Luxury is a State of Mind: Chapi Chapo Design

Chapi Chapo Design bring their deep experience working with luxury hotel and resort brands to a variety of residential projects that balance opulence with the practical realities of urban living.

How do you define luxury? Is it, always, about a stratospheric price tag, allowing the one percent to have things that we lesser mortals aren’t entitled to? Chapi Chapo Design doesn’t think so.

The Toronto-based design firm’s work expresses the idea that quality is a state of mind, a way of designing that when properly applied, can elevate projects at any target income level, from mid-size, mid-market condos to hotels, spas, retail and wellness centres.

The firm’s unorthodox name — pronounced Sha-PEE Sha-PO — comes from a French children’s cartoon from the 1970s about an inventive little boy and girl who solved problems using tools they made out of blocks and other nearby objects. For co-founders Tatiana Sheveleva and Boris Mathias, that spirit of inventiveness and adaptability applies perfectly to their firm: their philosophy is that luxury, elegance and smart design don’t have to be restricted to only the most affluent but can be achieved as well or even better through intelligent planning, creativity, and knowing where to invest for highest return.

Born and raised in Paris, Mathias began his career building custom homes and condos, with a sideline in city planning projects. His path eventually led to designing retail stores for LVMH’s Givenchy brand, and later for Lancôme, where the exacting design guidelines included creating display trays that would fit every Lancôme pencil made in the last 50 years.

“[Luxury] retail is all about how you ‘grab’ the client,” he says. “At Givenchy, the design had a sense of ‘unfolding’” — of dressing — “the same way you’d dress, from belts and accessories to coats and shoes.” His retail work eventually brought him here on a temporary permit, which ended in a job offer; at the time he was in the final stages of earning his architecture license and turned it down. But he had fallen in love with Canada, and a few years later, moved with his family and settled here permanently.

Sheveleva grew up in Kazakhstan, where early on her mother and grandmother instilled in her a sense of style and luxury on a budget. “My mother used to sew collars and cuffs that you could put on an outfit and completely change it; she was very creative that way.”

After emigrating to Canada and earning her degree from the International Academy of Design, she became good friends and frequently teamed up with Boris at the major Toronto firm where they both worked, and when he struck out to launch Chapi Chapo Design, he invited her to join him. Today, Tatiana mostly focuses on five-star hospitality projects around the world, including local luxury hotels like the St. Regis, Ritz Carlton, and Intercontinental Hotel.

Their mix of backgrounds and fresh, creative approach to designing led to success almost from the start. Their early commissions included very high-end residential — the kind of work that’s so exclusive, they can’t even show it on their website — and became an excellent training ground for later work in hospitality and relatively more reasonably price levels.

Originally a cramped, closed-off room at the back of the house, the kitchen received a total rethink more in tune with the needs of the family. As elsewhere on the main level, sliding doors work to adjust its relationship with adjacent rooms, from open and expansive to cocooned and contained. (Photo by Scott Norsworthy)

“What interests me is the challenge of applying the same ‘bespoke’-style value to a mid-high market,” says Mathias. Luxury is easy when you have unlimited funds, he observes; it’s when you have a strict budget that you must think creatively about how to maximize value at a price, which is much more interesting.

“To us, luxury isn’t just about money so much as it’s about timelessness, and about very high standards,” says Sheveleva. “It’s really about putting your investment into details that really matter: functionality, comfort, versatility, quality.”

Since the owners and their family, all musicians, frequently have friends over for jam sessions, the living room has a lounge lizard, speakeasy vibe, with instruments on display and photos of pop stars like Cher and the Who for atmosphere. (Photo by Scott Norsworthy)

Forest Hill residence

The design team had worked with this family before, building their Muskoka cottage, so was familiar with how they lived. “Just as with condos and hospitality projects,” says Mathias, “it always starts with the client’s own experiences.” A prime objective was to improve the circulation in this older home, whose main floor was chopped up into small rooms and hallways. Most walls were removed and replaced with sliding doors, facilitating a transformation of relationships between rooms, opening or segregating them as needed.

