Whisky and whimsy reform luxury hospitality design

Situated in the former Trump Hotel in the heart of Toronto’s business district, the design team was tasked with removing associations with past ownership, while introducing Canadians to the historic St. Regis brand. Inspired by Toronto’s vibrant cultural heritage, the redesigned lobby, lounge, and restaurant express an enduring quality, setting a new standard for luxury hospitality in the dynamic city.  

Interior Designer(s): Allen Chan, ARIDO
Design Firm: DesignAgency
Photographer: Brandon Barre

Aligning the design with the elegant spirit of the St. Regis, we carefully selected materials in the lobby and Astor Lounge that exude artistry and craftsmanship featuring authentic woods, leather, and brass. An array of custom elements convey a sense of quiet excellence, while abstractly paying homage to a myriad of inspirations from the region’s geology, history, mapping, and urban architecture. The bronze fireplace in the lounge was inspired by the brick character of Queen Street West, while bespoke furniture pieces throughout echo the unique colours and textures of the Ontario landscape. 

The lobby and Astor Lounge are defined by a soft, earthy colour palette, customized furnishings and lighting, and authentic materials and textures which inspire a sense of calm by balancing the energy of the inherently urban location. A key challenge presented to the team was to establish a new environment while retaining character-defining elements like the floors and alabaster walls in the lobby, which were too valuable to remove. By adding elements that worked to shift emphasis away from the floor and walls we were able to redefine the space. A gilded topographical ceiling mural, oak reception cabinet, and an impressive totemic sculpture enhance vertical sightlines, prompt curiosity, and act to draw guests deeper into the hotel. 

The 31st-floor bar and restaurant are established as the jewel of the hotel, setting a tone of quality and luxury that draws guests to the restaurant as an inspiring new dining destination for the city. Prior to the redesign, the hotel restaurant was dark, intense, and dated. As a contemporary homage to historic precedents, the new signature restaurant feels transformed, elegant, and enduring.

Drawing inspiration from Canada’s history as manufacturers of distilled whisky and spirits, the design evokes the warm amber tones of whisky, and sparkle of refracted light through the cut crystal glass of a tumbler. The restaurant shimmers and glows as light bounces off the oak walls inlaid with golden beveled mirror detailing.

A 30-foot long marble bar, inspired by France and America’s grand hotel bars sets the stage for a dramatic yet intimate design, as sculpted bronze and smoked mirrored shelving displays backlit liquor bottles. Tailor-made furniture and fixtures such as soft leather stools, playful fringed lamps, bespoke billowing crystal chandeliers, and a custom ceiling mural in a whimsical combination of metallics and golds — the artist’s interpretation of whisky swirling in a tumbler — create a visually rich environment, bringing together culture, architecture, ecology and landscape in single space.

How a Team Mentality Benefits Your Project

This is where it might start to sound very Utopian, but if you stick with me, you’ll see why a team environment gives you a better project and a better process (which is the biggest asset of all). Any beautiful end product can be tarnished by a bad experience getting it accomplished.

Here at Sanura Design and around the company we keep in the design community, Team is the word. The best projects have everyone involved from the beginning.

“But, Melissa” I hear you ask “I watch a lot of HGTV and love Pinterest and everyone I know just hires a contractor for their project, who gives a price and gets the work done.” That is certainly one way to approach things. That sort of process is first of all unfair to the contractor- what on earth are they pricing anyway? You have no design in place, they have no idea what the finishes are, and if you have a more extensive renovation happening, they don’t even know what all the work will entail.

Well, when I put it that way, it’s seems a bit silly to ask them to price it out without a design. But the alternative is a bit silly as well.

Let’s say you really want an accessible spa bathroom. We come up with a bright, warm material palette that’s classic and we pull together some fancy renderings to present the design. The presentation above is beautiful and everyone is incredibly excited to move forward. But wait, no one involved the contractor in the process, so we find out that we just doubled our original budget with the complex tile layouts and the sheer amount of tiling in the bathroom. But you just fell in love with that design- that is where heartbreak happens in the process and you would be justified in losing trust in your designer.

Aforementioned accessible spa bathroom.

