Mistress of Her Domain

The House of Lori Morris Design is an absolute force. Lifestyle editor Jeanne Beker spoke to the inimitable artist about her background, business and aesthetic, and found there’s so much more to this multifaceted designer than meets the eye. Welcome to the big, bold, opulent world of Lori Morris.

In the world of Lori Morris, eclecticism reigns supreme. The lively Toronto-based powerhouse designer, who manages to make sumptuous luxury user friendly, claims the art of interior design and decor has always come easy to her, mainly because she’s an artist herself, and sees the world through a very colourful and liberal lens. “There are no rules in my world, because I don’t have any rules in my creativity,” enthuses the blond design dynamo. “It doesn’t have any stopping points for me… and because I don’t have any stumbling blocks in front of me, and I don’t have to stop and make a decision as to whether this works or it’s right or wrong, it’s just a big free-for-all.”

Morris’s daring approach may not be for the faint-of heart client. But for those with a desire to live large and luxuriously, she’s the perfect cheerleader. She employs a team of more than 40 professionals, including artists and craftsmen. Her aesthetic smacks of a brave mash-up of elegance and sensuality — a celebratory mix of girlish playfulness and grown-up sophistication. “When you’re someone like me, who’s an artist to the core, you’re fearless,” she explains. It’s precisely that attitude that’s helped Morris catapult her House of Lori Morris Design, or LMD — and her vision — onto the world stage, with projects at home, in the wilds of Muskoka (where she also has a Port Carling showroom) and across the United States.

Growing up in the charming small town of Dundas, Ont., Morris reflects on her wild-child ways. “For my parents, it was like I was a teenager on steroids,” she laughs. “So yeah, I was a big rebel, but I guess I knew I was always smart. And I was always very creative. But in those days, there was no HGTV or no big interior design industry, per se. There were decorators here and there, but there was no big industry like there is now — no platform to showcase your work on social media. So I graduated from university but knew I didn’t want to take that path. I went to design school and never looked back.”

It was the heady and opulent ’80s when Morris, then in her early twenties, took her first stab at designing. You could say she went into it a little blindly: All she knew was that she wanted to do something fabulous with her life, so she went for it. “It was a platform to express a creativity that I knew was there but didn’t really know could be translated into a business. This was a long time ago and women weren’t really in business and there weren’t a lot of doors open,” she reminisces. But her strong drive and passionate belief in herself saw her through. “I really do believe in myself. I always have, even when I started designing,” says Morris. “I was so young and there were trends that had nothing to do with what I was doing. I didn’t know that people would come to say, ‘Oh, you’re bucking the trend!’ I didn’t even know what the trends were. I just did what I believed in all the way through, and I didn’t let anybody stop me. I just wanted to do it, so I was just going to push my way through, with doors slammed in my face for many years, but I didn’t care. I was a woman, but I was young, so I just kept going. I made a million, trillion mistakes. And here we are.”

Morris credits her Czech, Russian and German ancestry for giving her a broader understanding of design and an appreciation for elegance and artistry. She says it’s both nature and architecture that greatly inspire her, and she particularly loves both modern and French design. “I basically infused the two genres together and developed my own style called ‘Sexy French,’” she coos. But as proud as she is of her distinctive personal aesthetic, she also enjoys tailor-making environments to suit the whims of her clients. “It’s just a matter of whether a client wants something ultra-modern or modern chic or more eclectic or Versailles-inspired or whatever they want. I’m an artist to the core with no rules. I can do whatever you want.” Knowing what kind of feeling her clients are after is paramount, of course, because, as she puts it: “It’s a very emotional-based industry.” She goes on to say that it’s also a very emotional-based finished product that she’s responsible for. “Your home is where you live; I don’t care what colour it is, because it’s not about that. It’s about creating a feeling, and that’s what we do, and we decide, with the help of our clients, what it is they want to feel.”

Studying psychology and sociology at university undoubtedly helped Morris in this people business that she so loves. “We’d like to ensure we really take care of our clients because it’s a ginormous financial commitment, especially with the luxurious, high-end business I’m in and what we create,” she explains. “We want everybody to have a very happy experience — husband and wife and kids — we want it to be as enjoyable as possible. So yes, managing clients’ expectations is a very large part of this process, for sure.”

Everybody’s interpretation of home and what it means is something different. And there’s no question that this pandemic era has changed many of our attitudes about our abodes. “I think it’s permanently changed forever,” Morris concurs. “With people staying in their home for this length of time, they’re understanding what their homes really need. It’s become a different sort of experience, as opposed to just somewhere to sleep, eat and watch TV. It’s now become your oasis. People just want their home as an extension of their lifestyle, whatever their lifestyle may be.”

