Fourteen years ago, entrepreneur extraordinaire Tara McDonald moved from Ontario to Nova Scotia – to Lunenburg, to be exact. “A paradise with friendly people,” is how Tara describes the seaside town trailing the province’s south shore. After offloading her wildly popular Two If By Sea Café, famous for its habit-forming croissants, Tara opened the Ivy House Inn, in 2019. The three-suite boutique hotel is situated in an old converted house. It’s 4,000 square feet, over two storeys. Tara resides on the main floor with her daughter Ivy, “the big boss.” (The Inn is named after her.) The pair are often in the kitchen testing out chocolate chip cookie recipes (Tara’s a tad excitable on that subject, determined to find THE ONE). Lucky guests get to sample the goods. Step inside this mother-daughter’s enormously charming house replete with rustic shiplap, local art and boho furnishings. There’s also sticks. Lots of sticks. Check out the video tour here.
A Warm Welcome
A Nova Scotian slice of life greets guests in the sea-grey foyer. A lulling hue that recalls the ocean – the Atlantic is steps from the inn. “That’s the Bluenose on the wall,” Tara points out, of the famous schooner. “It lives in our harbour and it’s on the dime.” (We almost forget.) A nautical light fixture is also a nod to the Inn’s location.
A Lady and A Monkey
A curated mix of interesting things, including a replica of an old-school radio, sits in the dining room. The lady print anchors it all. “I love her artwork,” says Tara. “It’s a print from an illustrator from Oregon. Her name is Emily Winfield Martin. She does weird goth-y, dark eclectic things.” (That’s so Tara, as you’ll see.)
A duo of foliage-filled vases sitting pretty on a sisal palm leaf reinforce Tara’s aesthetic: natural, boho, casual. #LoveIt
The sunny living room is layered in rattan, sisal and wicker for a modern boho feel. “I love natural fibres a little too much,” says Tara. Meanwhile, the low wicker chair is from the since-shuttered Wicker Emporium and the rug is from Tara’s friend Lydia Landry. She imports Persian and Turkish carpets, which you can find on Velvet and Loom. “They are the most beautiful rugs and she is so reasonably priced – I own four.”
Small Details Matter
A wicker tray cradles a vase of eucalyptus and candle sticks. “I love sticks,” says Tara. “People laugh at me when I say that. But it’s true: I love giant sticks in vases. My obsession is dried eucalyptus. It makes things warm and inviting.”
Take a Seat
Each suite has a built-in bench (that ties into the shiplap throughout) for taking off shoes or just scrolling on the devices. But why would you, in this Inn that feels more in tune with yesteryear?
Hooked on a Nook
A marriage of wood and white comes together for this warm dining nook. The table, with its rad X-base, is IKEA. So is the storage bench. “I was penny pinching here,” admits Tara. “Take what you have and do something with it.” A good lesson for life, to be sure. Especially when it works so well like in this dining area.
A Restful Night
The 400-square-foot Honeymoon Suite has soft blue shiplap walls and cosy textiles, including that lovely pink macrame. Tranquility and simplicity is the vibe here. Church bells and ocean breezes waft through the open windows. And there are harbour views.
A fantastic nubby tapestry from Peterborough-based small artisan business, Wild Honey Boho. The piece softens the room, a lovely contrast against the hard shiplap. A pile of pillows, meanwhile, are super welcoming.
A splashy blue and yellow painting by Rachel Hawkes Cameron subs in for a headboard in the Parkview Suite. “Headboards can look cheesy and yucky,” says Tara. She prefers more organic solutions to anchor a bed.
A wispy halo hits a natural note in the suite, while the wall treatment further jazzes up the room. “That was my pandemic painting project. When we were stuck inside for three days and it was really bad,” says Tara who found some grey paint in the basement and got to it.
Here’s a better look at that half-painted wall. The coordinating pillows are on point – you can never have too many in a bedroom!
The cookie-making goes down in this sweet kitchen, which was actually a pain to pull together. “When you have a 150-year-old house made with lathe and plaster, it’s difficult to fix,” says Tara. To wit: it was particularly difficult to anchor anything to the walls. Tara’s contractor installed shiplap, which solved the issue. Then the shelves went up. And now she can focus on what’s important: Cookies, of course. Her poison? “Crispy outside, gooey inside.”
Back in Black
A very sexy black oven by Kitchen-Aid is a dramatic counterpoint against the white shiplap. The colourful leaning artwork over the hob is by local artist Kat Frick Miller. Beyond, the living area is bathed in light showcasing century-old planks.
Shelfie Dreams Are Made of These
It’s country, it’s city, it’s open shelving. And we all have a love-hate relationship with it. It can get look fantastic but become dusty and disorderly. But in Tara’s kitchen, they are perfect and tidily maintained. She did a bang-up job with these shelves, creating neat mini vignettes on the planks. The plates are perfectly stored together. Ditto the cups and glasses. She’s even thrown in a plant for a heightened sense of drama (we’re taking notes).
Gothic and Gorgeous
Like detritus scooped from beneath the sea, the compelling fireplace mantel has a moody mien. “That’s my art install in my parlour with black ceramics,” says Tara, who asked Dartmouth-based designer Heather Waughpitts to do a piece for the Inn. “Her stuff is super gothy, with lots of black and white that’s very contrast-y.” The pieces are perfect on the fireplace, which Tara painted black.
The nautically nuanced bathroom features shiplap, marine-style lighting and black hexagon floor tiles. But, hello, let’s talk about the black-bottomed Kohler sink. “The whole bathroom was designed around it!” says Tara. Years ago, in Chester, Nova Scotia, she’d spotted one in a mansion and loved it. “My contractor sourced it for me. We bought two. It took three guys to hang it on the wall.”
The Parkview Bedroom
This is the serene and lovely Parkview Bedroom. “I kept the mantel, which is original to house for decorative purposes. Most people book the Honeymoon Suite but I love the Parkview because of this feature.” Tara painted it crisp white to blend with the walls. Dried starfish and sticks, meanwhile, reference the sea.
A rivulet of warm wood spills through the main floor, where Tara brought the heat with a wood-burning stove. “I can’t live without one – it’s a game changer. I’m always cold,” she says. Guests must appreciate it, too.
A Bit Beachy, A Bit Boho
Tara cleverly turned a rattan headboard from IKEA into a wall hanging. It keeps the cohesive natural-fibres vibe running throughout the Inn. A two-tone ladder is an easy-breezy way to hold blankets and materials, while the low-slung couch is for chilling out.