That is why its important that our contractor or builder is involved in our process from the beginning. We run ideas by them first to see how it will impact the budget- and make sure our ideas are practical. You see that beautiful arch above the tub? Maybe that’s going to costs us thousands of dollars due to the complexity of the construction/difficulty tiling the surface and a regular arched top would save us those thousands and still be in keeping with the design- a great relationship with our contractor means we find these things out before we present the design to you.

They are also our partners in coming up with solutions. We work with professionals that first ask “how do we solve this?” and work with us to come up with solutions.

This is an invaluable attitude during the design phase- and it makes for a much better construction process. Because I’ve included the contractor throughout the process they’re already familiar with the design- and are able to make suggestions to ease the construction process. On our part, designing the project before construction begins means the contractor already has a full set of instructions and drawings (including all those materials and fixtures) so that a smooth construction timeline can be planned- and the budget can be finalized before any work starts.

It’s much easier to massage the budget before anything has been dug or demolitioned or materials/fixtures have been special ordered (and can’t be returned). Also- it makes it much easier for the contractor to stick to the budget.

This also goes for other consultants. Remember that accessible spa bathroom? Maybe you have complex health issues or are planning ahead? That is when we bring in a consultant like an Occupational Therapist, who works with us to ensure the solutions and overall design enables you to move forward with a full life and incorporates any limitations and goals you have. Having a consultant on the team from the beginning and throughout the process means even after they do a customized assessment and we all get a detailed report, we can still count on them to assist in designing custom solutions. This is how we ensure things are designed specifically for you and your needs throughout your project.

So, Go Team!


OCAD’s first satellite campus brings their trademark brand further east

The name CO says a lot in only two letters, describing a facility that works at the intersection of collaboration, community and co-design. OCAD U CO was conceived as an executive training studio where companies can use facilitated processes cultivated from the university’s focus on design thinking and creative problem-solving to drive major change in their organizations. Located at the Daniels City of the Arts building on the Toronto waterfront, the 14,000 square foot raw interior was long and narrow with sixteen-foot-high ceilings, with one of its greatest assets being its uninterrupted views of Lake Ontario. 

Interior Designer(s): Caroline Robbie, ARIDO

Design Team: Tor McGlade, Stephanie Wiebe

Design Firm: BDQ Quadrangle

Photographer: Adrien Williams

Since this was to be OCAD’s first satellite project away from its McCaul Street campus, the design team saw the interior as an opportunity to take cues from the University’s iconic Sharp Centre for Design. Early in the research phase of exploring design options for the new campus, the CO design team distributed surveys to elicit what people associated with OCAD. Strong colour blocking and elements of the unexpected, were rapidly identified as the most common significant elements of OCAD’s infamous identity. 

The design team decided to run with it, embracing the bold colours that reasserted OCAD’s characteristic identity of creativity and artistic fun. Contrasting the vibrancy of the Sharp inspired design, a black and white pixelated identity, that also informs the University’s trademark brand, was incorporated into the accessible gender-neutral washroom, linking it with the Tabletop’s signature façade. The resultant design creates a stimulating visual and psychological connection between the two campuses, which jumpstarts the creative thinking process with its open, airy spaces, and energizing jolts of colour. 

Though typical workplace interiors tend to be muted and generic, the new CO design intentionally embraces shocking colours, to purposefully induce a sense of being slightly unhinged. The interior is organized into clear, distinguishable zones for reception, studios,  administration, AV loans, individual workspaces, and meeting areas, as bold colours are further activated within the space to assist with wayfinding and place identity. Connecting the space’s characteristic colour and pixelation at dramatically different scales, from the micro seen on vision strips to medium-scale tiling details, the design emulates the macro scale of the McCaul Street Tabletop. 

Each section of CO has is marked by its respective level of public or private exposure and colour. The open kitchenette forms a natural hearth for the relaxed, common area with its bright red cappuccino maker, inviting visitors to linger and get comfortable at the heart of the space. Floating wood ceilings in the Innovation Studios keep voices isolated within each space and discretely integrate AV, mechanical, and lighting, to facilitate a functional and visually appealing design. 

The client requested spaces that could be flexible for a variety of activities and to easily evolve over time. Maximizing flexibility, the designers outfitted the largest interconnected studios with operable walls, enabling these rooms to be combined with the open collaboration zone, transforming it into a single 160-foot long event space. Maximizing usable space, the designers were able to carve out two feet from the base building mechanical and electrical rooms to create colour blocked niches with built-in benches and drop-down desks for private or shared study.

