Leaders of The Pack

The three designers that make up Toronto-based Chapi Chapo Design are impressive on their own, but together, they’re a sheer force in the international design scene. Lifestyle editor Jeanne Beker spoke to the trio — the winners of Living Luxe’s first-ever cover contest — about their past, their projects and what makes them such successful partners in business.

Passion and playfulness usually make for a winning combination — especially in the world of design, where drive, determination and tenacity often give birth to colourful creativity. Meet Chapi Chapo Design: A decade-old Toronto-based design firm led by three dynamic individuals from disparate backgrounds, who are boldly making their mark on the world stage with an eclectic array of innovative and luxurious projects.

The talented trio met 15 years ago while working for Canada’s iconic Yabu Pushelberg. Toronto native Loris Ognibene, who had studied architecture at Ottawa’s Carleton University, was an international project leader for the company, and a self-proclaimed problem-solver. Loris, who also describes himself as “a Cana- dian with Italian DNA” was working with a roster of prestigious hospitality brands, from the Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons to the Hilton and Park Hyatt, just to name a few. Boris Mathias,

who was born and raised in Paris, had studied architecture in the City of Lights, and by 2003, was an interior design consultant to the LVMH group and L’Oréal before being recruited by Yabu Pushelberg in 2007 to lead their design teams on a host of international projects. And Tatiana Sheveleva, who was born and raised in Kazakhstan, and had a degree in International economic relations, immigrated to Canada in 2003, where she developed new career aspirations, graduating from Toronto’s International Academy of Design and Technology before working on Yabu Pushelberg’s large scale, five- star hotel projects.

“We spent a lot of time together and became really tight friends, even outside of work,” explains Boris. “And that’s when we decided to move on and get our independence and our freedom.
We are all passionate about design and we all wanted to do great projects and be fully involved, but at the same time, we all wanted to take care of our own schedules, follow our own timing and be true to our own design wants. So, it came naturally for us to create our own company.” Still, spreading one’s own wings can sometimes be daunting, and Tatiana can attest to that. “It was very scary because, at that time, I had a very young family. And I remember leaving the office and driving and almost having a panic attack, thinking of the uncer- tainty of it all and what we were going to do — would it be any good? Would we have any projects? But at the same time, I was excited to start a new journey. It was time. My mind was set. I needed to reach for the stars.”

The unusual, but catchy name for the trio’s new enterprise, “Chapi Chapo De- sign,” was taken from a French children’s show in which two animated characters, who wear big hats, are constantly constructing things. Boris, who takes responsi- bility for the quirky moniker, feels the name is apt because it represents what these real-life partners do. “These Chapi Chapo characters are always building things with blocks. They’re playing architects in a way. So that’s what we extracted from that. It’s beyond who we are. It’s what we do,” he says.

The individual skillsets of Loris, Boris and Tatiana are certainly complementary, and while it seems that the logistics of the work Loris does ground the company, Boris and Tatiana’s shared immigrant history makes for an especially strong bond.

“We understand that it’s only hard work and dedication that took us from point zero to where we are right now,” says Tatiana. “So, because we both immigrated to Canada and started our families at the same time, we have a lot in common. And because we have this European flavour, we’re very honest. We value time. So, if we need to communicate with each other, it’s very fast, it’s very sharp, we’re very clear about what we want, because time is valuable, and we don’t want to waste any opportunity. We also respect each other. And that’s very important in the partnership.”

“I’m the band leader,” laughs Loris. “I think we’re all three very different characters. It’s hard to put exact roles on the three of us, but at the end of the day, I’m more of the person in the office who’s trying to make sure things are getting done properly. I think Boris and Tatiana are the bigger-picture designers, and I try to put

those kinds of ideas on paper.” The three are all very detail-oriented, as any designer must be. They’ve got 35 people on their team now, and pride themselves on working very closely with one another. “We ask each other’s opinions all the time,” Boris offers. “There’s a lot of interaction, so we end up taking on more roles with certain aspects of the job and we’re all very involved throughout the whole process. But we love doing design, so we do design every day. We have a team, obviously, but we all know every single detail of every project we’re working on.”

