At Modern Karibou we are all about interiors and good design. Recently, we were lucky enough to have a chat with Shannon Smithers-Gay, the owner and lead designer at One80 Design, to learn about her approach to creating some of the most eye-catching spaces in Ottawa. Shannon is down-to-earth and funny, with a keen eye for design and an impressive work portfolio. Let us introduce you...
Modern Karibou: How does the interior design process work?
Shannon Smithers-Gay: I always meet with clients first before they hire me. It is such an involved and intimate process that I want to make sure I am going to get along with the people I am working with, and they are going to get along with me. The type of design that I do is mainly commercial or restaurant design, so it tends to be larger, more personal projects.
Interior design is a fluid process. I have never really had a client where I give them everything and that is the end of it, and walk away. I like to go through the ideas with the client. I want them to be as involved as possible and not feel as though they can’t say, “I don’t like that. I want to do something different” or “We have changed our minds and we want to go in a different direction.”
I give my clients the concept, and then mold it and change it to make it perfect for them. Depending whether or not I am doing project management it would then go into that end of things.
Q: Do you have to collaborate with different trades people or design professionals for things like lighting and artwork?
A: No, I do it all. I have had an assistant work with me before, and I still do on certain projects, but I am really hands-on with my clients where I am doing all of the selections and all of the overall decorating and design. I would potentially bring in an assistant to finish CAAD drawings or do measurements of the spaces.
Q: You have worked on a lot of commercial spaces. How does planning a public space differ from planning a space for private use?
A: I think the biggest challenge with commercial is that you have a lot more critics. Any time it is open to the public, like a restaurant, or a yoga studio, or a hair salon, everyone is a critic. You really have to please more than just your client. For residential, it is just making sure the family is happy and you are doing it to their tastes specifically. In commercial you have a lot more people to make happy.
Q: The spaces you design are so unique and individual. Is there anything that you consider to be your signature?
A: No. My signatures and what I like are in my home. I think the key to my being busy and successful is that the spaces are unique. I don’t think they want to hire someone who has the same design in each space they do, especially when it comes to commercial. I think that you can do that a little bit more with residential.
Entrepreneurs are incredibly passionate people and they have their vision. I think that my job, beyond design, is being an interpreter and a mediator trying to make sure that my client’s visions are being carried out. My goal is to ensure that the needs and functions are being met. It is really more about my client’s tastes than my own.
Q: Recently, you have moved into a new home. Congratulations! We are curious to know how you find designing your own space.
A: It’s painful because I have a really creative husband. He is pretty go-with the flow, but when you are living in the space it is personal to you. The visions for my clients seem to come a lot more easily because I don’t ever second guess myself since I have their taste to contend with, whereas I like so many different styles that it is way more painful and time consuming to get my own house sorted out. I am getting there though. We have been there for a month so we are almost done.
Q: How do you know if a room you are creating is complete?
A: I think it is really just having all of the elements of the design in place. A good foundation is great furniture pieces. That is the real starting point. The finishing touches are artwork and accessories and lighting of course, it is kind of all encompassing where all of the elements have to be in place. You know when you go into a space whether or not it is done. Oftentimes you don’t even know what it is that makes it complete so to speak, but you just feel it. All of the pieces have come together.
Q: When should people splurge on high end products for their home, and when do you think that it is best to save a little bit?
A: Depending on if you are the type of person who changes your tastes quite often, I think it is good to save on things like accessories because you can change them easily. When it comes to big items that you tend to hold onto longer, like couches, sectionals, armchairs, that is where it is alright to spend a little more because you always you get what you pay for. I don’t think many people regret spending more money on the big items.
Q: As an educator in the Interior Decorating Program at Algonquin College, what advice do you offer to your students starting out in interior design?
A: To move forward confidently. Especially our grads from Algonquin, the biggest thing is to try to get them as much hands-on experience as possible. I am always trying to encourage them to know what they know and be confident with what they know. They should move forward with that knowledge and have confidence and faith in their own ability and creativity. If you are ever stuck then always find a jumping off point, whether it is a piece of art or a great area rug. Regardless of whether or not you use it in the space, you should always have that. If you are ever in a design rut give yourself something to use as inspiration.
Quick Facts about Shannon:
1. If you weren’t a designer, what would you be? An architect.
2. The number one client request: Functionality, or the addition colour.
3. Neutral or Colourful? Colourful.
4. Favourite designers: Philippe Starck & Jonathan Adler.
5. What do you collect? Milk glass.
6. Dream travel destination: Thailand.
7. Best design trend:
Warm metals like rose gold, brass or gold. Moving away from the chromes and the silvers.
8. A colour that speaks to you:
It changes often, but right now it is a deep navy blue because that is the colour I just painted my living room.
9. The best place to grab a bite in Ottawa:
Anywhere I have designed [laughs]. For a meal: Supply & Demand. For a drink: Union. For brunch or champagne on Sunday afternoons: The Savoy.
10. An iconic piece of furniture or item you love:
For the longest time it was the Tulip table, but my tastes have changed. I love the George Nelson Bubble Lamps by Modernica.
11. Source of inspiration:
I try to look at natural elements put together to see how they work, especially with colour combinations, as well as artwork and architecture.
Images courtesy of One80 Design