The project brings design thinking to life in a bold, yet branded environment. Facilitating interactive workshops, CO blends the professionalism required for successful change management with the playfulness of an arts school, inspiring new and creative approaches to problem-solving.

This office space is “Always Fresh”

Relocating from Oakville to their new headquarters in downtown Toronto, Tim Hortons’ new workplace design successfully rejuvenates their iconically Canadian cultural identity. Aligning with contemporary sensibilities, the fresh design works to retain and attract new talent by creating engaging and compelling experiences within an innovative environment where employees thrive. The design celebrates Tim Hortons’ community-focused mission, their humble culture yet ambitious goals, and their authentically Canadian spirit.

Interior Designer(s): Filo Costa
Design Firm: Gensler
Design Team: Willem Berends, Nichola Chan, Kathy Winfield, Steven Burgos, Norma Galella
Photographer: Ben Rahn, A-Frame

Upon entry, visitors and employees are introduced to the Tim Hortons brand, as the classic Tim Hortons neon signage illuminates a brick wall at the reception desk and area.  The dramatic entry sequence immediately welcomes staff and guests into a convivial environment that embodies the brand identity. High-top tables, a lounge area, and archival brand moments make the journey as meaningful as the destination itself. Herringbone wood floors, wood slat walls, wool upholstery, and plaid carpets evoke a warm yet elevated environment. A central stair with a bench seating area is accented by exposed bulb pendant lighting which connects the office’s two floors. Centralizing the design as a core element to the office, the innovation lab serves at the heart of research and development, and product training, maintaining Tim Horton’s ever-fresh and bold brand.

A planning approach inspired by the hockey rink puts the innovation lab at ‘center ice’, the literal and metaphorical heart of the workplace, the space acts as a bold signifier of the importance of innovation to Tim Hortons. A variety of meeting rooms, lounge spaces, and cafes provide opportunities to experience the brand’s dynamic and iconic culture. The designer’s intentional application of the same dining furniture allows the main dining area to act as an extension of the Tim Hortons restaurants. Accented by custom signage filled with coffee beans and framed in red reads  “Brewing Something Bold” and “Always Fresh”. 

Entirely open plan, the workplace design introduces neighborhood layouts, strategic adjacencies, and sensible flexibility to improve collaboration and efficiency. A variety of workspaces, including independent focus rooms, small group huddle rooms, and team rooms create balance and choice as they facilitate collaboration. These distributed collaborative spaces supplement the larger meeting areas provided by the central café and a seasonal patio. While adaptable training rooms can accommodate up to 120 trainees, allowing the organization to better cultivate its culture and programs on site. Within the open and private meeting spaces, the design integrates technology and audiovisual systems that align with the demands of a digital age. 

Providing employees with an engaging and compelling experience, the new design has created an environment to attract top talent. Tim Hortons’ new headquarters rejuvenates and strengthens its brand through a forward-thinking and inspiring workplace that is emblematic of the company’s iconic brand. 

What We Really Do: Drawings Edition

Sure, you need drawings for a renovation (or maybe you didn’t know that?), but what are they really?

Drawings are an opportunity to try out the design and work out the kinks in a project before it’s built.

There I said it. Shortest blog ever!

Ok, ok, so maybe you have some follow-up questions to that. If you didn’t know you needed drawings to do a renovation (assuming you don’t need a permit- because we’re not going to entertain the idea that you’re passing up the opportunity to protect your biggest investment– for some of you literally- to save a bit of time or money). “But my brother did a renovation and his contractor did the renovation without hiring a designer and it worked out fine.”

Let me ask you some follow-up questions for your brother: Did everything come out right the first time? Did it come out exactly as he had expected? Even better one: How many times did he get a call from the contractor to make a decision or come show them how he wanted something done?

Hmm. So maybe didn’t come out as well as we’d all like? This is not the contractor’s fault. Read that over again, please. They are not clairvoyant, nor are they typically trained in any way to be a decorator or designer, or interior designer. This means someone needs to tell them how they want things, and if no one writes any of that down, it needs to ALL be conveyed in person, which is a LOT of time. You might already know this if you’ve DIY-d a renovation without some kind of professional help.

So maybe these drawing things are starting to make more sense?

