Interior designers have been known to enhance the aesthetics of spaces. However, Connie Young explains of how she innovates her designs to fit her clients’ ideas.
“I feel that design is a very important part of how our culture develops,” she explained. “Very important to contribute to experiences, creating experiences for people, not only where they live, but where they work, where they play, where they entertain.
“And we have the ability to create very beautiful environments that are meaningful and that support the way people live and their lifestyles, and really have an influence on the way a city feels, and generally the way people feel in their life.”
Young formed her company, Connie Young Design Collaborative, in Calgary in 1999. Three years ago she changed the name to Connie Young Design.
The firm is a “think tank” that works with clients from the conception of a project to its completion. Having been backed up by teams of architects, engineers, strategic branding specialists, contractors, tradesmen, and drawing technicians, her company has designed commercial — restaurants, spas, retail, corporate, hotels, etc. — and residential spaces for the past 18 years.
After realizing her passion for design at an early age, Young went on to study at the University of Manitoba where she achieved a bachelor’s degree in interior design and graduated with honours.
“I would do a lot of drawing, mostly in charcoal, painting. I love fashion, loved going to museums, galleries,” Young said. “So I had to figure out what avenue I took, so I took interior design.”
Young admits that while her “heart is in modernism, and very progressive design,” she and her team are able to create designs within and outside their areas of interest.
“Our style is very diverse,” Young said. “We mould our style to what’s right for the client and the project so my own style is very classic and timeless, more with a modern twist, but yet our ability is to do everything from extremely modern to extremely traditional.
“We have built our reputation on being innovators. Most of our clients come to us wanting out-of-the-box thinking and something that they haven’t seen before.”
“A BUILDING WITHIN A BUILDING”
“This ended up being a great house and an interesting challenge,” said Young of a home designed to accentuate the views of the park behind it in a neighbourhood in south Calgary.
“So the shell of the house is almost all window, except for the sides of the house, and the idea was to be able to create very individual spaces in the house without really building any walls, or walls in the traditional sense of the word.”
The clients wanted to separate the kitchen and the formal dining room while having to go through doorways. So an architectural block was created in the centre of the room, which happens to be a “hidden” powder room.
“So when that door closes, you actually don’t know it’s all wood panelling, and you’d actually don’t know that it is there. So it is like a secret door,” described Young.
“One side houses the mechanics and the main appliances of the kitchen and the other side is a part of the storage for the dining room … it’s like a building within a building,” she said.
“[It] creates a vehicle for separation but it ends up creating this incredible entity that’s this secret room, which when you walk in … is Ferrari red,” inspired by the client’s love for Ferraris, according to Young.
THE GRAND WORKSHOP
“Workshop was incredibly interesting and a challenging project,” Young recalled.
The Theatre Junction Grand approached Connie Young Design to help them figure out what to do with their space located next to the train station at Sixth Avenue and First Street S.W.
“We brainstormed a lot about how a restaurant could partner with them being a theatre, being a place to gather before and after the theatre, but then be its own entity as well,” explained Young. “One of the challenges,” she added, “is you have to walk right through the restaurant to actually get to the theatre, and that proved to be very challenging for an independent restaurant so a partnership was something they wanted to try and create.”
The theatre released a request for proposal that led to award-winning Calgary chef, Kenny Kaechele, and his team come in along with their idea of a restaurant that is now Workshop Kitchen + Culture.
“We collaborated together with the theatre to create a concept that we thought would work, and it was a very interesting process to be involved with the actual business plan as well,” Young said.
“We decided to treat it as a black box theatre,” she explained of the restaurant space that is designed similar to a theatre set.
Props and vintage theatre rigging were used to create an ambiance of a “giant stage set.”
“Furniture was a part of that stage set that moved around and changed and the space became very organic that way but really treated it like a set design.”
“Ten Foot Henry was a fantastic project to work with, fantastic clients, and this was their first venture, husband and wife, chef and operator,” said Young. “And they had a real, clear, vision on the food.”
The restaurant on First Street S.W. boasts a “plant-forward menu,” meaning more than half of the menu is plant-based.
“We started with the idea of a garden shed, you know, a garden and a greenhouse and the idea of a plant-forward menu, not a vegetarian menu but very plant-forward of the earth, natural, local,” Young explained.
“We started with this idea of the food being broken down to a very simple, very raw kind of ideal. So we took that to heart and designed the space that way.”
The interior of the restaurant is very skeletal, featuring raw elements from the use of plywood and construction materials such as a concrete board — usually placed underneath other materials — to form the walls and the noticeable structure of the place.
A lot of the furniture is reclaimed or vintage.
“So we had this idea about reclaim, re-use, raw, and everything really reflects the nature of the food that Steve is creating,” Young said.
Macramé hangs from the ceiling carrying pots of overflowing plants, creating a “nostalgic twist” to the comfortable environment laid out inside the restaurant’s walls.
Stephen “Steve” Smee, chef and co-owner of Ten Foot Henry, credits Young for her attention to detail mentioning that they would sometimes have five-hour meetings with Young to ensure that they go through all the project details with a “fine tooth comb.”
“When the client came to us to design Buttermilk, it was based on a concept of food that was very simple — Buttermilk waffles,” Young said.
The concepts that play around the design of the restaurant revolve around simplicity, home-goodness, friends and family gatherings, and the client’s idea of “waffles being such a comfort food.”
“So [Sam] travelled all over the world, researching waffles and in the end didn’t find anything better than his family’s own recipe. So we really built the design on thinking about home, thinking about simplicity.”
“She just kinda listened to me and paid attention to what I was talking about,” said Sam Friley, owner of Buttermilk Fine Waffles on 17th Avenue.
“She is very creative and she’s a very imaginative thinker,” Friley stated.
The tiles and the pattern art on the walls were all based off the squares of a waffle iron, “a grid module,” as Young explained.
Local materials, simple plywood and simple white tiles, not only scream simplicity but also carry a homey vibe.
“Simple, simple, simple was the mandate,” she said.
“It’s really about understanding the passion of the client and really running with that to create a concept.”
THE INNOVATION STUDIO
“I’m very hands-on,” said Young.
“We like to be able to pick and choose our projects. So we see ourselves as an innovative studio, therefore, we’ve kept really small,” she added.
“When we have clients that we design for, [we make] sure that we listen carefully. So we are pretty good at getting it right for the end user.”
But “[t]here’s always doubt,” Young admitted. “Not about ability or you know, what you can do. I think it’s more, always questioning whether you can be better. Always questioning whether you’ve done the best you can.
“That’s part of my philosophy, is to question, ask lots of questions,” she said. “Make sure we check things and check things again and I mean as a designer you can create forever and, is anything ever finished? I think no. But there has to be a time, when it’s the right thing for the right project and the right reason, you know when it’s right.
“We design always in a very holistic way where function, form, and design always having a meaning and a concept.”
Editor: Ian Tennant | firstname.lastname@example.org