Warren Gyulay and Diane Paz are co-founders of 1point0, a boutique interior design firm based in Toronto, Canada.
I first met Diane and Warren in autumn 2013 at HD Americas in Miami and was impressed with both their professionalism and engaging personalities. We shared a very enjoyable evening of eating, drinking and talking at length about interior design, the hospitality industry and (of course) art and photography.
The duo have produced many highly successful interiors projects during their respective careers. Today, as an entrepreneurial team, they are overcoming challenges not only related to meeting client requirements but also in managing and growing their design business.
In this article, Diane and Warren share their background and experience, business insights and creative process. Interior designers—both professionals and students—will find their story helpful and inspiring.
Please feel free to share your comments, questions and suggestions at the end of the article.
(Click each image to see a larger version.)
Nat: What is your current position? Please describe your role and responsibilities.
Diane: I am a Partner and Principal at 1point0, founded by myself and Warren Gyulay in 2009.
As a small business owner I, as well as Warren, tackle all duties. Warren and I typically will switch roles depending on the project, but overall, he will take charge of Project Management whereas I will typically take charge of studio work and we both like to be involved with client relations where possible.
Warren: My Current position is Principal/Partner/Owner of 1point0 Interior Design Consulting. My role is shared with my business partner, Diane Paz, in everything from the administrative to the design/documentation process that the profession requires.
Nat: How long have you worked as a professional interior designer?
Diane: I graduated in the year 2000; I’ve been working in the field full-time ever since. (I also did some internships while I was in school.)
Warren: I’ve worked as a professional Interior Designer for 7+ years to date. Prior to this, I had worked in related fields within the construction industry.
Nat: How did you get your start in the business?
Diane: I won the Gold medal in Environmental Design for my thesis year, I was offered 5 different jobs but I decided to contact Yabupushelberg, which was one of my favourite design firms in Toronto. I was offered a job by them even before graduation.
Warren: It was an interesting start; I signed up for an interview about a television show that was in the works of developing their second season: Design Interns.
Following the interview process, I was accepted as one of twelve participants. Going through 6 intense weeks of projects set out and coordinated by design firm Cecconi Simone and the production company, Firvalley Productions. I won the competition and received a one year internship with Cecconi Simone.
[Editor’s Note: Design Interns aired on HGTV; you can get more details on the show here and here.]
Nat: Please tell us about your interior design education and training.
Diane: I went to the Ontario College of Art and Design (now known as OCADU), studied Environmental Design, which in other parts of the world is known as Interior Architecture (a term not permitted in North America).
Warren: My education is vast and varying from starting at an early age, reading architectural plans and first mimicking them, then slowly altering them. I was intrigued by space planning at the time and always concerned about the use of space, scale and proportions from an interior perspective. Throughout high school, I was fortunate to belong to a school that has a tech-wing where I took drafting for 4 years as one of my course options throughout my term. From there, I entered into Sheridan College, taking the architectural science course and transitioned into architectural studies at Ryerson University.
Shortly thereafter, I switched into Interior Design at Ryerson University where I had acquired my degree in Bachelors of Interior Design. It has been a lengthy process but in hind-sight, worth every step along the way.
Nat: Please share a bit more about your design firm.
Diane: We are located in a lofty studio in the creative west end of Toronto, Canada. Being a young and small studio, we tend to hire people on contract, but because Warren and I have a wide knowledge and various creative and technical capabilities for all the different phases of a project, as a small business we keep most projects in house.
Nat: Can you tell us about how you formed your company?
Warren: After working for another design firm for just under two years, Diane and I decided mutually that we start our own design company as our talents and strengths varied yet complimented each other.
We formed the company during the middle of an economic downturn. The majority of large design firms were laying people off so we found this being the perfect time to begin our new venture. It was probably the best time to start as it granted us time to develop our business plan and progressively build our company internally and externally. Being a start-up, we remained competitive without compromising quality in service and design, which a lot of the larger firms had difficulty switching to as they obviously have many employees to look after.
This edge gave us a great kick-start forward and we haven’t looked back since!
Nat: Do you specialize in any particular types of interior design? Are there any design styles that you’re known for?