I can tell the best contractors immediately when I meet them and we discuss construction drawings and how we do them at Sanura Design (and how a Registered Interior Designer is trained to do them, period). We usually bond over having to construct something with no drawings and some gestures or being asked to help design a space with the clients when it isn’t what they signed up for.

So what’s our special sauce? It’s actually really simple if a lot of hard work and experience.

We document everything. I’m not exaggerating in the least- a master bathroom project might have 7 drawings attached to it. That sounds like a lot, but it’s amazing for the contractor (and honestly if I wanted to spend most of my day on a job site, I would have become a contractor)- they know exactly what tiles we’re putting in where, how the tiles are laid out, where the plumbing fixtures are going, where to install the bathroom accessories, all the details of the custom millwork, where to hang the mirror, what lighting fixtures are going in and exactly where to install them, and the list goes on!.

An example of how detailed our bathroom drawings are above- we draw the actual tile layouts to any difficulties with installation or tile size can be discovered in advance

Imagine how easy it is to price a project when you know exactly what’s going in- and typically this means better pricing for the homeowner. You know exactly how much your project will cost before anything is ordered and anything is demolished or constructed.

Remember when I said drawings allow Interior Designers to test out ideas and work out the kinks in advance? They also allow us to change the scope of work/design to suit your budget better without wasting time and money during the construction process. Drawings also enable us to collaborate with contractors during the design process to get budgetary feedback and their expertise.

So hopefully you’re coming around. Congratulations! Now you’re well informed enough to decide if you need to hire an interior designer or if you’re happier doing this yourself. That’s always my goal!

And if you just decided you’d rather not take on the full-time job of managing and designing your own renovation, you know where to find us!


What to ask before hiring an Interior Designer

At my firm, Sanura Design, we love educated clients- and curious clients. An integral part of our process is ensuring our clients have all the information they need- and that includes knowing the design process, permit process, construction process, and everything in between.

So… what do you need to know before you hire me or another design professional?

1: Personality isn’t everything- but fit is really important

Interior design is an incredibly personal job- especially when designing your home. As your interior designer I know things like: what’s in your bedtime table, how you arrange your undies, what you have for breakfast, and your morning bathroom habits. Most of which I bet your friends don’t know. That means when you search for an interior designer you’re searching for someone you can be open with, and work with in their professional capacity. How do you know your interior designer is right for you (after checking qualifications, experience, etc)?  How do you know you’ll be friendly with someone?

2: Are they qualified?

Have a good look at what you’d like to accomplish for your project and what your goals are. Are you simply freshening a space by changing furniture, paint colours, lighting fixtures? That’s something you can hire an interior designer OR decorator for. Are you moving walls, changing your HVAC, electrical, etc, adding an addition, or generally altering your actual home in some way? That’s where you need a qualified professional- a registered interior designer is a regulated profession in Ontario where you know exactly what we need to know to earn our title of “interior designer” and we answer to our organization when we aren’t standing up to our code of ethics. Other design professionals do have extensive experience in renovations and may have a comprehensive skill set, if you hire someone like this the next step will be a very important one.

3: Check their references

Whether you’re hiring us, another registered interior designer, or another design professional, a very important step is asking for and checking a few references. You’re looking for past clients that have undergone similar work to your project, and a bonus can sometimes be hearing from other professionals, like contractors or consultants. You want to have a personal conversation with them and get a good idea for what their experience is like, exactly what the person you may be hiring did for them and what challenges came up. You need to check multiple references as this gives you a much fuller picture of who you’ll be working with.

4: Are they insured?

That’s their problem right? Professionals who do good work don’t need liability insurance- they never get sued.
Incorrect! Liability insurance isn’t just to cover a professional from unhappy clients, it’s also to cover the project from unforeseen circumstances- like a defective product, an incorrectly installed finish, or the incorrect product being installed (among many many other things). Mistakes happen, even with the best professionals, and true professionals carry this protection for themselves, their employees, and their projects.

5: Do they have a contract?

Contracts are incredibly important to your renovation. Both your contractor AND your interior designer should have detailed contracts for you to sign. For an interior designer they should include things like: fees/payment schedule, scope of work, details for breaking the contract, and clarify each sides responsibilities- to name a few. These contracts protect YOU the most- and I can’t emphasize that enough. If something goes wrong during the project and you didn’t sign a contract- you have no options and no protection. The longer and more detailed your professional’s contract is, the more confident you should feel in hiring them. This means they’re openly laying out exactly how they work and ensuring you understand the full process before you sign up for a project with them. A good professional is also always willing to go through their contract with you in detail to help you feel more comfortable.

