On the job

In the office of ZAS Architects + Interiors – located in the renovated, 1909 Copp Clark publishers building on Wellington Street West – meeting rooms and offices framed with Teknion’s Altos architectural wall system play off against the base building’s exposed brick and weathered timbers. From behind the modular glass wall of her private office in the interior design area at ZAS, Ella Mamiche can work at her desk while keeping in touch, and in sight of, her team of eight design associates. A full-service design firm founded in 1984, ZAS has 38 staff members in Toronto, seven in Vancouver, and 20 in Dubai. Recent notable projects by Mamiche’s team include the Air Canada Special Operations Centre and Adidas Canada’s new home office in Vaughan, Ont. 

A few small tchotchkes – along with photos of her daughter’s equestrian pursuits, taped to the wall – show a personal touch. Otherwise, this office is strictly business. Here, the enlivening element of European flair is Mamiche herself, smartly turned out as always, from her flaming red hair to her cobalt-blue-suede shoes.

Michel Arcand; In8 Design

In8 Design principal Michel Arcand is hunched over the Ice Cube, his name for the 4-by-12-foot, bar-height island that stretches along the post-and-beam, exposed-brick loft that his firm calls home. “It’s our very communal counter,” he says. “We have lunch together every day, then we wash it with Windex. We naturally gravitate to the Ice Cube because it gives us a break from our desks. We like having the option of standing or sitting on the stools.” The three-year-old, four-person firm specializes in corporate design for clients such as environmental designers Entro.

“I like to work on large surfaces where you can unroll the rolls and go to it,” Arcand says. “When we were planning the office, I thought that it’s silly to have to unfold a full set of drawings and feel cluttered or trapped in a tiny workstation. That’s why we have those big shared tables, so anyone can unroll big drawings anytime, even when the Ice Cube isn’t available.”

Adds the 40-something designer, “Many of us dinosaurs have to plan on sketch paper. The younger ones in the office have to be computer-oriented or we won’t hire them. Plus, they wouldn’t know how to draw by hand, anyway.”

Eric McClelland; Fleur-de-Lis Interior Design

Eric McClelland of Fleur-de-Lis Interior Design is well known to the public as a residential designer and as a regular guest expert on CityTv’s CityLine. His recent hospitality projects include the new Hot Stove Club at the Air Canada Centre. Who’s minding the store? He is, living as he does on the second floor of his Eglinton Street West premises. The rear of the main floor has office quarters for his 24-year-old, six-person design firm; the storefront accommodates Room, his retail store and showroom.

Between the two zones are a reception desk and the boardroom, where he likes to hang out. Despite having a workstation in the back, he prefers to work in the boardroom, where, he says, “I feel connected to the front end of the office, yet, if clients come in [to the store], they can sit down and interact with me.” The boardroom walls showcase work by Canadian artists Thrush Holmes and Paul Belleveau; the wall is a glittering piece of art in itself thanks to the Venetian stucco finish and silver-leaf accents. “It was huge in the ‘80s,” he says. “It’s a finish gone by, but it’s still lovely.”  

Anna Simone; Cecconi Simone

“I don’t have an office. I don’t want one,” says Cecconi Simone partner Anna Simone in her characteristically dusky voice, wearing a trademark scarf. Instead, she prefers to work in the lower level of her company-owned low-rise on Dundas Street West. The room is a large servery-hospitality area, where she’ll start a meeting and break the ice by making fruit smoothies for her guests. “Whenever you’re at a house party, the gathering place is always the kitchen. You feel more relaxed and connected. There’s casualness about a kitchen that takes the edge off of being in an office environment. I feel that I can be more hospitable with clients and interact on a more personal level.”

Founded in 1982, her firm, numbering 45 employees, is known for its office, hospitality and, in particular, condominium design projects, such as the sales centre for Massey Tower Condos in the long-vacant 1905 Canadian Bank of Commerce Building. She’s standing at a long wooden table made from little planks salvaged from an old bowling-alley floor. “We always like to repurpose materials. That’s the way we think. We take something intended for one use and put it in another application that’s totally unexpected.” 

Inger Bartlett; Bartlett & Associates

Inger Bartlett, who heads her 30-year-old, 12-person, eponymous interior-design firm, has just explained that the firm’s work ranges from high-end residential and condo renos to the financial sector, but centres mostly in creative office spaces. So how could she not be following Mad Men, which dazzles the eye with its ‘60s fashion and design art direction? The question is pertinent because she’s reposing on a contemporaneous, vintage Herman Miller sofa whose swooping sides look so ‘60s-retro. The sofa is the commanding feature of the café on the firm’s third floor. “We like to work in a collaborative way,” Bartlett says. “We often come here to work together, away from our workstations, away from our tasks.”

On the coffee table in front of the sofa she has plopped what appears to be a giant white Bento box. Only, instead of rice, fish or meat and pickled or cooked vegetables, she’s filled it with an equally colourful and varied mix of wood, stone and textile materials. “We use big white boxes to look at all our samples – marble, metals, textiles – the entire palette we’re looking at for a project. We will move the box to wherever a meeting table is free. Together, as a team, we can explore our options.”

Nino Pulsinelli; Pulsinelli

In the Leslieville office of his namesake firm, Nino Pulsinelli is master of all he surveys as he gazes out to the open area below from his aerie, a mezzanine-level private office perched head-bumpingly close to the ceiling. “When I look down on the general office below, I feel like I’m reading a floor plan,” he says. Up here there are no paintings, posters or family snapshots to junk up the vision of purity, and scarcely a working drawing in sight. 

The sole concession to cravings for tactile and visual stimulation is the richly figured grain pattern on the walnut slab that serves as the worksurface on Pulsinelli’s desk. He was born in Italy and studied interior design and sculpture in Milan. Speaking as a sculptor, he says, “We interact with a volume by touching the material. For me, the tactile experience of marble, wood and metal is extremely important.” After moving to Canada, he incorporated his firm in 2004. His seven-person firm works mostly with retail clients, such as Nike and Apple. “I love New York, especially those lofts in SoHo. This building on Carlaw is as close as you can get to a SoHo loft in Toronto.”

Micheline Bartlett; Intercede Design

Micheline Bartlett has been at the helm of Intercede since 1981, which makes her firm one of the longest-lived practices in Toronto. She and her 13 co-workers toil primarily in the corporate sphere; recent projects include Citibank’s Canadian head office. While  she enjoys her
corner office overlooking Queen Street East, she can typically be found in the library, pondering a sample board. “The library is also the sample room and the hub of activity in our office, where we all get together to share ideas and brainstorm concepts,” she says.

Warming to the subject, the affable designer continues, “Most of the reps who visit comment on how we have one of the most extensive sample rooms in the city; a lot of design firms barely have one any more. Sure, you can always look at things online or order samples, but to have access to a pretty extensive selection of samples, then and there, allows us to service client needs more quickly. And, it’s stimulating.”