IDC’s Sarah Bradbury caught up with Vitorhya Shields of Shields + Associates Interior Design Consultants.
During the lifespan of every building, there comes a time when a good, old-fashioned renovation is what’s needed to bring a space into the 21st Century. This was the case for Lower Village Gate, a high-end condominium complex made up of two seven-storey towers in the heart of Lower Forest Hill. Though the two residential towers had been updated some time ago, the shared amenities hadn’t been touched since the building was built in 1986. Enter Vitorhya Shields, ARIDO Registered member and principal at Shields + Associates Interior Design Consultants. Specializing in high-rise common areas and with years of experience under her belt, she spruced up the fitness facility, party room and kitchen, and created a design with longevity that can withstand the test of time.
Could you tell us a bit about your background?
I went to Mount Royal College, the first-ever accredited diploma program in Canada. I loved it so much, I applied at Ryerson and completed my degree there, winning a couple of awards and scholarships. I joined ARIDO and later wrote and passed all of the qualifying exams in one sitting to become a Registered member of the association. I still have a strong interest in keeping my education and qualifications up-to-date. For about six years, I practised corporate design in high-rise buildings for a couple of large design firms before I opened my own firm in 1996, specializing in high-rise common areas.
Can you explain what interior design is all about?
When I opened my own studio in 1996, design was becoming really popular through reality TV shows. Even my own dad was confused about what an interior designer did, and I still sometimes have to explain to potential clients that we can do so much more than provide furniture layouts and material and colour packages. Interior designers need to wear many hats: We need to be able to interpret a client’s ideas (psychologist), illustrate and detail (artist) these desires to both the client and contractor, then organize parts of the project into timelines (project manager) and budget effectively (accountant). We can save time and money — and prevent mistakes — while providing a beautifully finished space.
How did you and your firm get involved with this project?
There are many types of projects in a condominium and the design team needs to be selected to suit the experience required by the project. We are known in the industry for being able to expertly complete the more complicated ones. On this project, we were invited as part of a design-build team with Tri-Can Contract Inc. They had met with the client and determined that the scope and requests being made by the Board needed detailed drawings and a building permit. On any given project, the Board, property manager, and design team will be working together for a year or more depending on the project and phases.
How does the project’s location affect the design?
Every project is different, but I find the location affects the type of design style. For example, condos are built in groupings. Within these pockets, we tend to find a similarity of design preference. Residents have selected a particular location to live in and they have probably looked at other buildings in the area. Developers of new buildings do a lot of market research so they can present an appealing design to a particular demographic. Then, those design styles trickle into the older buildings being renovated in the area. Thus the location and target-demographic of every building establishes the design direction of the project. For this particular project, the location is an enclave of Forest Hill; lots of grandkids visiting the pools and amenities, and lots of social events catered towards families and groups.
What areas of the condo were you responsible for designing?
We were hired to renovate a small gym and hot tub area into a larger gym for a very active, over-50 crowd. There were two large change rooms that were underutilized, and no separate washroom for the well-used party room. The party room kitchen was also to be updated to specifically suit caterers, and the party room itself was to be spruced up with whatever money was left over. Because this building is older, it really showcased our passion for longevity of design and demonstrated how well an installation can look for years to come.
How does the space you designed work with the designs of the other condo features?
The shared facility sits between the two towers, has a stunning outdoor courtyard in its centre, and is a major connection for residents from both buildings. This is a luxury condominium and the existing amenity areas didn’t represent the demographic, the use requirements, or the look of the two updated residential towers. The hard part was incorporating the styles of the two very differently renovated towers. We chose to bring in only neutral tones, add more wood, and clean the existing marble and limestone. The Boards from each tower were ultimately very happy that the shared facility didn’t favour the design style of one tower over the other and that the transition into the amenities felt comfortable, and part of each space.
What is the most challenging part of what you do?
Condominium common areas are a unique blend of commercial and residential interior design. Working with a Board of Directors, we have to ensure that we are representing the best interests of upwards of 200 residents. We deal with a large number of personal styles, design meetings that happen outside of office hours, and contractors that need to work efficiently so residents are not bothered. We bring our experience, training, and judgement to a project and provide solutions and a plan B in case something unexpected and costly comes up along the way.
What kinds of challenges did you face during this project?
When we began demolition of the gym area, we discovered that at some point a hot tub had been partially removed. Before we could proceed with our original plan, we were forced to deal with the leftover parts by bringing in a structural engineer. We also discovered that there was no separate air conditioning system in the gym and that the building’s system couldn’t handle the additional load. So, we had to add a seven-ton rooftop unit, which considerably reduced the party room budget. Nevertheless, we made sure to incorporate the key elements of the party room design so residents would be able to see that the money was well spent. Residents want to see the difference in finishes and quality from the old space to the new. There is nothing worse than completing a project and having it look only slightly better than it did before because all the money disappeared into structure, air conditioning, or electrical work. An interior designer will make sure to create a finished product that shows value for money.
What does the interior design process mean to you?
Interior designers are problem solvers, trained to find solutions for enhancing our interior environments. I love what I do and to me, that is helping condominium residents get the most liveable space they can within their budget. Every project and client is different, and I believe residents should be part of the design process. Their wish list, along with their budget and demographic, is all part of an extremely important foundation. I love working with my clients through a considered, planned, and coordinated process to achieve excellent results, every time.
To work with an interior designer on your next project, search IDC’s online database FINDinteriordesigner.org.