Lay of the Land

In The Home

Photography by Sally Kolar

Country life is second nature for this Leah family of five.

It’s only fitting that a couple who named their Boykin Spaniel “Timber” would build their forever home on 11 acres of land.

Almost three years ago, Aaron and Jenni Murphy moved into their new farmhouse in Leah next door to her parents, who built their house at the same time on 11 adjoining acres.

“I’ve always had a wonderful relationship with my parents,” Jenni says. “My dad found the property, and we always wanted to live in the country.”

The Murphys’ home has everything Jenni, a respiratory therapist who is now a stay-at-home mom, and Aaron, a forester for the Army Corps of Engineers, need to raise their three children, Emmi, 10; Anni, 8; and Jack, 2.

“Living out here is how I grew up,” says Jenni. “We always have a houseful of children, and the kids stay out until dark.”

Character & Timelessness
To build their home, the couple modified a Southern Living house plan called Four Gables, which gets its name from the four identical intersecting gables that form its major roof structure, to meet their needs.

“We added square footage,” Jenni says. “We added an office and made the master bath a lot bigger.”

Southern yellow pine flooring with 10-inch planks, six-panel doors and black window frames accent the entire house. While all of the rooms on the first floor have 10-foot ceilings, the rooms on the second story have 9-foot ceilings. Many of the rooms feature board and batten walls as well.

“I love board and batten because you don’t have to hang pictures on the walls,” Jenni says. “It’s pretty by itself.”

In addition, a black and white color scheme runs throughout the house – except for the ceiling on the front porch that is painted a subtle shade of haint blue.

“My favorite colors are black and white. When we built, I tried to keep it simple,” says Jenni. “I wanted character. I wanted something that was timeless.”

The front porch sets the tone for the black and white décor. Three white rocking chairs occupy one side of the front porch, which also features six white columns. The two larger rockers belonged to Jenni’s grandparents, and the smaller one sandwiched between them once sat on her great-grandmother’s front porch.

“I like to pick things that tell a story and things that I love,” says Jenni. “When I find something I love, I keep it.”

Two black chairs sit on the other side of the porch, and black and white buffalo-check pillows rest in the chairs.

The porch also features five black hanging lantern lights and small floorboards like those of an old farmhouse.

“When we built, we knew we wanted a lot of outdoor space. We sit on the front porch every afternoon, and we like to watch the sun set in the evening,” Jenni says. “There’s always a breeze up here. Always. It’s so quiet here, and we love being able to see the stars at night. There are no other lights around.”

Mixed hanging baskets filled with pink wave petunias and other flowers, along with two oversized ferns on either side of the double front doors, bring pops of color to the porch. Containers filled with colorful flowers line the front steps as well.

The Murphys also planted a one-acre vegetable garden in their front yard.

“Gardening has become a new love for me,” Jenni says. “We try to plant a garden every year. My kids love it. They love to get the corn and shuck it.”

Clean Lines
Through the front doors, black iron railings on the stairs in the hallway deviate from the traditional farmhouse feel.

“I like the clean, black straight lines,” Jenni says. “They give the house more of a contemporary farmhouse look.”

An inset space beneath the staircase was supposed to be a bookcase, but the Murphys had a better idea. They made it into a coffee bar with a sink and an icemaker to keep clutter off of the kitchen countertops.

The area also features black wallpaper, which serves as a dramatic backdrop to the white dishes and canisters on two open shelves. Lemons in a white bowl perched atop a white cake plate add a splash of color.

“There is one space under the stairs that isn’t used,” Jenni says. “Every other space in the house is used.”

The light fixture in the front hall features the unorthodox – but statement-making – combination of a chandelier, chicken wire and a spherical frame.

“I just fell in love with it. I knew I needed to put it somewhere,” says Jenni.

The office off of the hallway features shiplap walls, an antler light fixture and distressed black bookcases. A glass bowl on the desk is filled with arrowheads that they found on the property when the house was under construction.

The main living areas have an open floor plan, but a column connected to beams in the ceiling offers definition between the kitchen, dining area and living room. The column and beams are made of reclaimed wood.

The kitchen features quartzite countertops, stainless steel appliances, a wood range hood, subway tile backsplash, lots of drawer space and a trio of teardrop-shaped glass pendant lights above a large island with a farmhouse sink.

