By Lisa van de Geyn Photography by Rob Holowka and Peter A. Sellar
Helder Aguiar is a force. He’s fi lled to the brim with passion for what he does, and he possesses a very likeable enthusiasm that just radiates from him when he speaks about design. He’s so personable that you fi nd yourself wanting to be in his orbit. The principle of Element Modern Dwellings, Aguiar is about as dynamic as they come. Not only is he diverse, smart and zealous, he’s a true visionary with an intense pride for his work and for his team. His experience and zest for modern design make him a powerhouse in the worlds of architectural design, interior design and project management. And after 17 years in the business, he finds himself at the top of his game.
Helder has always been a go-getter. He grew up with his mother, a tailor, and his uncle, a master carpenter and furniture maker. “I was always working with my hands, and I was really good at it. I would work with my uncle when I wasn’t in school. I just loved it and had a real affinity for it,” he says. While his education led him into a diverse career — including a 12-year stint as a project manager for telecom and software corporations on Toronto’s bustling Bay Street — he never lost that passion for residential and commercial construction; the kind of work he came to love as a boy. So, while working as a busy executive, Aguiar started taking on side gigs — he’d renovate and remodel for friends, family and neighbours. Before he knew it, word spread, and he was accepting jobs from clients. Eventually, when his plate was full, he knew it was time to take the plunge and leave the comfort of his career. “It just wasn’t a part-time job anymore. And that’s when Element was born,” he says.
“Back then, it was just my uncle and I on jobs. We started with basements and remodels, just doing building projects. When my uncle retired, I continued doing larger additions and new builds, and I ended up doing quite a lot of the design legwork myself, too.” Then, in a very serendipitous way, 2015 brought Element’s fi rst major evolution — Brendan Daly. As though it was meant to be, Brendan’s presence as Helder’s business partner brought a gelling of two approaches — Brendan’s strong mechanical, engineering and technical background, and Helder’s keen vision and design prowess. Grounded in a solid friendship, a dynamic partnership developed. After several years, this driven duo had an epiphany of sorts: the only way to take this wee firm to the next level would be to bring architectural design, interior design and project management under one roof.
Today, the firm handles every aspect of the design and construction management work. Included in his team are 16 of the most carefully selected, talented, and skilled architectural designers, interior designers, and project managers. “Within those disciplines, each is independently exceptional, successful, and sustainable. We’re not just a builder who also designs, or a design firm that also builds. These are three independently successful aspects of the business that work beautifully together,” he explains. Element’s dynamic and diverse team brings a wide range of skill sets, life experiences, personal style and
perspectives, all of which work flawlessly with the firm’s culture. “It creates a perfect synergy in our process. My goal is for it to feel like a family business, which is very important to me, but have the efficiencies and disciplines of a corporation — I want us to have that link.” This vision has been the foundation of element’s evolution – the foundation on which our incredible team, clients, and partners in this industry now proudly stand on.
When a client contacts Element Modern Dwellings, Aguiar acts as a curator and guide. “I pride myself on breaking down walls with clients and getting on the same page. Mutual trust is very important when it comes to our work,” he explains. “It’s important that we embark on their journey on the same side of the table.” He builds a rapport with the client and brings them into the studio to help them find or vet a property. Once there’s a property locked down, it’s about getting into the client’s head. “We talk about requirements, needs, aesthetics. We have an extensive intake questionnaire and consultation process to get all the details we need.” At this point, Aguiar will bring in one of his architectural designers, so they can start absorbing the project. Soon the vision board is completed with all the necessary requirements to ensure the homeowner’s lifestyle is respected. Floor plans are drawn and presented. At the same time, the assigned interior designer has already begun to influence space planning and can now start their core work in parallel with the architectural designer. And when the selection of materials and products for the home are wrapped, the project manager joins the crew under Brendan’s leadership. Aguiar has cultivated a seamless process — it’s like a symphony, with all the sections playing their parts in tandem. “That’s the synergy that happens when we work in parallel instead of silos — handing off pieces of the project as they’re completed.”
Since inception, Element Modern Dwellings has done more than 250 projects. Aguiar has kept records from each — he still learns from past work and references details. One exciting project the team is currently working on is dubbed “Gordon Woods” — a cul-de sac of eight homes in Mississauga they’re designing and building from the ground up. “I’ve known the developer for years and he always appreciated the calibre of our work. He talked about this property and when soon after he purchased it, he said he wanted my team and I on the job,” he says. Each home is 5,000 to 6,500 square feet. They have all the key staples of a luxury modern home, including elevators, four to fi \ve bedrooms with ensuites, home theatres, wine cellars, spas, gyms, nanny suites and a few unexpected Element surprises to continue to push the envelope. “These homes will have a strong modern, timeless appeal. It’s what we do best. The cool thing is, you won’t find eight super-high-end modern designed and built homes done by the same folks in the same locale anywhere in the Greater Toronto Area.”
When it comes down to it, the firm’s a well-oiled machine that thrives on creating the perfect timeless spaces for its clients. “My entire team is inspired by their work, and they have freedom to push the envelope. I believe in them,” affirms Aguiar. “It sounds cliché, but this is a labour of love. I paid my dues and left a very successful career to do what I truly love, and we’ve come out the other side.”