Morris also realizes that people are trying to adjust their home life for the best possible experience. “They want it to be a happy, restful place that also includes a lot of fun and activities,” she says. “They’re thinking, ‘Where can we have our party? And where can we hang out? Where can the kids play? Where’s our adult room? Where’s our entertaining space?’ And I think they’re wondering, ‘So what if travel never happens again? How much of a spa do we want in here? Or how much of a bowling alley? Or do we want a whole wellness centre here?’ They’re taking their experiences of life, whether it be from hotels or yachts and planes or wherever they go, and trying to create that within their home.”

It’s no surprise that art is of utmost importance in Morris’s work. And she takes great joy in curating her clients’ art collections for them. “It’s another layer to the design,” she says. “I source art from all over the world that I think belongs to the house, and I’ll put it in their house after the install, and then they can see the painting in the house. It’s like a dress — you don’t know if you love it until you try it on. Maybe they don’t like it at first, but they don’t understand the position that I’m putting it in and the angle and the focal point. And all of a sudden, it looks fabulous. So we actually hang all the art in the house, and we help the client start their art collection.” She sees art as the finishing touch — an added piece of personality. It’s all part of her layering approach, the kind of final punctuation mark on all her grand and glamourous statements.

And it’s precisely that glamour that’s become a signature trademark of all of Morris’s spaces. “For me, there’s a level of elegance that cannot be compromised,” she insists. “So, whether you want to be sexy or romantic or very clean, it must be elegant, because that is the timelessness of it, just like a Chanel suit or anything well-designed in fashion. The foundation of the design is always elegant, and then we receive its decoration and it’s coloured in. But I think when people look at it, even though it may be exciting and maybe poetic or cultural or full of layers, at the same time they’re very confused about how they explain it because they don’t understand how this can be so exciting and so elegant at the same time. And that’s what I do. That’s the magic of LMD.”

Besides the magic, there’s also a lot of romance inherent in Morris’s approach, and that’s something that comes naturally to her. “I must be a romantic because it just feels so good to me. And when I’m putting together a design, if there’s not enough floral or voluptuousness or detail to it, I feel like, ‘Oh my God, it’s not finished! It doesn’t feel right.’ But when I feel that romance and sexiness of it, then I feel like, ‘Oh yes, okay… we’re here!’ And it can be in a black-and-white palette or an all neutral white palette, or it can be my pastel pairings — it can be anything but as long as it has a very sexual overture to it, combined with elegance, you put it into whatever genre someone wants, whether it be modern or classic, and then we throw it in the blender and somehow, it just all comes out.”

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome with clients in masterminding such opulent projects is, of course, budget. And because Morris is such a big thinker who loves her freedom, she’s got to come to terms with that. “I don’t set the prices in this industry so when people want this luxurious lifestyle, like if you’re buying a yacht or a plane or a car, it is what it is,” she states. “It’s a very expensive business, so the budget has to be discussed basically right at the beginning, because we have to make sure that everybody understands what the financial commitment is going to be on a project. You don’t want to let anybody down and you don’t want to waste your time or their time. So, there are certain things that you can do and then we can do it in phases. I don’t have a problem ever doing it in phases because, for me, I would much prefer to take a longer time and give the person exactly what they want, then not delivering a look they’re after.”

To make her lavish vision more widely accessible, LMD recently launched a new online shop featuring handcrafted pieces, custom furniture, carpets and curated accessories. Morris says it’s just a teaser for now, but eventually she’ll have everything including sheets, towels and pillows. The whole household brand concept could take years to establish, but eventually will include individual, pricey pieces that people will be able to acquire even though Morris isn’t designing their whole house for them. She has also developed a concierge program exclusive to her clients, where your house will be attended to long after the initial design has come to life.

But home sweet home doesn’t necessarily involve the glamour of a bustling urban setting, and Morris is currently working on a project for herself in her old hometown of Dundas — a place she plans to return to one day. “I’m really a small-town girl at heart… even though it’s all this big hair nonsense and everything else. I am a small-town girl, so I do like the country. But I love sophisticated design, so because there are no rules for me, I don’t see why we can’t put sophisticated design in the country,” she muses. “But ultimately, I really love it all, and I put my whole heart into everything I do. And if it’s not perfect, I don’t stop until it is.”