So Canadian eh? : Michael Penney

I am incredibly excited to have my guest this week, as a longtime fan it was such a thrill to interview him.

Please welcome......

He is.....
I have been following Michael's career for the past few years. In such a short time his career has been full of experiences that would make anyone green with envy. We first met Michael while working for Canadian House and Home where he created and designed memorable spaces and DIY projects, then he moved over to work for the famed Sarah Richardson on Sarah 101, and now branching out on his own opening up a shop, Penney & Co. in his hometown of Whitby, Ontario. In addition, Michael pens his own blog, Michael Penney Style and is also a regular guest expert on the Marilyn Denis show while working as a designer taking on clients.

What I have admired about Michael is his ability to create stylish, warm and amazingly layered spaces using thrift store finds mixed with a few high end pieces, fabric and some DIY. He is a DIY guru, creating many projects for House and Home, that have been "pinned" countless times. His spaces are classic and timeless. As an avid fan of Martha Stewart, Michael channels her "look" into a lot of what he does, she clearly has influenced his designs! 

Despite his already amazing career, I believe that will see more fabulousness from Michael in the future!

Michael and I! If you recall, we met him outside Designer Fabrics in Toronto. 
I was as giddy as a school girl.

Photography by Donna Griffith; House & Home June 2011

Photography by Angus Fergusson; House & Home

 Photography by Angus Fergusson; House & Home March 2010

 Photography Angus Fergusson; House & Home Magazine June 2009

Photography by Angus Fergusson; House & Home July 2011

 Photography by Donna Griffith; House & Home January 2010

Photography by Kim Jeffery

 Photography by Kim Jeffery

Photography by Angus Fergusson; House & Home Magazine June 2009

Photography by Angus Fergusson; House & Home Makeovers 2009

Photography by Angus Fergusson; House & Home Makeovers 2009

Photography by Angus Fergusson; House & Home Condos Lofts & Apartments Issue 2010

Tell us a bit about yourself, describe your journey into the world of design? Were you always creative? Did you take any schooling in design? 

Yes, I’ve always been me, as I say. I was obsessed with Lego as a kid and would build these very detailed cities and houses with kitchens and gardens and everything. When I look at the pictures of those Lego creations I smile at the child-sized designer I was. It’s hilarious! I studied Art History at Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario before interning at House & Home and becoming a design editor there. No formal décor or design education for me – just a ton of passion and pouring over every design book, magazine and TV show I could get my hands on since childhood!

You have been featured and worked for Canadian House and Home and Sarah 101, how did you get your “break” per se into the world of magazines and television? What made you decide to leave that world and set up a shop?

 When I was a student, I worked during the summers in a very posh shop called L’Atelier in Toronto. It was completely different than my suburban world back home and it was a huge leap. I literally commuted on a train to work retail! But I wanted to gain experience in design and I got to meet editors from magazines and the crew from design TV shows and I just pestered everyone I met about contacts and how they got in the biz. I found out that House & Home had a summer internship program, applied, had two interviews and got the job. I was an editor there within the first 3-4 months! The rest is history as they say, haha. I really did want to live and work in the area I grew up in, just east of Toronto. So having a shop was a dream of mine and the great thing is, that I still do stories for House & Home, Style At Home, and Chatelaine too. I get the best of both worlds and have tons of variety in my life. It’s just great!

What I admire most is you ability to put together a space that looks curated and layered but with a realistic budget that the average person can relate to. What tips do you have in creating a home on a shoestring budget? 

I think it’s key to focus on what you really, truly love for big, key pieces. Then use colour, paint, fabric and small accessories to have fun and indulge in trends. That way you won’t regret purchases and your home can have that classic –yet- fun balance. And never underestimate the power of vintage pieces for saving money and adding tons of style and personality.

You are known for fabulous finds at thrift stores or antique markets, what are your thrifting tips?

GO OFTEN. People think I score every time I step into Value Village. I don’t. Usually I see a lot of junk. Going often just ups the chances of finding something special.

What are your go-to sources for design?

Hmmm…well Penney & Company of course, for interesting, classic pieces and beautiful accessories. But beyond my own shop, I find good things at West Elm, Pottery Barn, and I just love Elte these days. For fabrics I love Designer Farbrics in Toronto and Thibaut Designs for wallpaper. And of course vintage, vintage, vintage!

Who/what inspires you? Any design idols?

 I love Tom Sheerer’s work, especially his beach projects and country houses. India Hicks has amazing style, Bunny Williams, there are so many!

How would you describe your design style?

 If I had to pin it down, I’d say at the core, I’m ‘fresh traditional’. Classic pieces and shapes with a fresh spin in terms of colours, fabrics etc. and taking it all down a notch with worn vintage pieces, woven baskets, sisal carpets etc. Mixing and matching, you know all of that!

Since you are such a design guru, does your wife have any say in the décor of your home? Is it a mutual effort?

