall, the couple wanted a tranquil but inviting aesthetic, with a nod to coastal Prince Edward Island charm.
Although it was a challenge to design this house themselves – given how hard it is to filter the many ideas down to the simplest, purest architectural concept – it was also a very rewarding experience for Sarah and Scott.
The couple enjoy the vividly marked four seasons and beautiful rural landscape of PEI. “We love walking the paths we’ve carved on our property that meander all the way down to a little apple orchard next to the bank. We have a resident bald eagle that makes its nest in the highest tree, and many red and black foxes that we often meet on the paths (hence the name “Foxy Banks”).
“Designing this house has been a method of creative expression for us, and something we’ve really enjoyed doing. But at its essence, it is a home for our family to grow up in, and hopefully a place our daughters and their families will always want to return to for years to come.”