The Big World of Interior Design

A recent meeting at an office in downtown Toronto had me reminiscing about the earlier half of my career when I designed corporate interiors.  On this trip to Toronto I had the pleasure of attending a meeting in one of the most well designed spaces I've ever been in with stunning city views, perfectly appointed furnishings and impeccably planned details.  I could write volumes about the infinite design details that played out just in the lobby and boardrooms alone.

The commercial sector of the interior design industry employs the largest number of designers and makes up the highest volume of projects dollar wise and square footage wise encompassing hospitality, retail, personal services and business spaces. When you think about it, outside of your home almost every space you experience is designed by interior designers - from your corner starbucks to the movie theatre to the airport lounge, to shoe boutiques and all of those 9-5 office facilities both urban and sub-urban - large teams of interior designers and technicians design and plan these spaces.  In comparison, the residential sector of this industry is a tiny drop in the bucket yet it dominates the media and the public's perception of what interior design is.

For Interior Designers who have experienced working in commercial design you'll understand when I say that the residential market of interiors its an entirely different world, one that leaves us staring at HGTV with tilted heads and raised eyebrows wondering what the heck any of that has to do with interior design (!?), at least the world of interior design as we know it.

I've always felt that what we see happening in the commercial side of the design industry leads the way for what we'll see translating into residential spaces.  Fashion certainly has a large influence too but what we see in public environments makes a big impression on our aesthetics for our own homes.  Its common for clients to send me photos of things they've seen in hotels or restaurants that they want to incorporate at home.  Stainless steel appliances and countertops, back painted glass, floating shelves, recycling centres, giant screen monitors, halogen pendants, engineered flooring, green products.....all of these things were common place in commercial spaces a decade before they were mainstream for the home.  Same goes for mid-century modern furniture.  Fifteen years ago the only people you'd ever find with a barcelona chair in their living room would be an architect or designer, who've been using them in commercial spaces for half a century.  I remember just starting out in my career how much I idolized Barbara Barry but I only knew of her from the commercial spaces she had designed.  

I think my experience with commercial projects has been invaluable in understanding the technical side of built environments, in understanding the construction process and in learning how to work with contractors, trades and craftsmen.  For Interior Design students who may be graduating this year, I would suggest that even if your hope is to work on residential interiors that you don't completely disregard opportunities to work in other sectors and become as diversified as possible, if not soley for the chance to develop and hone your aptitude for details.

Some of my favorite things about working in commercial design and some of the most important things I learned are also many of the aspects I see lacking in the residential field so take advantage of work experience you can acquire elsewhere in the industry, the more diverse your design experience the better.  Either way if you are passionate about design then travel as much as possible, never stop studying art history and always keep your eyes open to soak in the details.

I've always wished there was a TV show that showcased interior design projects other than just private residential spaces. There is a big big world of interior design happening out there that is rarely showcased or celebrated outside of its own industry but yet it influences our lives on a daily basis making our experiences positive or negative, memorable or forgettable.  Personally I can never stop admiring great design in any type of venue and nothing stops me in my tracks like perfectly planned details.

All photos by:   Carol Reed

IDS 2013

I have to admit I was a bit under-whelmed at IDS this year and I think that had to do with the fact that most of the products exhibited were building materials (tiles, wood flooring, plumbing fixtures) and not as much furnishings and accessories - you know, all the *beautiful* stuff you associate with display and decor.  Because of this there wasn't as many interior environments on display nor where there any feature designer rooms to walk thru which I always enjoy viewing.  

My camera stayed in my pocket for the most part but there were a few things that caught my eye.  Starting with this chrome plated soaker tub (top photo) - its actually the same tub I've purchased for my own bathroom renovation but I went for the all white version (surprise!).  Oh I contemplated the shiny chrome finish for some time but in the end I decided that even as much as I do love the tub in this finish it wasn't entirely suited to the simple, pared down aesthetic I'm after. 

Once again my favorite exhibitor was Ikea.  This was an Ikea bathroom of enormous scale who's concept was derived from the warehouse lofts in Copenhagen.   What I truly loved about this space was that it exemplifies the philosophy of designing with line, form and scale and not decoration.  The pattern, colour and texture is all from the materials themselves in a monolithic applicaiton which is how I like to approach the spaces I design.  I find that with bathrooms in particular people try too hard and they're often just "over done" for my taste.   Too many types of tiles, too many inlays, too many patterns, borders, trendy colours.  If you have a great material to start with, that's enough on its own.  These wall tiles in a distressed metal finish are installed wall to wall and floor to ceiling in a simple grid pattern and the result is so very effective.  The uninterrupted wide plank flooring again is the same concept and the floating vanities and wall cabinets in simple wood slab form create a beautiful composition that's punctuated with a pair of extra large round mirrors.  (These mirrors have been a long time favorite of mine.)

  To give you some idea of scale - those mirrors are huge, see this photo with the camera man.   I wish I had a photo of the other side of the bathroom which features a freestanding copper slipper tub - stunning.

On the other side of the bathroom wall was this gorgeous Ikea kitchen.  Again, the scale was huge with its 20' high ceilings.  My favourite thing about it though was the accessories on the kitchen island, all those large vintage style country crocks and weigh scales.......and those topiaries.  

Once again there was a massive light installation above the island, the Hectar industrial pendant hung in multiples was dramatic.

The Earth Inc. exhibit was also another stunner this year.  At least year's show one of my client's walked thru their booth and was so taken with their work that she hired them to do an overhaul of her 70's bungalow backyard, the first phase was completed in the fall.   A few days after the IDS show this year, I had a meeting at the house and was blown away with the transformation of the back yard.  Work on the front yard begins in a few weeks.

This was one of the few interior settings on display and it was a beautiful space, by Cocoon.  I used to live and work in Oakville and first discovered their showroom years ago - it just keeps getting better and better.   I think the vibe of this space really resonates with a lot of people,  I know a lot of my clients would be drawn to it.  Its based on traditional elements with modern touches.  What I loved most about it is how colourful it is, yet its primarily white.  A great example of how a little bit of colour reads very prominent in what is otherwise a neutral space. 

The parties leading up to and around IDS have become the main attraction of the show, sadly I didn't make it to any of them because I flew in from Halifax mid week then headed out of town for site meetings.  I returned back to Toronto just in time to catch the show on Friday afternoon (and the snow storm).   

There was no industry party that could top my favourite event of the week - a dinner party with my best girlfriends (who are also all designers btw!).  I am soo lucky to have these amazing women in my life and there is nothing I covet more than when we get together around one of our dining tables.  They always blow me away with their incredible recipes and beautiful table settings, like this one above.  After I left the show on Friday, this is what was awaiting me when I finally arrived (after driving for hours in the snow) at my friends house,,,,not only does she always set the most inviting table with personal touches, she even included individual gifts for each of us (not shown in the photos) at our place settings. There's nothing that makes you feel more special than that.  

I definitely can say I learn more about the design biz chatting with these ladies around the dinner table than I could ever learn at a trade show.  This was the perfect way end a hectic week of design and was the highlight of my IDS day!  : )

All Photos by:   Carol Reed