Diane: At 1point0 we specialize in premier hospitality, retail, commercial and multi-residential projects. We typically focus on modern design but we do enjoy juxtaposing the old with the new with a modern twist.
Nat: Can you tell us about your clientele?
Warren: Since we are a studio that is more geared towards commercial design, we do very little private residential design yet we do delve into multi-residential projects, as they both offer their unique characteristics that make our profession so exciting and rewarding. That being said, the majority of our work is commercially oriented, more specifically within the hospitality (hotel and restaurant), retail and entertainment realm.
Nat: What is your ideal project?
Diane: I believe most designers will say a wealthy client that gives them free range, but for me, that would be great but mostly I enjoy working with a client that is open to out-of-the-box ideas, that is willing to do something beautiful and that is passionate about their business, this helps us really create something wonderful together and the end result is always rewarding for everyone.
My ideal project would be where I could really design something that could give someone a truly amazing experience and they would always remember that place.
Warren: The obvious would be to say carte blanche and no budget restraints, as I’m sure anyone in our field would agree. Aside from this, an ideal project is always “the next one” as it always leads to new and exciting ideas and possibilities, allowing me to perpetually discover design and push my boundaries through these opportunities.
Nat: Please tell us about some of your favourite projects you’ve delivered for clients. What makes them special for you?
Warren: As unique and diverse are our projects, I can say our very first project was the one that I favourite the most. In part because it was our first project which made us feel ecstatic and say, yes, we really can do this, but also the Client-Designer collaboration that was established, grew into a relationship we value to this day.
In terms of a complete renovation project, Horseshoe Valley Resort in Barrie really stood out for us as something special. The resort was Established in 1962 with minimal design updates. We realized there was an intense task upon us to refresh Horseshoe’s 101 keys (rooms) as well as Horseshoe’s Conference Centre in 2012 with phase 2 taking place in 2013. The rooms provided a large template of space which allowed 1point0 to accentuate this rare offering and custom design furniture, fixtures and lighting that scaled and complimented the room proportionately. New electric-heat, floor-to-ceiling stone facade fireplaces along with new large-scale windows for uninterrupted views captured the essence that 1point0 wanted to concentrate on, the sense of welcome, warmth and wonder.
Upon redesigning the Conference area, office’s were moved and walls taken down to open the area around the floating staircase that takes you to the common/sitting area and rock garden. The Conference Rooms and washrooms were updated with new fabrics, fixtures, lighting, ceiling layouts along with custom millwork. It was a truly satisfying project from start to finish.
Nat: Please share some thoughts about your creative process and developing your design aesthetic.
Diane: Personally, my creative process begins by understanding what our client’s needs and requirements are; this is a key element in developing a creative project for me. From there I interpret and create spaces that will fulfill their needs in a new way. Often times I need to absorb all the information; let it incubate for a while, then I can begin to create something. I’m most often not the type to immediately come up with random ideas because I like to fully understand and digest and then produce something.
Warren: The creative process is just that, creative. Yes, structure to the chaos is important to provide oneself with direction and a schedule to follow, yet it’s best to keep the process fluid and dynamic throughout. Otherwise one’s intentions rarely never develop into what they could be.
The overall process is quite lateral in its approach: problem solving through vigorous conceptualization, innovation, constant and focused exploration … all with lots of passion.
To move forward, I typically implement with the intent to foster ideas, formulate the criteria, functionalize the forms through a schematic process, and then finalize the design, interweaving fun throughout.
It’s important to dialogue continually, share quick thoughts, sketch and bounce ideas/scenarios around with each other, making sure that all areas have been discovered so that one truly believes in what they are producing. A huge part of the creative process is believing in what one is doing, otherwise it becomes very apparent from early on that you’re not only wasting your own time but the client’s as well.
I take this approach and merge it with our philosophy where our design aesthetic develops. We do appreciate and practice modern, minimal design. But by keeping it fluid, other genres of style and aesthetic get introduced because each project is unique—and so are our clients—which gives each project that personal touch and makes it their own. As much as we have our beliefs and philosophy of design, it’s the client who will be the end user and should feel comfortable in the space(s) that we have transformed.
As for my design aesthetic, personally I have always leaned more towards minimalism and modernist design concepts and ideas. I am a believer in that there is beauty in simplicity. In fact, more times than not it is more difficult to keep something simple than to over design/decorate it. With simplicity there is also a truth to materials and always finding a clearer way to communicate a design in every way possible.
