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Show Us Where You Live: Designer Ashley Rumsey’s Kawartha Retreat

When not in the city, Mason Studio’s co-founder resides with her partner in a serene, gallery-like country home replete with art, design and forest views

By Kendra Jackson
Photography by Ashley Rumsey

From a young age, Ashley Rumsey intuitively understood the impact of design. “I have always appreciated how design can solve problems and affect the way people feel and interact with one another,” says the Toronto designer, who cut her professional teeth with stints at globally recognized firms like Burdifilek, KPMB Architects and Yabu Pushelberg before co-founding Mason Studio in 2011 with fellow Ryerson interior design grad Stanley Sun.

Now an internationally recognized and award-winning multidisciplinary firm, Mason first burst onto our radar at Toronto’s Interior Design Show back in 2012 with a conceptual residence that converted a shipping container into an unconventional domestic space through the use of materials indigenous to the Canadian landscape. Since then, the studio has grown to be 15 members strong and earned accolades for its experiential and diverse approach to design, one that strives to “satisfy physical and psychological needs and desires.”

Recent accomplishments include the newly completed Kimpton Hotel in the Annex (the first Canadian outpost for the international boutique hotel chain), a soon-to-be-finished multi-tower residential complex in Shenzhen, China, and a purpose-built rental building in Washington, D.C.

Here, we take a tour of the country home she built with her partner as a rejuvenating retreat from their hectic city life.

Mason Studio
A triptych by Toronto artist Christina Ott adds organic colour to the white-walled foyer. Rumsey met the artist early in her career and commissioned the pieces when Ott was creating similar works for a Mason Studio project in Shenzhen, China.

Designlines: Where do you live and with whom?

Ashley Rumsey: I live with Matt, my partner of over 15 years; he works as an operator at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station. In late-2012, while renting in Toronto, we designed and built our country house in Kawarthas on a wooded 26-acre lot about two-hours drive northeast of the city. After finishing the house, we purchased a condo in midtown Toronto for a maintenance-free lifestyle that allows us to focus on work and take advantage of the life of the city. We live between the city and country.

Mason Studio
A low-slung sectional in the living room keeps the focus on the views to outside. Ashley’s mum Ingrid Rumsey, an avid quilter and crafter, gifted the couple the handmade quilt, while her father, a hobbyist wood-worker, crafted the wooden cribbage board. Matt made the wood-stump table (one of many throughout) from trees on the property that were cleared to build the house.

Designlines: Why did you build a second home in Kawarthas?

Ashley Rumsey: Matt grew up in the area and has strong ties to the community; I grew up in Toronto but spent summers at the lake all my life and still have family close by. This area is very special to the both of us. I love my relationship with the city, meeting with and learning from the diverse community is a big influence in my life. We wanted a place that gave us the best of both experiences – a place for solitude and seclusion while still being close to family and friends. To contrast our condo in the city we built a spacious home that is quiet, bright, minimal and meaningful for us both to find rejuvenation in response to the demands of our work lives.

Clean lines, unfussy furnishings and spectacular views contribute to the serenity of the master bedroom. The Peruvian-wool blanket on the bench is from Toronto-based shop Cambie Design.

Designlines: What are some of your favourite aspects of your home?

Ashley Rumsey: The best part of the house is the woods that surround it. We designed the house in a U-shape so that the two arms (living space and master bedroom) have panoramic views of the woods and are isolated from one another. The house has windows as the main circulation paths so you always have a sightline out to the woods. In normal times, I love having our close friends and family come up for the weekend for big dinner parties. But more than anything, we love enjoying the solitude of the house and property together.

To the right, the framed photograph “Burnt 03”, by B.C. artist Troy Moth, completes the quiet vignette in the rec room.

Designlines: How is your appreciation for minimal spaces reflected in the house?

Ashley Rumsey: We didn’t invest too much in the interior when we finished the house. We got a few key pieces, and have added art and other objects over the years. Most of what we own has meaning to us in one way or another; many of the furniture and objects are derivatives of Mason Studio projects and made by makers, artists and local businesses that I’ve built relationships with. I love being surrounded by things that remind me of our accomplishments at Mason. We kept the walls white to hang art and photography, which we have a lot of and continue to collect from artists that resonate with us. We only bring necessary items into the home that complement rather than detract from the surroundings.

Brought to the home since living here full-time, the original painting “Holding it Together” is by Lori Harrison, an artist Rumsey has known for nearly 10 years and who recently joined the Mason Studio team. The vintage Ton chairs are from Smash Salvage.

Designlines: Has your relationship with your home changed during the pandemic?

Ashley Rumsey: Spending more time here has given me the ability to appreciate what we built, to sit in different rooms and gaze out at the landscape to watch spring arrive. I have appreciated what the solitude has given me in terms of clarity and focus when working on design development and developing our business. Without the distractions of the day-to-day and being bombarded with outside influences, the space and isolation has brought forward more original ideas. Also, being home and able to cook and eat together more often has been a welcome change.

A gift from the Mason Studio team, the two prints propped on the cabinets typically live at Rumsey’s Toronto studio, but she brought them here during the pandemic: “They remind me how how incredible our team is, and how much I miss working alongside them in the studio.” Cord chairs by Jacques Guillon from Avenue Road.

Designlines: Has the enforced at-home time changed how you work?

Ashley Rumsey: Our country house has always been an escape from the bombardment of influence that I receive as a creative professional in my day-to-day life in the city. Here, it’s easier to be quiet with my thoughts. While I miss the collaboration and energy of our team at the studio, working from here has given me perspective and time to focus on ideas. I feel like my time during the day is more under my control and I can work on designing and developing the future of Mason, aside from the minutiae of emails and Zoom calls.

Situated on a 26-acre lot, Rumsey’s home provides ample opportunity for solitude and reflection.

Designlines: With home-time now more important than ever, are there any changes you would like to make?

Ashley Rumsey: We don’t have any plans for further changes to the house, but are excited for the warmer weather to arrive so we can spend more time on the patio and in the vegetable garden, which Matt plants and tends to each year. We have blueberry and raspberry bushes that bring us lots of fruit, but we’re in a constant battle with the birds and the deer who tend to get to the harvest before we do.

The Crib Sheet

Shop the Look: Smash, Cambie Design, Avenue Road

Get the Designer: Mason Studio

Know the Makers: Jacques Guillon, Christina Ott, Troy Moth, Lori Harrison