Whew! That was a technical one. I’m sure I missed something (we don’t want an essay on the subject!), but it will serve as a great rule of thumb to ensure you get the right professional for your project.

Do you have any questions on what the qualifications of a registered interior designer ARE or would like to find one in your area? Check out the ARIDO website.

If you want to chat with us about your project and see if we’re a good fit for you? Get in touch with us.

This post first appeared on Sanura Design | Full Service Interior Design.

BID Projects – Georgian College

ARIDO would like to celebrate the class of 2021 from Ontario ARIDO-recognized schools and ensure their work is appreciated. ARIDO has worked with these schools to promote a selection of 4th year BID student work on BLOG//ARIDO and will be posting the work each Wednesday during the coming weeks.

Lauren Cully

This female sexual health pavilion – a proposed addition to Expo 2020 – aims to make women’s health an equal and visible part of human health education. By initiating the experience with a question – asking visitors to share their thoughts and questions related to the topic and visualizing those words embedded in the architecture, the structure forces the user to interact on a mental and physical level. The pavilion will have a staying power that inspires the viewer to reason, evaluate, reflect and take affirmative and assertive action in sharing their experiences while supporting the education of others in female sexual health.

Anastasiya Nesterenko

This project proposed the change of use of an existing church, located in the city of Barrie, into an innovative small-scale airport, connecting the past to the present and finding new ways to encourage community involvement and provide travel convenience, thus enhancing the social and cultural opportunities. 

The requirements of the project were to develop a primary (Small Scale Airport facility – mixed occupancy), sub (Paramedic station – D occupancy) and secondary (Veteran’s Affairs office – E occupancy) occupancies within an already existing building. A complex functional program was developed to include an appropriate change of use, as per the Ontario Building Code. The primary and sub occupancies were fully developed through a construction drawing process; the secondary occupancy was realized through written and verbal communication only and remained undeveloped. Total area of the proposed project was just over 4000 m2.  

The overall design approach was to bring positive, measurable change to both the communities in which airport will operate and to the facility itself, by encouraging community involvement through the presence of a Veteran’s Affairs support office, the use of materials native to the Simcoe region and sourcing local artists for pieces to be displayed throughout the facility.

Wilfreda Eisses

This project consisted of research and design of a pavilion concept for Expo 2020 Dubai with a theme to connect minds, build partnerships, and inspire ideas towards the world of tomorrow through knowledge and action. The objective was to design a pavilion that emulates and communicates a global issue in such a way as to inspire the viewer to reason, evaluate, reflect, and take action.

Essential considerations included an access focus incorporating circulation, movement, and exit, a relationship between form, content and message, use of universal symbols to ensure understanding and inspire action, and a design impact with a psychological connection for the participant. Inspired by the Bedouin tent; representing shelter, portability, preparedness for the future and hospitality, the connection to the selected issue of Access to Education is indicated through a raised tent flap becoming a door to possibilities and a future of increased potential for a student and their country.

The pavilion concept incorporated shade from the desert sun, cooling pools of water surrounding the exterior forming a circulation path, projected presentations and images on the interior panels, and touch screen stations around the perimeter. 

Bettina Scalone  

As an interior design student, I hope to positively influence people’s daily lives, offering them attractive, enjoyable, safe, and healthy interiors. Promoting positive experiences and efficiently meeting people’s needs are the starting point for designing the developed projects. 

The objective was to develop advanced space planning skills and design resolutions applicable to various dwelling types within mixed-use, multiple-level, high rise complexes and create and present deliverables to promote and market real estate.

For the project development, several skills were asked, such as: Investigate the proposed future of residential environments in high-rise structures and incorporate possible design options relevant to a built environment that supports high-density life.

Apply the creative process to the spatial development of interior dwellings. Relate perceptual differences in economic, gender and age parameters with innovative design approaches. Investigate emerging products and materiality to accommodate future design directions relevant to residential units.

BID Projects – Conestoga College

ARIDO would like to celebrate the class of 2021 from Ontario ARIDO-recognized schools and ensure their work is appreciated. ARIDO has worked with these schools to promote a selection of 4th year BID student work on BLOG//ARIDO and will be posting the work each Wednesday during the coming weeks.

