Design as a Process

As a designer for the last 22 years, Meredith Heron has come to appreciate that design is a process, both as the designer and as the client.

The majority of my work involves repeat clients and this often includes additional phases to a former project. There are myriad reasons for this, from budget to a change in family circumstances. But as far as the process goes, clients who are redecorating their existing homes need time to digest the initial changes, and those who are moving into a newly designed space, they need time to feel the house out and see what is missing.

Now, I start all prospective projects advising clients that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that it is perfectly acceptable and the norm. I like to phase projects so that there is time to reflect on function, aesthetics and my personal favourite—the story: What is the story this house will tell?

Several years ago, we were hired by a developer who wanted to gut a historical home in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood. He knew he needed our services to help him get the resale price he was after. We stripped the house back to the bare brick walls, took out all the floors right up to the roof and literally started from scratch. Without having a current homeowner to interview and gain insight into how they wanted to use the house, I created my own profile and set about designing the house to suit my whims.

We reconfigured the main floor to move the living area to the back of the house, which has the most light during the day. That allowed us to position the dining room at the very front of the house, with the kitchen in the middle, closest to the front entrance. With only one small window in the kitchen, we chose a dark and dramatic navy colour on the cabinetry which extended from floor to ceiling (because, really, can you ever have enough storage?).

I had strict budgets to work with, but I designed hoping that whoever bought the house would hire us to finish it off. (Spoiler alert—they did!) For example, I designed arched doorways between rooms, anticipating I would eventually add plaster moulding to offer some architectural relief. This is a great way to phase projects in your own home. If you plan out architectural embellishments to follow and focus on laying the groundwork first, it’s easier to add details in later.

I had also specified a custom plaster appliqué ceiling for the living room and I wanted a high-gloss lacquer wall finish in the dining room, but alas, they were deemed too expensive for the developer. I knew this would be easy to do later without having to undo anything else, so I deferred in favour of getting a bespoke water jet marble floor in the foyer, which turned out to be what caught the eye of the future owners.

After the house was sold and our services were retained by the charming new owners, we shared what our complete vision for the house and they agreed that it was all a must-have. We also added in custom built-ins in their child’s bedroom and new Middle-Eastern inspired cabinetry/closets in the master bedroom, along with a lacquered library on the third floor. I imagined the third floor would be the children’s bedrooms, but in the end they became an office and guest room.

The house now tells the story of the new owners who were always somewhere in the back of my mind. They found their forever home and, as it turns out, it was just waiting for them to come home.