This time of year there’s always something cooking in the sandstone hearth that takes up an entire wall of the Smith family’s dining room in Kings County, PEI.
It might be Neapolitan-style pizza or juicy sirloin steaks, but if Chastity Smith has her way, her celebrity-chef husband, Michael, will have a pot of chicken stew with homemade dumplings simmering over the open flame, filling the house with all kinds of mouth-watering scents.
“Michael has to have fire everywhere and he likes to do everything old school,” says Smith, who adds that they also have a massive fire pit outside, a Big Green Egg and a pizza oven built into the hearth. “He believes everything tastes better over an open flame.”
That philosophy is also at the heart of the couple’s thriving businesses, The Inn at Bay Fortune and The Inn at Fortune Bridge, located in the small town of Souris, on the northeastern tip of the province. There, they built a 25-foot, wood-burning beast – called FireWorks – that grills, smokes, bakes and sears all the savoury meals that Michael, who has judged Chopped Canada and starred in Chef Abroad, serves to a clientele that comes from across the country and around the world.
Food is the primary calling card of the inns, but guests come, too, for the comfort and ambience that Smith created. “I’m kind of like a jack-of-all-trades,” she says. The mom of three decorated the inns and also runs them.
“Design is in my blood and I love to surround myself with things that speak to the kind of family we are,” she says. Nowhere is that more evident than their dining room, which Smith calls “eclectic.”
While her husband loves rustic – hence the barn-board walls, a tree stump by the fireplace that holds his collection of cast-iron cookware and the birch-tree art installation that he cut down and mounted himself – Smith, on the other hand, has more classic tastes. After living several years in Austria before meeting Michael, she fell in love with European antiques, old oil paintings and anything finished in gilt and gold.
“We are a strange mix,” she says. “But we both love the outdoors. Going for long walks is one of our favourite things to do so the entire design aesthetic is about bringing the outside in.” Both, for instance, have long admired the work of Canadian artist Tom Thomson, so they commissioned a colourful wall mural reminiscent of his work that was transferred to canvas and mounted on the wall behind Smith’s antique side table.
The light fixture was another joint effort. They both love the organic quality of barn board so they used it to encase three antique windows that drop from the ceiling over the reclaimed oak dining-room table, which was found at Restoration Hardware. She added the green topiaries to soften the structure and, again, bring nature in. Oil paintings are hung on the walls in gold frames, which Smith brought back from Vienna. And Michael, who collects antique maps, filled a wall with an old schoolhouse map (from 1911) that he framed in birch found on the property.
Together, they have created a room bursting with an organic flare that is perfect for a rural, seaside setting. “Like most couples, we have a lot in common, but we each have our own distinct tastes,” says Smith, who plays guitar and piano and hopes to have her second album completed by next spring. “This room, perhaps more than any, is a blend of the two of us,” she adds. “It’s full of compromise and collaboration, which I guess when you think about it, is what marriage is all about.”
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