You Want an Interior Designer Who Tells You “No”

Hello! This is a “choose your own adventure” of an article. You can watch the video below, or if you prefer reading it you can also scroll below that to read the article. Enjoy!


…And why the best designers know that your happiness is more important than our portfolio.
Opinion alert! That last part of the statement is purely my opinion (and the opinion of interior designers, decorators and stylists I know and admire), but it’s an important distinction.

Let’s start with that title up there. What do you mean I want my interior designer to tell me, “No”? I thought I wanted a designer I get along with?

Yes, but that’s a subject for a future blog post! This is right along those lines though. Isn’t your real best friend the one that tells you that you have something in your teeth, or your shirt has ridden up on the back, or quietly tucks your tag into your shirt? A really great relationship with your designer also means they care enough to tell you when your choices are the best for your design or your home.

Why? Here at Sanura Design, our reason stems from a deep reason- I want you to love your space so much it makes you happy every time you see it. I’m not doing my job if you just get the picture you pointed out in the magazine.

A prime example can be seen above in our material palettes. These are all for our beloved Project Christiani in South Mississauga. Our client had visions of neutrals throughout, and immediately said she didn’t like wallpaper (and had visions of that awful 70s wallpaper that made us all hate wallpaper). We pushed her boundaries and put unexpected things in front of her- she ended up falling in love with two wallpapers, one for the powder room, and another a blue textured beauty that was installed in her office. We also found out a deep regret (after getting to know her), was a simple orange leather chair she passed up at a store years ago. She STILL thought about it.

You guessed it, we paired that orange leather chair with that blue wallpaper (well the image above is spoilers!), and she loves that space (paired with great wood textures). We never would have gotten to that design had I just taken her word for it and not pushed her a bit to show her a few things.

Here’s a little peek at the office:

So, we care about our clients, but what does that have to do with saying no? Well, this subject came up unexpectedly after we made a visit to our favourite showroom to choose cushions for our client’s sofa.

We had gone through the cushions to see what the client liked, and when she paired a few together that really didn’t go with the design vision, I told her so. I didn’t just say “no”, I told her why it didn’t go and suggested something that would go better. We ended up with a couple of great cushions for the sofa.

Our next visit, we discussed that exchange and my response was- isn’t that what she’s paying me for? It’s my job to tell her if what she’s picking out doesn’t go with the overall design. We’re never rude, but wouldn’t you rather I tell you the cushions don’t look that great, then me be too shy to say anything and your friends and family tell you they don’t look that great?

All that said, here’s where this article’s title comes in. In the end, if we explain why it’s not right for the space (providing there isn’t any safety concerns- those are different!), and you still just love it. Ok, let’s use it. Even if this makes for “bad portfolio photos”, your happiness as my client is much more important than my photos. We’ll then look at integrating that into the design, and as long as you love the space- it doesn’t matter what I think.

This hairstyling school lets vibrant colour pop against a modern backdrop

The project converted a raw, post and beam loft into ASK Academy by Schwarzkopf Professional, a professional training facility for hairdressing trends, technical skills, and business management. The 7,200 square foot space is also a retail showroom for Schwarzkopf products and a place for demonstrations, meetings, seminars, and launches.

Interior Designer: Valerie Gow, ARIDO

Design Firm: Gow Hastings Architects

Project Photographer: Tuxedo Boutique Marketing

This new space brought the Schwarzkopf academy from a characterless location near the airport to a bustling downtown Toronto neighbourhood. The client wanted the historic warehouse to house a teaching facility with 18 styling stations, washing areas, colour and cutting studios, two theory and colour classrooms, meeting and working space for international advisors, a student lounge, reception and retail space.

ASK Academy, Interior Designer: Valerie Gow, ARIDO. Design Firm: Gow Hastings Architects. Project Photographer: Tuxedo Boutique Marketing.

The space needed a professional and international ambiance that matched the rest of the ASK Academies worldwide. Yet, as the North American Flagship location, it also required some regional character, in a setting that enables it to stand out from its competitors and their teaching salons.

The design team built a new ceiling through part of the space, creating a polished interior for certain spaces, with slices of the raw shell revealed in others. The space is white and bright, and keeps messier parts of the academy, like the hair colouring section tucked away, like the ‘Colour Bar’ where students mix dyes.

ASK Academy, Interior Designer: Valerie Gow, ARIDO. Design Firm: Gow Hastings Architects. Project Photographer: Tuxedo Boutique Marketing.

The Colour Bar consists of stainless‐steel shelving filled with boxed dyes, and visually defines the interior’s identity with swaths of Schwarzkopf signature colours. Shelves located in front of windows vibrantly project Schwarzkopf’s presence to the street, while the open sections at counter level allow students to evaluate their mixes in natural light.

The student lounge is flexible and can easily become a formal presentation space by reconfiguring the furniture and closing floor‐to‐ceiling doors, letting the academy accommodate live events, and on‐line training, while the sophisticate ground floor space encourages walk‐in traffic for treatments and purchases.

