Inside designer Carrie McCarthy's Pender Island home, where simple luxury rules.

For interior designer and stylist Carrie McCarthy, the true definition of luxury isn’t wealth or excess, but something quite different. She describes her tiny cottage on South Pender in B.C.’s Gulf Islands as simple luxury—and that includes the bird’s nest her six-year-old son found there that is now part of the decor. “People think luxury is all about money,” says McCarthy. “But luxury in our house is the tactile, the comfort, the feeling of richness even though it’s really simple.”

Set atop the crest of a hill that overlooks a valley and forest ridge, the 890-square-foot cottage is almost gingerbread-like, with its cedar shakes, white-trimmed mullioned windows and frosted-white interior—as if out of some Scandinavian fairy tale. Everything inside is whitewashed: walls, stairs, the plank floor in the loft.

This is her family’s sanctuary, a home away from condo life in Vancouver. McCarthy and husband Cameron Thorn (a developer and the lead contractor on their cottage), their son Leighton and dog Billie all count the days until they take the ferry back to Pender. “It’s not a recreational home as much as a second home,” says McCarthy. The family loves the quieter, outdoorsy vibe alongside the island’s hip restaurants and essential shops.

After visiting friends on the island, the family bought one and a half acres (later doubled to three) of untouched land in 2006. Architect Howard Airey, who also has a home on Pender, drew up the first iteration of their cottage on a napkin, which McCarthy later gave her husband as a birthday gift. From napkin to reality, the cottage has been all about being unfussy, yet luxurious and more simple than modern—or what McCarthy calls “refined treasure.”

Click to Below to Launch Slideshow: Inside Carrie McCarthy's Simply Luxurious Island Cabin

Simple Luxury
There’s one great room on the main floor, where cooking, dining and lounging are all encompassed, and a single bathroom. Upstairs, an unstructured loft is where the family shares bedroom/office space and Leighton’s captain’s bed is tucked under the eaves. The spareness is tempered with modern amenities: high-end kitchen appliances, a wall-hung toilet and heated concrete floors that can be accessed remotely so there’s warmth underfoot when the family arrives on rainy winter nights. “That’s luxury for us,” says McCarthy.
Rustic Drama
Also luxurious are the all-white walls, which feel anything but stark. Rather, there’s a rich elegance in their quiet minimalism, against which treasured pieces pop. Like the lithe form of a Finnish-design floor lamp, with its sculptural shade of pressed-birch slats. Or the rustic, hand-forged iron chandelier that crowns the great room and emphasizes its dramatic height. Other gems are displayed on open shelving and throughout the space: ceramics by Vancouver potter Janaki Larsen, island thrift-store finds like ’70s weavings, driftwood from the beach, a piece of concrete McCarthy found at a construction site. “It’s treasure hunting,” says McCarthy.
Earthy Finishes, Inside And Oute
All of this comes together as part of what McCarthy calls an earthy palette. A burlap linen sofa and sisal rug sit atop smooth concrete floors. Outside, cedar shakes (from Pender) and dark-grey metal shingles (off of which the pitter-patter of rain adds to the cottage’s coziness) continue the earthy tones. Oversized French doors open onto a patio made of dry-stacked stone (from a local quarry), where rough-hewn side tables made out of tree stumps mirror the trees just beyond.
Nature Calls
And this woodsy backdrop is tailor-made for the holidays. The family spends two weeks here every Christmas, hunting for their annual spindly tree as well as gathering pine cones and greenery for wreaths and garlands. Much like with the cottage’s year-round decor, it’s a process of collecting and distilling until McCarthy comes to that balance of refined treasure.
Lovely Lilac
The serendipitous find of a vintage lilac Hudson’s Bay blanket gave McCarthy the spark for this year’s holiday decoration. She always starts with such a cherished item, gathering various other found objects—the warm patina of old books, a curled piece of delicate birch bark, the whimsy of Leighton’s artwork—for a simple, subtle and just slightly lilac-tinged theme.
Holiday Inspiration
To this festive-but-not-Christmassy vibe she’s added antique pewter and silver ornaments, lots of lights and go-to white candles and stockings. On Christmas Eve, she’ll add a huge glass vase of aromatic mulled wine garnished with lavender. Presents are wrapped in unadorned kraft paper with twine or plain ribbon. For an atypical tree skirt, she’s used another favourite piece, a wintry, soft-grey blanket. But any of this could change at any time. If Leighton comes in with some newfound treasure, it could become fresh inspiration.
Home Sweet Home
“It’s all in the moment, like painting,” says McCarthy—a certain magical quality. Whatever time of year, it’s about being authentic. “I think presentation is so essential in our life because it is a reflection of our essence,” she says. And through this oh-so-simple yet luxurious cottage, she’s distilled her family’s essence as well as that of the island they call home
Warm And Woodsy
McCarthy loves to search thrift stores for eclectic finds to pair with natural collections from the property. In the upstairs loft , a Finnish floor lamp with a shade of pressed-birch slats fits right into this organic palette, while the all-white walls create a backdrop that makes each of these items shine, like the found treasures they are.
White On White
Everything inside is whitewashed: walls, stairs, the plank floor in the loft.
Treasure Trove
From napkin to reality, the cottage has been all about being unfussy, yet luxurious and more simple than modern—or what McCarthy calls “refined treasure.”
Cozy Kitchen
In the kitchen, stacks of plates from potter Janaki Larsen are too pretty to hide away.