If so, how do you work together to resolve any reno or style dilemmas? Ha! I read that question to her and she groaned! We are definitely a team and she can veto whatever she wants. She and I really have a very similar style and I just push the boundaries a little. She may be nervous at first, but she always comes around! I like though that design is not her profession or passion per se, and we get to talk about something other than paint and fabric! She balances me out!

Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us! 

I don’t know if I’ve said this before, but I like plain food. You may think because I’m creative I’d be into really out-there tastes, but I’m not. More often than not, you’ll find me eating at Subway. Classy, I know.

What is next for you? Where do you see yourself, your business going in the future? 

I don’t know for sure, but hopefully Penney & Company will grow and become the go-to spot for interesting and timeless décor in my area. I’m working on lots of new private client projects and hope to keep creating beautiful and comfortable spaces and hopefully I’ll continue to dabble in media, magazines and décor TV as time goes on. Im just so passionate about the subject matter that I want to get the message out there!

What are your views on the role Canadian design plays in the world design scene? Do you feel that Canadians have a unique sense of style and design, and if so, what is it that you think sets us apart?

I think Canadian design varies from region to region and is influenced by the landscape and people in each area. Maritime style pulls at my heart strings and the west coast is so laid back and natural. Central Canada and the praries seem to be taking more and more risks and punching things up more than the rest of us and going for that glamourous, luxurious look. In here in Ontario things are pretty classic, but with and edge. Toronto has everything really. Since there’s so much design variety, I think that’s really our contribution to the world design scene. Just like our population, there’s so much variety, so many different points of view.

I am so honoured that you took time out of your busy life to humour me to be part of my series. I admire your creativity and classic design! I can see great things being created by you in the years to come! Next time I am in Ontario, I need to pop into your shop. I am sure I would not leave empty handed.

XO Barbara


  1. great interview, Barbara! I love Michael's style and man, this guy has had some of the best jobs ever! Would love to make my way to his shop one day.

  2. Love Michael's shop Penney and Co. I was just out there on Tuesday

    He has a classic, timeless aesthetic with a great punch of vintage. Truly beautiful and easy to live with.

  3. What great pics he has of some of his projects from the magazines! I agree with Christine! He's so lucky to have had such cool jobs! Whitby is so charming, It's the perfect style for his taste! I know his shop will be on top! Another great article Barbara!

  4. No problem at all Barbara! Thanks for featuring me and the shop! Love the blog and it was great bumping into you at Designer Fabrics too!


  5. Great interview. I had seen him on Sarah 101 but didn't actually know him. The rooms featured have this kind of effortless comfortable style that appears to have been pulled together over the years. Sooo great.

  6. Love Michael Penney! His style is just bang on, and he was so much fun to watch on Sarah 101 - I loved the options he brought to the table, and what a great team for him to work with. I really like his answer to the last question - he's so right about the influences by region. As for Toronto... well, I do drool at all their options, especially the antiquing and thrifting, most definitely!

  7. Another amazing feature! I think the first time I took note of him was when you were so excited to run not him (rock, me under) but since I have seen him popping up everywhere!

  8. Great interview! Thanks for the introduction to Michael and his amazing talent.

  9. Another great feature! I love his fresh style and have followed him for a while as well, although I don't have nearly as much access to the heartbeat of Canadian design while I'm here in Dubai. I'm dying to visit his shop next time I'm in Toronto!

  10. ah, so the man likes Subway sandwiches! Love that about him. I had the opportunity to work with Michael, long distance, during his last bit at House and Home. Such a talented person. Will definitely check out his shop next time I'm in the area. Another perfect interview, Barbara!

  11. oh I love Michael!! Thanks so much for the interview and now I've learned a few things more about this talented man and glad to see him again at the H&H Showhome preview!

    Barb we so need to head to Michael's store next time when you are in town. Happy Weekend!

  12. Oh I love Michael and his "fresh traditional" style. I really enjoyed this interview with him. I think we could be fast friends ;-)

  13. I remember speaking with him on the phone when he worked at H&H. Super nice guy. It looks as though he has finally found what makes him happy. On his blog he explained all about the space that his store is in now ...... super cool. Little things he found in there etc. Used to be a pool hall.

  14. Great interview! Makes me nostalgic for Toronto, especially the mentions of l'Atelier, Elte and Designer Fabrics. So many great shops.

  15. The WiFi is horrible here in Tofino, so I'm reading this with no pictures, lol, but I have seen lots of his work and I love his style. I love that he knows what he wants and seems so down to earth. :)

  16. Really great interview. Love his store front! I like his style.

  17. NIce interview Barb! I did not know him up til now! Thanks so much for passing on your good knowledge!

  18. i still can't get past that chocolate and white striped wallpaper. i want it!

  19. oh and ps, the interview rocked too...hahah....but that wallpaper...droool


Let's chat...