As elsewhere on the main level, sliding doors work to adjust its relationship with adjacent rooms, from open and expansive to cocooned and contained. (Photo by Scott Norsworthy)

Also, the whole family are keen musicians and music fans. Mathias and his team created a living room “speakeasy” tailor-made for jam sessions, with a well-appointed bar at one end. It’s the perfect setting for the family’s collection of limited-edition photos of rock stars like Bob Dylan and Cher.

The family are also movie buffs, so in the basement home theatre, comfort reigns. Since this level gets little natural light, the designers played up the drama with cove lighting and recessed illumination where the floor steps down. (Photo by Scott Norsworthy)
In the principal ensuite, softened textures and tones are brightened by abundant natural and added light, mirror, and glass. “We think about perspective a lot,” says Mathias. “It’s about ‘filtering’ views, day and night experiences, and controlling mood with lighting.” (Photo by Scott Norsworthy)

AKRA Living Condominium

Located in the youthful, high-energy Yonge-Eglinton neighbourhood, AKRA was targeted at a young-and-eligible crowd with a distinct orientation towards health and wellbeing. Chapi Chapo Design took the concept a step further, to provide sanctuary from the bustling neighbourhood outside.

Chapi Chapo Design have helmed the interiors for several new Toronto condo projects built by real estate developer Curated Properties, including AKRA Living.

The clearest example is in the lobby, which Mathias describes as a graduated “decompression chamber.” The front entrance opens to a smartly designed concierge area, with comfortable, rounded furnishings beneath an undulating mezzanine, to a mailbox area partially secluded by a wall (as the experience becomes more personal), then finally to elevators and hallways to the spa and other communal spaces. “We wanted to mix the exterior and interior spaces as a seamless transition. With Yonge-Eglinton as such a rigid, hard experience, we wanted to bring in an organic, soft element thorough curves and soft lines.”

At AKRA Living, the lobby is dominated by double height ceilings and pre-programmed lighting levels based on the time of day to support healthy circadian rhythms.

8 Temple

By contrast, 8 Temple’s audience is older and more established: families or professional couples/roommates, with an emphasis on two-bedrooms and two-plus-dens, but designed for a mid-high rather than luxury resident. Consequently, more space was allocated to family-focused features like dining rooms and great kitchens, without necessarily adding more square footage to the unit (which adds cost).

At 8 Temple, Chapi Chapo focused on an elevated palette that aligns with the developer’s vision of a more sophisticated condo experience.

Communal spaces are oriented towards socializing, gathering spaces and WFH facilities, complete with private booths for quiet phone conversations and a comfortable sitting area off the lobby with a fireplace for meetings or conversations outside your suite. The design is impressive in style, rather than expensive finishes: from the temple-like arched entrance through a stylishly appointed lobby to suites that emphasize intelligent space planning and great views rather than conspicuous consumption or squandered space.

Altea Active

Billed as an 89,000-sq.-ft. “urban playground” of fitness, wellness and social amenities inside a condo in Liberty Village, Altea Active posed a challenge in that patrons have different goals on different days, or even within the same visit. The client who comes to the yoga studio might seek a calming, Zen experience, while a gym goer, spinning enthusiast or someone who comes to patronize the nightlife at Catalyst, the resident lounge, wants an energizing, stimulating atmosphere. In both overt and subtle ways, the design supports the mood in each particular section.

Canadian active lifestyle brand Altea Active commissioned the firm for their flagship social wellness club on the second and third floors of a new rental residential project in Toronto’s Liberty Village, featuring two levels of wellness-inspiring fitness and social spaces. (Photo by Erich Saide)

The yoga studio is reached through a sequence of hallways and ante-spaces in earth tones, greenery and natural wood, softly textured walls, and organic lines such as curved archways. The high-energy spaces reach their apotheosis in Catalyst: a central lozenge-shaped bar, set beside a wildly coloured abstract art mural, offers a strictly no-judgment range of offerings, from juices and healthy meals to steak and a cocktail.

Catalyst will provide a sit-down social lounge for members with a sustainable, good-for-you-focused food menu as well as a robust cocktail menu. (Photo by Erich Saide)

As featured in the March/April 2024 issue of Canadian Interiors magazine.