Workplace design can encompass a wide range of styles and given Canada has one of the largest geographical masses, there is no doubt that design preferences will differ from coast to coast. We spoke with Veronica De Verneuil, our Design Director, about her experience designing in Toronto and Vancouver and her thoughts on the West coast. Read on to discover more about her extensive experience on the Canadian East and West coasts, how workplace design has evolved, and what it is like to manage the AURA design team.
Q1. You have been a workplace designer for 15 years; how would you say workplace design has evolved?
Workplace Strategy has been prevailing out of COVID and its beautiful to see some positivity come of a challenging time. As a Strategic and futuristic thinker, it’s always been a passion of mine and its now in the mouths of everyone.
The commercial interior Design & Build sector has undergone a significant shift. A large number of companies have embraced a hybrid work environment. The built space demands even more flexibility for a variety of different work styles, from collaborative, creative, to private. Instrumentally is how we all work. We build spaces for people, this has, and never will change. What is changing is an understanding of the people in the workforce even more. More emphasis is placed on the individual.
Throughout the years, technological advances have affected offices and how employees operate. Technology has a significant impact on how and when we work. Employers are developing, and continually improving their audio-visual equipment and reducing their reliance on paper.
Q2. Before moving to Vancouver, you designed spaces in Toronto, is there any significant differences between client preferences in Toronto vs Vancouver?
Yes, I have noticed a difference between the West and East coast. Strategically, Designers will always have a need, to both identify and work with location and cultural differences on Projects. Personally, experiencing the move from the East coast to the West coast the most indicative difference was the change in pace. There is a far bigger sense for urgency in Toronto, given it is a large city with a greater demand. The West coast embraces a more casual approach.
Here in Vancouver, we are so fortunate to be in a city surrounded by nature. The parks, rainforest, mountains, beaches, and ocean all play a significant role in design. A considerable number of clients on the West coast, have a desire for connection to nature for their interior spaces. You will witness a greater amount of natural elements; Biophilia both live and preserved, wood of all varieties, wool, stone varieties of granite, marble, plaster. Particularly at Aura, we love finding creative ways for our clients to closely interact with these materials.
Toronto is home to several major organizational hubs, more noticeably you’ll see, very clean esthetics and refined finishes. In contrast many organizations focus on branding connections to distinguish themselves, this is done by implementing plenty of color within their interiors.
Q3. How is it leading the design team? What motivates them? How do you encourage collaboration and problem-solving?
Leading the design team is incredibly rewarding, I feel deeply connected to the entire team. I encourage collaboration in striving to establish an un-hierarchical environment where everyone supports and holds each other in equal esteem.
I always strive to be very approachable in my leadership. I believe that by breaking down barriers and coming together as a team, I’m able to help foster a deep connection amongst the team. To ensure a positive growth in our design community, we organize team outings to have fun and get to know each other better. The design team meets monthly for Design charrettes led by one or two designers, they are excellent opportunities to learn and exchange new ideas and concepts for meaningful change. I also meet with each designer monthly for 1 on 1 check-ins and mentorship sessions to understand how they are doing, what they are struggling with, and how I can help them.
Q4. What are your goals for the design team next year?
My main goal for the design team next year is to apply for more awards. I am so very proud of all the creativity and dedication this team has towards our projects, and I can’t wait to get AURA’s name out there even more. We are doing incredible work and I am excited for the upcoming year to share our triumphs with the rest of the world.
Q5. What is the most rewarding thing about your job as Design Director?
The most rewarding aspect being Design Director is working with such a passionately engaged workforce. Collaborating with the design team, mentoring interns, and engaging with our project delivery team energizes me. Its all about the collective power of the team unequivocally providing exceptional service our clients.
Q6. What has been the biggest challenge you face as Design Director?
As Design Director, I oversee the execution of all projects alongside the Director of Delivery. I play a critical role at the management level, designing and implementing systems that facilitate the flow of information within and between departments. Communication is essential in my role. A challenge of mine is advising clients on the creative process along the ever-important timeframes. Opening with and maintaining clear communication with our clients to emphasize the importance of the end goal, will ultimately result in happy clients.
Q7. What’s the best project you have ever worked on?
I was part of the team that designed TJX’s headquarters in Ontario. TJX is the headquarters for Winners, HomeSense, and Marshalls. This project stood out to me because it placed a heavy emphasis on workplace strategy and finding ways to handle the firm’s tremendous growth at the time. After undergoing workplace strategy sessions with the team, I understood better how the staff worked and what design aspects would help their operations run smoothly. We collaborated with the client to plan the workplace for the next 5-25 years and designed a beautiful office that improves the employee experience.
Q8. How does Aura’s design process differ from other firms? Do you notice any specific benefits?
A holistic approach is the most thoughtful. Within an integrated approach firm, everyone has a sense of responsibility and ownership for the whole project to work collectively. Our inhouse designers work alongside our estimators and project managers for an informed approach. Every day, we all contribute to each other’s knowledge, allowing for a truly insightful process based on knowledge and shared experience. Aura’s approach gives clients the assurance their project is being designed with creativity to coincide with project budget & schedule
Q9. What attributes do you think a great interior designer needs to have?
Thoughtfulness/ empathy: We design for people. By taking time to understand them and put ourselves in their shoes, we can better imagine a space which caters to their needs in the built environment.
Strategic Thinker: A good quality for an interior designer is to be a strategic thinker. Assisting in project planning and having foresight into potential snags in a project before they occur is a tremendous benefit. Having a futuristic mentality for larger projects is critical.
A passion for creativity: Creativity runs deep in everything designers do. We work through challenges daily, and it is imperative that designers can come up with creative solutions that will boost the project outcome.
Q10. What advice would you give to any aspiring interior designers out there?
Discovering yourself and who you are is the most valuable gift you can give in a creative career. After you have uncovered yourself and created your framework, you’ll be clear on your passions, allowing it to be infused in every aspect of your work!