Photo: (L-R) Samer Shaath and Kevin Chan of Nivek Remas
It’s always a pleasure to speak to people with design smarts. Their work on interiors is immediately seen and felt by the people who call the dwellings home. Today we’re buzzing with Kevin Chan, who partnered up with Samer Shaath to create Nivek Remas, the firm tasked with designing the interiors of Lanehouse on Bartlett, one of the most hotly anticipated developments in Toronto.
We chatted about his days as a “studio rat,” the challenges of designing suites in an existing building and his favourite part of the city.
BuzzBuzzHome: How did you get your start in the design world?
Kevin Chan: After studying Interior Design at Ryerson University, I started working at Yabu Pushelberg when I got an internship there (I was a bit of an internship fiend).
Samer Shaath, my partner at Nivek Remas, has worked at Burdifilek and then Yabu Pushelberg as well. He and I met in school and we’ve always had the same outlook on design – the unexpected and what people aren’t doing in the design and fashion world. It just made sense for us to work together.
We were always just studio rats together while we were both at Ryerson. We’d always help each other with projects, bounce ideas off each other. We’ve been doing it non-stop since then. We started our own firm together, officially, two years ago.
BBH: It took us awhile to figure out where you got your name, Nivek Remas – it’s Kevin and Samer backwards. Is there a story behind the name?
KC: My last name’s Chan, his last name is Shaath. In the interior design world it’s common to take the last names of the two partners and combine it like with Munge Leung and all those other companies.
But Shaath Chan or Chan Shaath just did not sound good. We were just playing around with different combos so we played with an anadrome of our names and it looked good. We liked that it didn’t look like it had a specific country of origin because we’re not held down by where we are. We’ve both done projects all around the world and we look for inspiration everywhere.
BBH: And design was something you were always into? Even before school?
KC: To be honest, I didn’t always know what to do. I’m from Vancouver and I went to the University of British Columbia for four years and nothing there interested me. I tried everything – nursing, pharmacology, kinesiology, everything. I actually ended up coming out with an English Lit major.
But I ended up taking one of those economics-based career tastes that helps show you what you’re good at. I sat down with someone who showed me some job options and showed me the careers of people who had similar test results. So there was the culinary arts, architecture and interior design. By chance, I ended up in interior design and I love it.
Samer was always into design and fashion. His father is an architect and he grew up surrounded by it.
BBH: What’s the dynamic between the two of you like?
KC: Our design process was always based on arguments – not fights, but always challenging each other to make things better. When we first started out, it was a bit combative, but we found our footing. Samer’s really good at the micro, the details like the furniture, and I’m better with the macro stuff, the general spaces and the architecture. So we complement each other in every way – he’s the other half of my brain.
BBH: What can we expect from your work on Lanehouse on Bartlett?
KC: We wanted to put a new spin on hard loft developments. We didn’t want to do the overdone industrial thing, but we didn’t want to ignore what was there either. We wanted to find a kind of happy medium, something that people hadn’t seen before.
The existing building is brick – do you keep it raw or do you paint it over? We decided to whitewash it so you still have the brick character coming through. You see what was there and you respect it, but you put a bit of a modern twist on it.
We did a lot of flat black metals, there’s going to be polished concrete and reeded glass in the uppers of the cabinets. The powder room near the entrance way has a hidden door – I’ve never seen anything like that before, or cladding the interior in a metallic tile.
BBH: What was the site like at the start?
KC: It was a boiler factory, but then Curated Properties gutted the whole thing and it was basically a big, brick box.
BBH: When you approach designing spaces in an existing building, is it harder or easier than designing a brand new space?
KC: It’s totally harder! If you do a completely new development, than you can control everything and you typically have a set standard as you build up. But with an existing space or a heritage space, there’s a lot of differentiations in the architecture. There’s a lot of finnicky work to do per unit because they’re not exactly the same, you have to adjust.
It’s always harder, but there’s payback since there’s so much character within the units.
BBH: We’re in the studio district of Leslieville. Do you have a favourite neighbourhood in the city?
KC: I love my neighbourhood in King East, near George Brown College. I bought a condo there when I couldn’t find any one-bedrooms in my price range. I love the neighbourhood. It’s so central, but it’s still so neighbourhood-y and quaint. There’s the park and the church and restaurants along King. And I love all the furniture showrooms, obviously!
Thanks for buzzing with us Kevin!