Inspired by her mother, “Love It or List It” host Hilary Farr started designing in Toronto and hasn’t stopped since.
What about a career in home design first caught your interest?
I didn’t plan on having this career. Although, when I think about my background, it seems almost inevitable that this is what I do.
My mother was a big influence: very creative, curious about different cultures and a collector. She had a great eye for design, and wonderful flare. She’d often take me with her when she was shopping for our home. I’d see the results of what she had chosen and loved the way she transformed a room with new wallpaper or by reupholstering a piece of furniture. She inspired me, and I inherited that same love of creating beautiful spaces for myself and friends, but I didn’t consider it a career until I left Los Angeles for Toronto in the ‘90s. Beautiful old homes were going for a song. My husband and I bought one and I created one of my favorite places I’ve ever lived.
Some of the Toronto houses were quite grand, with no updates since god-knows-when. Many had become rooming houses when the owners fell on hard times. I couldn’t resist the chance to renovate them and hope that someone would appreciate them as family homes again. My designs were a mix of British and LA styles, which turned out to be just what buyers wanted. That was the start of my career: renovating and beautifying homes for resale. I always furnished them as I would want to live and that staging became a business that led to clients and realtors wanting my services to sell their homes. And that led to my career in home design. A very long answer, which boils down to this: I have always loved creating beauty and design where none exists or has been lost, which I was lucky enough to be able to turn into a successful business.
If you could go back in time, what is one piece of advice you would have given yourself on the first couple of projects which you worked on?
To chill out and accept that everything cannot be perfect.
What steps do you take during the planning phase of any project to ensure success later on?
First, I take care to review the wishes and dreams of the homeowners. Then I work on the design from a purely functional point of view. Then, we need to agree on a budget. My next step is to put those three elements together and come up with a list of priorities suggesting where we must pull back and where we can pull out all the stops and fulfill the dream. It’s a fine balance, but it works — most of the time.
Is there one common obstacle/challenge which presents itself in each project you work on? If so, how do you overcome it?
HF: Communication is the biggest problem. I need to be sure I am letting the homeowners understand the constraints of the project, whether it’s space or costs, and they need to let me know exactly what they expect. There are so many moving parts to a design project dependent on other people. And homeowners often change their minds once they see the place taking shape, which can cause delays and increase costs.
Moving into 2018, what is one trend in home design which you believe is going to make a big impact?
I honestly don’t follow trends, so I don’t know exactly. But I think that, with our current sense of uncertainty and turmoil, we want our home to be our sanctuary, our place of comfort, closeness and safety. This should cause a shift in design aesthetics to be softer and more user-friendly. I see a lot of floral prints that are from a bygone era made modern with scale and color palettes. I think a longing for green spaces and the sounds of nature is part of our DNA; it resonates, whether or not we are aware of it. I think surfaces will be softer, warmer and more matte, rather than a high gloss, stainless steel design that is cold and sleek. I could be totally wrong. Let’s see what happens!
What are some essential steps that every homeowner can take to design their home in a more sustainable manner?
This is a bewildering area. There are so many options out there, some of which are very costly and some of which don’t necessarily meet true sustainability standards. There are many companies, designers and architects who are very committed to building and designing with the least amount of impact on our planet. But it’s very difficult to put into practice, and usually increases costs, which is a deterrent. As individuals, I think the key is to do a lot of research to educate yourselves on which options can work within your budget and the constraints of your home’s construction. But there are many things you can do that don’t cost a lot of money. Look at your lifestyle to see where you can make changes that conserve precious water and energy. Change lightbulbs throughout your home with LED where possible. They’ve come a long way since they were introduced to the residential market; there are some very good choices now with light that is softer instead of blindingly white! Don’t leave taps running while brushing your teeth or rinsing dishes in the sink — think of all those gallons of drinkable water just going down the drain. Cut down energy use with a ceiling fan to cool off a room instead of running the A/C all the time. Make sure windows and doors are weather-proofed. Gradually replace old appliances — like dishwashers, washing machines and fridges — with new ones that are energy efficient. Consider replacing an old furnace with a new, direct vent, energy-efficient model. In general, stop using cleaning or garden products that are harmful to the environment; they are likely to be harmful to humans as well. If you’re building a new home, look for a LEED-approved builder. These are all costs that will pay you back over time as your energy bills are reduced.
What would you say to a homeowner who is hesitant to make their home more green-friendly because he or she believes it will be too costly?
I would agree that’s a valid concern. Then I’d want to know how much they spend on their energy bills, and start from there to show how much those costs could be reduced by spending money upfront by investing in energy-efficient appliances, heating, insulation, etc. And then I’d move on to a guilt trip and ask if they care about leaving a healthy planet for their children and grandchildren.
What is your favorite room in the house to design?
The master bedroom. It’s the one room in the home that is just for you to indulge in, to create the most perfect, private, luxurious space to enjoy at the end of a hard day.