Three open wood shelves and glass-front cabinets, which showcase the silver tea set and china that belonged to Jenni’s grandmother and great-aunt, provide display space.

“We don’t have a dining room, so we did that to have a place to put our china,” says Jenni.

In the adjoining breakfast area, a burlap table runner stretches from end to end of the two-toned table with a stained top and black legs. Two black ladderback chairs with rush seats line each side of the table, and a dough bowl filled with black and white orbs, faux greenery orbs and pink flower blossoms serves as the centerpiece.

Happy Place
Like the breakfast area, the living room features board and batten walls and 10-inch baseboards. A raised-hearth brick wood-burning fireplace with a reclaimed wood mantel is flanked by built-in bookcases, and the room also includes a black industrial ceiling fan. A pair of doors leads to the back porch.

A strand of decorative beads hangs on a portrait of the children on one of the bookshelves. More decorative beads are wrapped on a vase atop a book on the distressed black coffee table. Throw pillows add color to the white couches.

Brick pavers on the laundry room floor are arranged in a chevron pattern in the middle, and the powder room features shiplap walls and a rectangular console sink with a front towel bar.

The enlarged master bath includes a clawfoot tub with a telephone faucet and two vanities with quartzite countertops. Black and white hexagon-shaped tile on the floor and subway tile on the walls accent the walk-in shower.

An orb-shaped chandelier and a pair of black outdoor light fixtures on the wall provide lighting. Two windows high up on the wall across from the vanities pull in natural light as well.

The couple also included built-ins in the walk-in closet off of the master bath. “They free up space in the bedroom,” says Jenni.

She sewed the curtains in the master bedroom, and furnishings include a serpentine chest of drawers, which belonged to Jenni’s great-aunt, and a full-length mirror that leans against one wall.

A door in the master bedroom opens onto their favorite spot in the house – the screened-in back porch.

“This is my happy place,” says Jenni. “The kids have their snacks out here, and the TV swivels. We watch football games and eat dinner on the back porch. This is where we spend a lot of time.”

The back porch features another raised-hearth brick wood-burning fireplace with a reclaimed wood mantel, Southern yellow pine flooring and three ceiling fans. The underside of the metal roof on the house is visible through the exposed beams.

Jenni sewed curtains for the back porch to offer protection from the sun, and hog wire around the screens shields them from children and pets.

“I love the black lines,” Jenni says.

The furniture ranges from a wrought iron table and chairs on one side of the porch to a queen-sized bed on the opposite end.

“A lot of people have a bed swing. We put a queen-sized bed on the porch,” says Jenni. “Aaron and I sleep on the porch sometimes. It’s like camping out at your own house.”

Child’s Play
While Jenni and Aaron have a choice of sleeping quarters, the children’s bedrooms are brimming with personality.

Emmi’s room features black, gold and dusty rose décor. “Pink and gold are her colors,” says Jenni. “She had a room makeover for her birthday last year.”

Furnishings include a canopy bed, a desk featuring black and white vertical stripes on the drawers, and a distressed gray armoire and side table that match the bed on the porch. Jenni coated the frames of the two matching mirrors on the wall with black paint.

White treehouse bunk beds are the focal point of Anni’s room. The animal lover also has a fish tank against one wall, and a chandelier hangs from the cathedral ceiling.

In Jack’s blue and white nursery, the seaside theme includes blue canoe paddles on the wall and a whale-shaped toy basket on the floor. A quilt draped over his crib, where he likes to stand and look outside at the tractor, features blue whales. The frame on the mirror in his room is made of rope.

His bath features hexagon tile on the floor. The girls share a bath that has white subway tile in the shower and blue fish scale tile in the shower niche. Both baths have a console sink with a front towel bar.

“It cuts down on the clutter,” says Jenni. “In the old house we had cabinets under the sink, and everything in them was junk.”

Two built-in bookcases tucked in the board and batten walls of the upstairs hall hold books for the children. They can curl up to read on one of two faux fur unicorn hang-a-round chairs by the windows, where natural light streams into the space.

“When you build a house, it’s like your baby. You put your heart and soul into it,” Jenni says. “I feel like it’s easy when you know what you want, and my husband and I agreed on everything.”

By Betsy Gilliland