Our House – Leah Lorentz

Up to 300,000 individuals face homelessness each year in Canada and this number will increase due to the pandemic. The current design of shelters detracts from the resident’s wellbeing and are unsafe. The Canadian Mental Health Association indicates suicide rates in this marginalized demographic are 40% higher and 100% [of individuals experiencing homelessness] have experienced trauma. This approach to a shelter addresses the underlying issues, assisting in rebuilding what trauma has taken away.

Our House is a trauma and psychologically informed design, providing a safe and stable home-like environment for those facing homelessness. This multi-functional interior seeks to inspire residents towards meaningful engagement and development through a carefully orchestrated social zoning of communal spaces that maintain occupant’s safety. 

As improved wellbeing is a priority, the centre will maintain physical and visual connections to nature through biophilic design principles. This approach creates long-term change that will rebuild purpose within communities that have a sense of being lost and forgotten. While this concept does not bring financial gain, it illustrates how Interior Design changes lives.

 Kitchener Public Library – Losang Nyima

The new branch of the Kitchener Public Library spaces encourages connectivity through its adjacency to ensure all spaces within the library will inspire and encourage users to interact with the local community. The interior space will be designed with flexibility to accommodate new technology, future expansion, and renovation.

Encouraged interaction will be acoustically controlled by grouping specific needs in various spaces, with consideration to interior materials, furnishings, and special needs to meet the necessary acoustic expectations to improve and provide acoustic control. This library design will incorporate Universal Design for Learning to have equitable access to library resources and accommodate people of all ages in a safe open-concept environment.

Bloom Birthing Center – Melissa Bagin

Bloom Birthing Center’s goal is to create and establish a safe, welcoming, and community environment, where women are able to have natural low-risk childbirths. The goal of this facility is to achieve optimal health and wellness for the whole community through culturally integrated care, education, and activities. 

Through evidence-based research, the implementation of biophilic, sensory, and therapeutic design will contribute to the overall mental and physical success individuals will have within the space. In order to ensure this success, spaces must reflect the research concepts of bound and binding environments, which contributes to how individuals interact and react with the interior environment. Since the comfort of the clients is of top priority, this cohesive design balance will establish a comfortable, relaxing, safe, and secure, environment for women and their families during prenatal and postnatal care.

The Museum of Diversity – Hope Braga

Museums today have expanded into places of informal learning, interactive exhibits, and spaces that set the stage for the local communities to inspire and communicate with one another. Museums are also constantly evaluating how they can encourage participation from everyone in the community, and because of this outreach, the museum has become a diverse place of people, values, and ideas. As such, museums should be designed to encourage and support this diversity, which can create a stronger community. Through my research I have come to understand that the built environment can have a direct impact on the human experience.

This design concept for re-envisioning THE MUSEUM is specifically focused on encouraging and supporting the diversity of its population within the community including a stronger sense of communication, understanding, and representation. This design concept evaluates how the design of public spaces can encourage diversity and how museums can better serve and connect their communities by developing more informal opportunities for their visitors to learn, interact and share ideas. This design concept also supports the well-being of both staff and visitors, creating an experience that fuels curiosity and a positive visitor experience. 

Global thinking was central to this architectural design firm’s new Toronto office

Designed for wellness, flexibility, and inclusion, IA Interior Architects’ new Toronto office is an urban hub with a global outlook.

The new office space is located in the Royal Bank of Canada’s original headquarters on King Street. As our design team began the remodel, we uncovered the historic building’s many unique architectural elements, most notably including cast-iron columns and a mosaic floor. We were immediately captivated by the rich history of these features so we worked them into our design as a nod to the building’s heritage. We stripped the drywall off of the exterior walls to expose the original brick and painted the brick white for a fresh take on the 100-year-old walls. The view out the boardroom’s original windows was blocked by a neighbouring building so we applied a historical graphic of the view east on King Street to the glass for another apt reference to the building’s roots. 

