February 9, 2011
This week we catch up with Elaine Cecconi of the internationally respected design firm Cecconi Simone. Ms. Cecconi tells us about what to expect at Chaz on Charles, what’s good on Dundas West, and why ‘trend’ is a dirty word in the world of interior design.
BuzzBuzzHome: Did you come to be an interior designer gradually or was it something that you always knew you’d be doing as a career?
Elaine Cecconi: I knew I’d be involved in some aspect of building things, and my actual formal training is in architectural technology, but when I graduated from Ryerson I ended up working at an interior design firm purely by fluke and as soon as I started working there I felt like I’d come home.
I felt like that was the niche I was comfortable in as opposed to more large-scale architectural projects. I like the scale of interior design and the way it impacts on how people live. I feel that because you create environments that people engage in – where they live and work and play and dine – that, in some ways, [design] has more of an impact on individuals than architecture does.
BBH: What part of the GTA do you call home? What’s the best part of your neighbourhood?
EC: The GTA for me is Dundas and Dufferin; a neighbourhood called Brockton Village. My favourite thing is that I can walk out my back door, go down a lane and I’m right on Dundas Street. And there’s a whole bunch of really great things there without having to get in a car and drive.
There’s a few great bakeries – Brazil Bakery and OMG Baked Goodness – and there’s a couple of great new restaurants that have opened – The Atlantic is there now. It’s all kind of accessible; it’s all within walking distance. I’ve lived in the neighbourhood for almost 20 years and there’s been an infiltration of new small businesses in the last five years, so for me it’s really exciting to see change in an area that was pretty much stagnant for quite a long time.
BBH: How closely do the interior designers work with the architectural staff on any given project? Does this dynamic change from project to project?
EC: I think, to the credit of our clients – the developers – they understand how important it is that the interiors and the architecture mesh with one another, and therefore interior designers are getting involved very near the beginning of projects.
The reason for this is that what we do often influences what happens to the building either structurally or how the exterior skin of the building is dealt with in terms of window treatment and fenestration and where window mullions line up. The approach that has become more predominant in the industry is the building is designed from the inside out.
It comes back to what I said earlier – people live in the unit, they don’t live on the exterior of the building – so it’s really important that developers put out a product that is extremely liveable, and our strength is in designing small spaces that are highly functional, highly efficient but look good. It’s kind of an inside-out approach to design and architecture.
BBH: Is there such a thing as a Toronto-look in regard to interior design? Or is there rather a Canadian aesthetic?
EC: I would say that there is a Canadian aesthetic and certainly Toronto is at the forefront of that and maybe the rest of the country is following us. Because Toronto is unique in that it’s North American but there’s a lot of European influence in the city through immigration and through our access to different materials and supplies and furniture and lighting – a lot of it is European.
So, we’re kind of the confluence of European and North American design. And I think there’s a contemporary style that’s unique to Toronto.
At Cecconi Simone, what we’re seeing is a lot of developers are now coming to us and we’re exporting that approach to other markets – right across North America, in the Middle East and India. We’ve also done projects in China too, so we truly are an international firm, and we’re recognized for a unique approach and a unique aesthetic.
BBH: Speaking of unique aesthetics, we hear the idea at Chaz on Charles was “lush minimalism.” Why was that particular choice made and what can we expect it to look like?
EC: We are responding to the market that we anticipate will live in that area. The site is a great location; it’s basically a block to Yonge and Bloor, so you’ve got great shopping along Bloor Street, and great shopping along Yonge Street, too. You’re also right at the subway so you can go downtown, or you can take any of the arteries out of the city: east, west or north.
It’s a very geographically important location and so we envisage the person living there to be sophisticated, very cosmopolitan, someone who loves design, and not just interior design but all design – architecture, fashion, graphic design – they’re consumers and connoisseurs of the great things that life has to offer.
So what we saw in terms of the living environment was what we call ‘lush minimalism.’ Because minimalism can be cold and austere, we create lushness and warmth by adding layering and textures that give richness without getting decorative or getting too intense in terms of colour and decoration.
BBH: The Chaz Club sounds like a particularly exciting amenity, what can we expect design-wise?
EC: First of all, its location in the building is spectacular. It’s perched out of the side of the building at the 31st and 32nd floors and has a southward view, so you’re literally sitting in a glass box in the sky, and what you’re looking at is the downtown. By day, by dusk, or by night it’s always an exciting and beautiful space.
There are two levels to the Chaz Club, the lower level is a lounge and consists of a bar, so you can have a bartender and have full bar service. There are cocktail tables too. So the whole idea was that you feel like you have a club in your own building – we’ve even put banquettes along the walls that appear to be slicing through the glass and they extend to the outdoor balcony as well. There’s indoor space and outdoor space on the lower level.
And on the upper level we’ve got the beautiful dynamic stair that sweeps up along one side of the Chaz Club. It looks like it’s cantilevered off the side of the wall, and then where the stair lands upstairs there’s kind of a perch so you can stand there and enjoy the space and view.
Inside, behind an all glass wall, is a private dining room set up with its own bar and its own cooking space, so that you can bring caterers or a guest-chef in and it’s really like booking a private room at a restaurant – and yet it’s all in your building, and it’s all accessible to you without leaving the building!
BBH: The trend in condos and houses seems to have long been toward maximizing the liveability and quality of design in kitchens. Can you talk a bit about where kitchen design stands?
EC: For us, the kitchen has always been the soul of the home, and it doesn’t matter how small your kitchen is, everyone always ends up in it!
We always take a lot of time designing kitchens so that they work for one person but so that they can also work for eight or ten people, because they tend to be like the magnet of a residential unit. So we look at the usability and do things like incorporate islands so that you can gather at an island or, if there’s more than one person cooking, there’s opportunity for different stations for people to work at.
It’s always the grounding element within a home, whether it’s a condo or a private residence, it’s kind of the area that people gravitate towards. In condos, and this is the case at Chaz, the kitchens are really part of the main public area and so kitchen design is necessarily evolving.
For example, we’ve become more sophisticated in how we use appliances. A lot of our appliances are now integrated so that, for example, a fridge looks like a millwork cabinet, rather than like a fridge. Everything’s more streamlined; appliances themselves have gotten smaller and more European-looking and more built-in.
BBH: Are there any other trends in interior design that we can expect to see more clearly in the next few years?
EC: [laughs] We hate the word ‘trend’ because it implies it’s temporary and ‘of the moment’ and I think that’s the difference between design and, say, style and fashion – which are a snapshot in time.
Style is something that has more longevity and more substance and, not to dismiss fashion, but when we look at our interiors, we look at how space is being used. In this sense I think we see spaces that are becoming more multi-purpose.
Increasingly, we like to use materials that are natural or in their natural form so that they are more enduring and have a longer shelf-live and that returns to our overall approach to interior design – it’s not a statement of a fashion, it’s a statement of enduring quality and style.
Thank you to Ms. Cecconi for taking the time to speak with us. Click on over to Cecconi Simone to learn more about her firm.