The lion’s share of Chapi Chapo Design’s work
these days — and their specialty — focuses on the hospitality industry, though they’ve also done luxurious private residences. They continue to work for some of the world’s leading hoteliers, creating glamourous interiors to suit their clients’ wants and needs. Some of the spaces feature more complexity, while others
are more minimalistic. While all of their spaces have a strong sense of modernity to them, these designers are adamant that their creations are all classic enough to endure. “Everything we do is driven, but we are design- ing for longevity, so we’re not necessarily trend-for- ward, and we try not to be,” says Boris. “We are driven by the client. We’re driven by the brand. We’re driven by any contract constraint of the project, basically. And we try to understand and design for the project, not merely build our style portfolio. That’s why, from one project to another, there are so many variations.” Still, comfort always remains a priority in Chapi Chapo Design’s eclectic work. “A space could still be formal, but has to be approachable and relaxed,” Boris stresses. “We’re more into livable spaces than formal spaces. So that drives a lot of design decisions.”

Tatiana says her creativity goes far beyond great interior design: She feels the team is creating stories. “Someone will stay in this hotel, and someone will en- joy the sunset on the balcony, sitting on this beautiful, comfortable chair that we designed. And this is how they will remember this hotel, through their stories, through their memories. And that is very important for me. That’s why I changed my profession, because it’s very rewarding,” she says.

Among some of Chapi Chapo Design’s more recent, impressive projects is the glamourous renovation of Toronto’s former Trump Hotel, now The St. Regis. It re-opened last year and is the first St. Regis Brand in Canada. The Ritz-Carlton in Mexico City is another tour de force for the team that will be opening this fall. Rising 58 stories in the heart of the financial centre, the home of The Ritz-Carlton Mexico City adds a striking structure to the city’s skyline and even has a helicopter landing pad on its roof. Tatiana describes it as one of the most luxurious hotels imaginable — a real James Bond fantasy. “But interior design isn’t only about creating beautiful spaces. It’s also about problem-solving. It’s our job to come up with solutions that satisfy the brands — satisfy the clients. The most important thing is to satisfy the clientele that will stay at these hotels. Understanding the client’s needs and design with extraordinary care is the most important consideration during the creative process. A well-designed space is always the result of significant effort, time and the brainstorming of multiple creative minds.”

She also loved working on the new St. Regis Kanai Resort in Mexico’s Mayan Riviera, which she says is built over a kind of “green carpet.” She says it’s quite magnificent. It’s built on the most exceptional land, mangrove. As per the architects, the hotel is being designed to appear to float on a carpet of mangroves set against a backdrop of sea and sky. Descending from the Mayan stars, St. Regis Kanai Resort finds its place within unique circular architecture that is followed by beautiful interior design that has bold textures, bespoke style of luxury, soft hues and local flavour. For Tatiana, the hotel’s spa is the pièce de résistance. “Designing spas
is my personal passion,” she says. “My heart always moves toward the resort hotels. It’s all about comfort and serenity that includes soft colours, soft textures and light materials. Our design details for resorts always spark inspiration from natural surroundings of the land.”

An especially exciting project for the team is the new lifestyle gym that Chapi Chapo Design is current- ly working on, located in Toronto’s Liberty Village, and due to open in November. “It’s a new evolution of gym with a social component,” says Boris. “They approached us because of our hospitality experience. This project will be aimed toward the young urban Liberty Village crowd.” Located on the second and third floors of NO- VUS, a 25- and 38-storey residential community, the project promises to be a state-of-the-art urban play- ground, complete with a 25-metre lap pool, the largest cycling studio in Canada, a 2,500-square-foot hot yoga studio, a meditation pod, bowling alleys and more.

There will also be a smoothie bar and a restaurant to add to the social appeal. The team at Chapi Chapo Design surmises that they get hired because of the European flavour they bring to the table. Couple that with a business that’s being run with a Canadian sensibility, and you’ve built a framework for stellar success. “It’s like a package,” says Tatiana. “Canadians have a fantastic way to run a business. That’s what we learned here. And we have huge gratitude that this land gave us this opportunity to create this company and to have these fantastic projects and represent Canada around the world. It just makes us very proud.” It’s certainly been a “nose-to-the-grindstone” approach for this young company for the past 10 years. They admit that marketing themselves and their firm was never a priority. But we have the feeling that may be about to change. After all, with their unique brand of passion and playfulness now surfacing in so many international destinations, Chapi Chapo Design is definitely a Canadian design force to be reckoned with, and celebrated.