Interior Designer(s): Beverly Horii, ARIDO
Design Team: Jayme Rideout, ARIDO
Design Firm: IA Interior Architects
Photographer: Ben Rahn, A-Frame

With locations around the world, it was important to us to bring a global mentality to our Toronto headquarters. We infused the space with allusions to location as a way to express our firm’s identity in visual terms. Since we are often collaborating with our fellow studios, we had five custom clocks made for the space, which we set to the time zones of other IA offices. We even had the clocks constructed so when viewed from the side, the hour notches display the names of cities we are in. For a more local reference, we had a map of Toronto printed on acoustic felt panels in one of our meeting rooms. The feature wall doubles in purpose: it acts as a cool backdrop for teleconferencing and is used to located current project sites across the city.

With climbing lease rates in Toronto, our space planning solution had to be thoughtful and efficient. We relied on the principles of feng shui, arguably the oldest systematic approach to evidence-based design, to achieve the optimum flow of nature’s energy within the skyscraper-surrounded space. Through the use of colour, shape, and materials we employed feng shui in our design solution with the goal of enhancing the relationship between occupants and the natural environment.

Flexible use was also at the core of our design so we included a variety of workstations to accommodate different employee preferences and work scenarios. The office contains everything from enclosed meeting rooms to open-concept desking; it even has in-between zones like semi-enclosed hubs for quick collaboration. All workstations are sit/stand for maximum adaptability and have been paired with sleek ergonomic chairs for employee comfort. We took the user experience into account at every point of the design which ultimately prompted us to install black-out drapes in a phone room for an employee who suffers from migraines.

With a new office that reflects our identity as a practice, we are thrilled to have clients experience the space and discover who we are as IA Interior Architects.

Toronto’s Albion Library turns the page on dated institutional design

With a vibrant façade and a warm, light-filled interior, this revitalized Toronto Public Library branch is one for the books. Albion Library is much more than a place to house reading material. Located in Toronto’s Rexdale neighbourhood, the library functions as a social epicentre for the surrounding community. Albion Library provides a broad range of services for a diverse demographic, including many recent immigrants, in one of Toronto’s Neighbourhood Improvement Areas. 

Interior Designer(s): Joanne D’Silva

Design Firm: Perkins and Will

Photographer: Doublespace; Rodrigo Chavez; Toronto Public Library Staff

When we took on the project, it was apparent that the branch required a major upgrade. The ageing building (which dated back to 1971) was run-down and far from meeting the community’s growing needs. Our design solution needed to address deficiencies in the existing building and the community’s concerns around inclusivity, accessibility, wayfinding, public safety, and access to light and nature. 

While our initial plan called for an addition to the existing branch, community consultation quickly revealed that the proposed two-year closure would negatively impact the Rexdale community. In response, our design team worked with Toronto Public Library to develop a different approach. Designing a new library on the adjacent, underutilized parking lot allowed the existing facility to remain open during construction. When the new library opened, the pre-existing library was demolished and a multipurpose urban plaza for community events, markets, and visitor parking was created in its place.

Programmatically, Albion offers neighbours and patrons a wide range of services that go far beyond lending books. The library serves the surrounding area by facilitating programs related to cultural orientation, social integration, and employment skills (as well as providing access to technology and knowledge). For the Toronto Public Library, success is measured by the degree to which they can meet and respond to the changing and unique needs of their communities while innovating their services. As a space that puts users first, Albion Library has become a place of transition for newcomers and a haven for the community at large.

Inspired by the aspirations of the community, we used the concept of a walled garden to address the need for a safe space and respite from the car-dominated context. A coloured scrim of terracotta ribs wraps the building, evoking a garden in bloom and mirroring the diversity of the community. The scrim lifts to articulate the entry, creating a colourful and dynamic form that ushers visitors inside the cheerful space. The building also includes three landscaped courtyards which subdivide the large 2,694 square meter plan into distinct program zones, providing acoustic separation and the programming of different activities. 

Internally, the library is dominated by a folding timber roof that slopes towards the courtyards. The warmth of the wood structure plays off the lush texture of the courtyards—which are visible from every corner of the building. The neutral backdrop (cultivated, in part, by dark carpet and white oak millwork) highlights colourful and playful furniture items, light fixtures, and a striking mural by Jacob Hashimoto at the front service desk. High-level sustainable design features include a rooftop photovoltaic array, sloping green roof, daylight harvesting, and the selection of healthy materials. Occupant well-being is supported by proximity to nature and abundant access to light and views. 

We can’t wait to see what’s in store for the Rexdale community as they venture into this new chapter at Albion Library.