If you leave Edmonton via St. Albert Trail, Sherwood Park Freeway or the QEII, it takes a while to really feel like you’ve left, because there’s still so much neighbouring city to go. But there’s something more immediately serene about driving west of Edmonton — it feels like you’ve escaped the city, even when you’re only 20 kilometres past West Edmonton Mall.
Mike and Holly Myshak live about a half hour west of Edmonton, near Stony Plain. But when you look
out the front door (or large front windows) of their brand-new home, you could easily imagine being nestled 100 km away in the middle of nowhere.
“Our first night here, a moose and its calf came right up and put his nose up to [the front] window,” Mike recalls. “We’re just far enough out of town that we’re secluded. It can feel like you’re in the mountains down here. Sometimes, when we’re out on the water, you forget where you are.”
That “water” is their own private 60-foot-deep lake on which they fish, frolic and swim. “The one time we came out, when this was still the old cabin, we crossed the bridge over the little creek and there was jackfish spawning in there,” Holly says.
The roughly 1,800-square-foot house is the six-member family’s permanent residence, but they refer to it as a cabin, because that was the original plan. “I envisioned a small, 30-by-30 cabin with a loft,” says Mike. “I thought this was our forever home!” Holly replies.
Of course, once the decision to go bigger was made, that created many more. Holly wanted a modern kitchen with contemporary flair — Mike wanted a rustic look with pine walls. The original floor colour was too dark for the custom cabinets. They blended brown and grey stains to get the right wall colour and are so on the fence about door trim that they’ve left all the wood edges raw to this day.
“I got a lot of panicked phone calls,” laughs Tionna Nicoli, an interior decorator (Interiors By T) and frequent camper on the Myshaks’ picturesque property (Mike was best man at Nicoli’s wedding). “Between Mike and Holly, and [Mike’s dad] overseeing everything, there were definitely too many cooks in the kitchen. That’s why designers are good.”
Nicoli recommended a light floor to contrast the home’s progressively darker features, culminating in the black fir wood beam running above the invisible dividing line between the kitchen and living room, which opens to the second floor and features the home’s biggest conversation piece: a faux-antler chandelier. “We had to make the styles combine and flow, so the cabinetry is all rift oak and a bit monochromatic, but that’s why the black pops. And we don’t need much art, because all the art is out the windows,” she says.
The build took over a year, in part due to customization, in part due to supply-chain delays. And the finished product is beautiful, but you get the sense the couple would’ve been happy with a “30-by-30 cabin with a loft” because the property, and what it means to be there as a family, is what matters most. They planted an orchard on the property’s west side before the cabin went up, with plans for a greenhouse to ensure year-round growing. And, over the last two years, Mike has learned how to butcher and process beef with the intention of corralling cattle on the property’s west side. It’s all part of a “five- to-eight-year plan” of becoming self-sustainable and passing that knowledge onto their kids.
“We want to teach them the life skills that I think have maybe fallen to the wayside these days,” Mike says. “We want them to know where our food comes from and how much work it actually takes to put a meal on the table.” Eventually, selling excess food or even hiring help would be nice, though lifestyle, not profit, will always be the point.
Regardless of future business ventures, a property like this needs a name. “I had everything down on paper, like ‘Rolling Hills,’ or ‘River Rock,’ which we liked,” Holly says. “But then [Nicoli] added ‘Ranch’ and I was like,
‘Yes, River Rock Ranch — three Rs!’”
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This article appears in the December 2022 issue of Edify