ASK Academy, Interior Designer: Valerie Gow, ARIDO. Design Firm: Gow Hastings Architects. Project Photographer: Tuxedo Boutique Marketing.

Valerie Gow, ARIDO and her team were able to design a highly functional and professional space for the varied needs of this hairstyling brand.

The Art of Living Big in Small Spaces

City living has always been known as “tight” and “small” living, but not this time around. We call it “the art of living big’, no matter how small the space is. A space is a space, whether big or small, but the design is what introduces an element of fun and creativity.

At Sansa Interiors, we gave this project a soul by creating a way of being. We observed our clients and studied how they move, we found out their interests, their favourite colours, and their top travel destinations. We then took all of that and tailored it to a simple and clean dream apartment.

Our focus was to bring in subtle tones and finishes throughout the space with pops of colour. We experimented with manipulating positive and negative spaces to create a flow from one corner to the other.

The home office showcases the contrast between the clean white walls and the soft yet bold blush pink gallery wall and adjacent furniture. The furniture selection is very minimal and does not interfere with the ambient flow, instead, it helps create a successful grounding experience.

Some of the requirements we were given:

  1. Home office for two people
  2. A reading nook
  3. Clean/simple kitchen
  4. A place to retreat at the end of the day

Design Tips for Living Big:

  1. Mirrors near windows
  2. The more plants the better!
  3. A subtle colour palette with accent pieces to bring in pops of colour
  4. Minimal furniture
  5. Bring in your personality, via art pieces or woven pillows

Photography by Bruno Belli.

This modern home blends indoors and outdoors seamlessly.

As architects and interior designers on this project, the design team wanted to address the challenge of this east-west oriented lot in Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood. Their goal was to maximize the southern exposure of this property and provide spaces for the clients to enjoy Canada’s short summer season to its fullest.

Interior Designer: Neal Prabhu, ARIDO

Design Firm: nkArchitect

Project Photographer: Peter A. Sellar

Located in Toronto’s Beaches district, the 150_W Residence

Creating an L-shaped outdoor space along the south west corner of the building offered an interesting solution: the full height moveable glass walls let ample winter sunlight inside, while in summer, the same walls slide away from the inside corner of the L opening up the indoor space to the outside.  

With the client’s busy work schedule and little down-time, the home needed to be a haven of tranquillity and calm, while providing space for relaxing and entertaining – a sanctuary, vacation spot and family home, with bright day‐lit interiors. Pragmatically, the clients and their growing family sought an open plan with flexibility in function and space, and outdoor living spaces easily accessible and visible from any point within the interior.

The home’s materials all extend this tranquillity, as the design team erected vast white walls, neutral wood finishes, stainless steel appliances, and dark wood flooring. The changing light and shadow patterns throughout the day, and seasonal patterns become the focal points in this neutral space.

With a focus on restraint and simplicity in materials complemented by the warmth of exterior surroundings, this home is a stunning backdrop for a growing urban family to enjoy their time together.

Interior design is key to expressing the brand experience

The design for Picnic Food’s first street-front shop had to reference previous iterations, in subterranean concourses, in a refreshed experience.

Interior Designers: Ashley Rumsey, ARIDO; Stanley Sun, ARIDO

Design Firm: Mason Studio

Design Team: Marti Hawkins, Intern ARIDO

With more expansion in mind, an adaptable design needed features that would be both easily replicable as well as physically identifiable as key symbols of the brand experience. Repeated linear woven wood textures recall textiles commonly associated with picnics and become an iconic design element for future locations. The communal dining table returns on a trestle base while the lime and watermelon brand colours are present via with greenery in terracotta pots.

Pioneering the open plan office

In 2015, Jones Collombin approached Altius Architecture to design and manage the construction of a new office for their growing wealth management firm. When space became available in the architecturally significant TD Centre towers, with soaring views of downtown Toronto, the client seized upon the opportunity.

Interior Designer: Cathy Garrido

Design Firm: Altius Architecture

Photographer: Arnaud Marthouret

Jones Collombin sought meeting rooms of various sizes, private offices, open work stations, as well as the back of house spaces to support them – such as a print room, server area, employee kitchen, reception and waiting area, and cloak cupboards, all while preserving the views from the historic office tower to the outside.

A man sits at a desk with a wall of windows.

To address their largest challenge, the design team placed desks around an open plan and adopted a clean, modern aesthetic for the new interiors. The travertine of the elevator lobbies migrates into the reception area, Teknion glass and plywood partitions create necessary separations of spaces, while maintaining the sense of an open office. A light coloured, neutral palette and sophisticated lighting creates bright interior spaces that don’t feel devoid of natural light, despite the deep floor plate. Every desk has skyward views and access to natural daylight.

This project was completed in 2016, at a time when many offices didn’t prioritize equitable access to natural light for all employees. Such access to natural light and views has proven positive effects on employee wellbeing and promotes productivity.

The historic importance of the building can’t be overstated, designed by original star-chitect, Mies van der Rohe, the TD Centre is a stunning example of the International Style of architecture that swept through the 1960s. Jones Collombin’s office maximizes the stunning views of their TD Centre offices while ensuring each employee can enjoy them.