Today we’re buzzing with Suzanne Bettencourt, a principal at figure3, the renowned design firm that specializes in corporate and retail interiors and has worked with Coca Cola, Telus, Molson Coors and Bank of Montreal.
The firm has just made the leap into residential design and so far the leap has been well-received. figure3 won an ARIDO (Association of Registered Interior Designs of Ontario) Award for the work they did on their first residential project — the Quartz-Spectra model at Concord Adex‘s Quartz in Toronto.
We chat with Suzanne about the future of condo designs, how it feels to win an award for her first residential design and why her favourite colour is much darker than you’d expect.
BuzzBuzzHome: When did your passion for design begin?
Suzanne Bettencourt: I was very interested in design as a teenager. I took a woodworking course in high school and started building furniture. I realized that I really like the form of objects and that inspired me to research design further. I really do like improving environments for people. That’s where my passion comes from.
BBH: How long have you been with figure3? What’s your design specialty within the firm?
SB: I joined figure3 in 2006 as a senior designer. This spring, I became a new principal at the firm so I’m part of the next generation, carrying this business over the next twenty years. My focus has always been on the creative side. My experience has been more on workplace. Just in the last two years I started developing the residential sector of our business.
What gives me the strength in that area is my ability to visualize in three dimensions while I’m working through problems. I’m always looking for efficiencies and thinking of how to best use space.
BBH: What makes figure3 stand apart in the design industry?
SB: One of the most unique things is we’re a multi-disciplinary design firm. Our business started in workplace design but we’re also very strong in the retail design industry as well. Now we’re entering our third year of doing residential high-rise design. What makes us so strong is the influences we have. We’re in one studio; we don’t have separate businesses. We draw from the talent of all the different sectors allowing us to offer experience strategy design to our clients.
figure3 design concepts are created through researching how spaces can inspire and motivate the end-user. Our goal is to collaborate with our clients and help them bring their brands to life and create memorable experiences for purchasers.
BBH: What’s the design philosophy behind the concept you employed on Quartz-Spectra?
The design for Quartz was interesting because we took our first residential project as an opportunity to apply our expertise from other sectors into a condo. Based on our portfolio and some of our past experience, Concord Adex trusted us and provided a flexible working relationship. They didn’t put many parameters around us because they wanted to see what kind of creative ways of living we could come up with. We did a lot of research on the high-density cities of the world to see how they’ve been treating their condo living and small spaces.
In the end we came up with a core concept for a condo suite that differed from your typical high-rise condo suites in the functionality of the space. Our philosophy behind it really was this central core. We often see that the architecture of a high-rise building has a central core. They take the efficiencies — the elevators, the washrooms, the plumbing — and clump it all together in the centre so you can have more flexibility around it. We used that within the environment so purchasers could have more flexibility in their living space.
Concord decided to carry through that concept into prototyping a suite within Quartz-Spectra. Concord does have their more standard suite they produce, but they really wanted to see how this unit would do in the marketplace.
Our initial approach was more sophisticated than what’s in the Quartz-Spectra model suite, but I do think the overall approach worked out quite well. Your living room and bedroom can open up into one another. You can tuck your bed away in a murphy bed, open up the sliding doors and then suddenly you have more real estate to entertain in your space. We put the storage unit in the corridor to the bathroom so your corridor can double as a walk-in closet, which leads into your den. This design solution will allow first-time single buyers entering the next phase of their life the possibility to remain within the development and community they’ve already invested in. It’s about providing people more flexibility within their unit.
BBH: Why are we seeing this design concept gaining more traction?
SB: I think that units are getting smaller. Units were larger in the market five or six years ago. You could more easily provide larger living environments within the units themselves. With units now becoming tighter and more compact, we need to be more efficient and thoughtful in how to plan the space so there is more flexibility.
BBH: How did your background in workplace and retail influence your approach in designing a residential unit?
SB: We were able to go into residential condo design without any preconceived notions of what a condo unit should be. We had an open mind as far as what we could produce. Concord allowed us to come up with some really creative ideas. We really tried to open our mind up on what’s happening on an international level rather than what’s happening in Toronto.
BBH: Could you see this type of design catch on in other cities in North America?
SB: Absolutely. In Toronto and other cities in North America, there are restrictions on minimum living spaces. I don’t see that changing, but we are trying to push the limits as far as what you can get within the unit.
Any big city needs to consider how to evolve their design assumptions and look at how condos can create a sense of community in a downtown core. Toronto is a world leader in that respect, and what we’re doing here will resonate in other city centres.
BBH: What was it like to win an award for your first residential unit design?
SB: We were very excited. There are a lot of powerful design houses that have a hold on the market. So winning for our first project and being acknowledged through our association for a new sector we’re working in is very exciting. We won in all four categories this year — workplace, retail, product design and residential.
BBH: What’s your favourite colour to use as an interior designer?
SB: Does it have to be a colour? I love black. I know it’s not a colour. I love it because it has so much dimension, depending on the material you use. It can be very deep and passionate. I tend to use it in a lot of my projects to ground the projects and create some mood.
Thanks for buzzing with us Suzanne! For more information about figure3 visit www.figure3.com.