Take a peek inside their homes and see how the experts have been DIYing

DIY home projects have been our focus and filled our time during months of isolation.

But what about the professionals? What have interior designers been doing to their homes? Three GTA pros talk about the changes and updates they made to tailor their private spaces.

Abraham Chan: It’s been 13 years since he moved into his Dundas West townhome, but Abraham Chan is finally getting full use of a light-filled, second-floor room. It’s now “a comfy work space, my little paradise for work,” said the founder of Toronto-based international design firm, ABDO.

Chan’s residence in a converted chair factory is long and narrow with 12-foot ceilings. Pre-pandemic, the area he calls an open library/lounge space was underutilized. And an adjoining narrow “residual space” with a built-in desk at the top of the stairs was cluttered and disorganized.

“When the pandemic hit, I had a hard time focusing on work,” said Chan, who also felt a responsibility as a business owner to “steer the ship in the right direction.”

To do that, he needed to “carve out a space” at home after temporarily shuttering his nearby studio for COVID safety reasons. He and his partner also had to redefine their living space. “We realized, OK, we need to find more areas of the house we can relax and nest in, and distinct spaces to work.”

Now, his second-floor work zone features a big bookshelf with bins and spaces for files, drawings and finishes for clients’ projects, and a leather sectional “to casually work and relax during work hours.”

Lately, he added, “I have been using it as a spot to take calls and review finishes.”

The narrow desk area at the other end is tidy, private and visually appealing with artwork on a shelf above.

“I get most of my primary work completed here now,” Chan said, listing email, computer drafting and reviewing drawings.

He calls his home office space “a good solution,” but temporary. “I really miss the dynamics of being with my designers.”

While the main floor of his townhome is mostly used after-hours, the dining area is his go-to place for video calls because it offers the best natural light and a “large beautiful painting” in the background.

“It was purely a vanity strategy,” he laughed. “As I designer, I know they’re judging me.”

Nina Doiron: With time on her hands, Nina Doiron seized the day — decluttering, cleaning and reorganizing closets, mud room, spice drawers, pantry, fridge and freezer. She also upped efficiency with a custom storage system and repainted her home office.

But the highlight of the pandemic-inspired projects in her four-bedroom house was the family room. Now it’s newly decorated with an accent wall of floor-to-ceiling wainscotting, a fireplace surround of grey-veined stone and two banks of built-in cabinets and shelves for storage and display.

“I really love my home,” Doiron said of her newly built house in Barrie, Ont., where she moved last year with her husband, 16-year-old daughter and five-year-old Bichon Frise-poodle cross. “And now that I have more efficiency and functionality, I love it even more.”

NOW: Nina Doiron shows off her just-finished family room which features a stone fireplace surround and built-in book cases with storage and display space.

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THEN: The built-in fireplace wall in Doiron's family room was plain and lacking in storage or display space.

Helping people realize their home’s full potential is what she does for a living. Her five-year-old design company called iStage & Organize also strives to inject a wow factor into living spaces for clients throughout the GTA.

While her own house is still a work in progress, Doiron said the pandemic gave her the time to make improvements. “Because we spend so much time in the family room and kitchen, that’s why I put a lot of effort in those areas.”

She understands how the demands of daily life can get in the way for people who’d like to make their home look and function better. But “we’re never going to have this much time again,” she pointed out.

Stacey Cohen: Modest budget. Time pressure. Closed stores.

When Stacey Cohen needed to redo her home office for full-time use, she faced many of the same challenges as others who suddenly found themselves working from home.

So the Toronto interior designer used her own virtual service to transform the work space in her condo. Called Room Edit, “it’s an affordable, online solution, especially during COVID,” explained Cohen, adding it’s a new division of her 11-year-old company, Stacey Cohen Design. “People can get fully designed rooms by going through a few clicks.”

Stacey Cohen's built-in desk area now has a charcoal accent wall that serves as a backdrop for a colourful painting, top self, by Cohen's mother.
Stacey Cohen, shown in her Toronto business office, used her own online service called Room Edit to update and refresh her home office.

The service provides a cohesive design package of floor plan, 3D rendering, style board and shopping list that clients use to arrange doorstep delivery, she said. The design service comes in a small, medium or large package ranging from $ 950 to $ 1,300.

Cohen, who’s building a house with her fiancé, wanted to make her seven-by-10-foot condo home office “functional, feel-good and organized.

“But I didn’t want to break the bank since we will be moving soon,” she added.

She spent between $ 2,500 and $ 3,000 on furniture, lighting and accessories, all ordered online from local retailers such as CB2, IKEA and EQ3. Purchases included open shelves and three, two-drawer units so she and her fiancé could have their own storage space. On the wall above, they hung a decorative screen bought at a flea market years ago — now painted black.

In the built-in desk area, a charcoal accent wall serves as a backdrop for a colourful painting done by Cohen’s mother, a hobby artist.

“I love it,” she said of the “very bright and super airy” business space that also incorporates personal items. “I feel like I’m able to be productive and creative.”

TORONTO STAR

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