Overall, as 1point0, we prefer to transform spaces into more modern usable spaces while still respecting our clients aesthetics and ideals. We have had to work with more traditional clients and it often means merging modern concepts into a more traditional look, which we are OK with.
Nat: what do you love most about your job?
Diane: What has always kept me excited for the past 14 years is the idea of creating an experience for someone. It is incredible how consciously or subconsciously a space can affect a person and making a difference in their day to day interaction within a space is something truly rewarding.
As a business owner, what I truly enjoying seeing is how our clients benefit with increased business and more interest from their old and new clients alike.
Warren: What I truly love about my work is that it never seems to feel like work, no matter what part of the process I’m working on. I truly take pleasure in what I do and am extremely passionate about it. I also love the fact that I can be creative 24/7 and can share my ideas and designs with those that engage with us.
Design allows one to venture and branch into many related and sometimes non-related fields but the beauty is, everything is designed whether by nature or not, and this is what I truly love about design. It provides the constant adventure, knowledge-enriching experiences that helps me maintain an open mind and eye to everything that surrounds us.
Design, being a universal language, adds to the richness of the process where everyone can pretty much understand what is being produced from start to finish. Having this ability to share ideas collectively is a treasure in itself that I appreciate and value very much.
Nat: How would you describe your relationships with outside consultants, product suppliers and other people who help you produce your projects?
Diane: Coming from distinct backgrounds, Warren and I have an extensive network of consultants, suppliers, trades people, and other professionals and we are constantly on the lookout for new contacts.
We do work with some main suppliers but we also go to shows and exhibits to see what’s out there and make new contacts. We also receive many many emails and cold calls of people introducing their products and the ones we think we will use we will follow up with or keep in our files.
We are always open to new products and working with new suppliers.
Nat: Are there any notable design trends you find interesting?
Diane: Like fashion design, interior design can fall into trends, at 1point0 we try to stay away from that and prefer to design with the client’s needs in mind and develop a design that can have some longevity. It doesn’t mean we do not appreciate new materials and fixtures, on the contrary, we are always on the lookout for new products that show some technological advancement or sustainability.
I think the most interesting developments in design right now will be to see how 3D printing will affect our industry (or not). I’m excited to see this.
Nat: What types of challenges do you regularly encounter in your design projects?
Warren: Challenges are what makes every project unique, no matter how you try to categorize and define their outcome. Sometimes it could be the same type of challenge yet it has to be dealt with in a different manner to achieve what was always intended. That being said, communication is one of the most dynamic and diverse challenges as you are constantly formulating your ideas from drawings to words and/or conversations whether it be in email, verbal or telephone. I am constantly refining how I communicate to be efficient yet effective in order to minimize the ‘broken telephone’ effect, as we’ve come to know it.
Nat: What about any specific challenges in regard to your business operations?
Diane: As a growing company it has been crucial to get our name out there. We work with an amazing marketing/PR studio that has helped us but we are constantly working on our social media and web presence.
Also, finding good contractors has been a challenge. With so much construction in our city there is more demand than supply when it comes to construction and I believe there should be more qualifications for getting into construction.
Nat: How much work have you done on your marketing plan? Please share some of your thinking along the lines of sales and branding (and you don’t need to give away any secrets!).
Warren: From the start, the two of us have defined our brand into a belief/philosophy that we are both comfortable moving forward with yet allowing opportunities/avenues such as social media and other formats to express them in. As most know, there is always a right time to market and also when not to market. This is part of our strategy yet being diverse as we are, we like to maintain a flexible campaign that we can mould and share as and when needed.
Nat: I see you’re focusing more on projects in Latin America. Can you tell us more about this?
Warren: Latin America is very new to us, yet it is not. Diane had the fortune of living in South America for a few years and being exposed to the culture and language early on. It is new to me in terms of how they do business and intrigues me. It seems to be a very personal approach where the client must ‘feel’ comfortable and invite/welcome you into their world before any work and/or project is discussed. I actually like and appreciate this approach much more. There is very little of this type of business relationship building left in North America as to why I am excited about Latin America and its approach to opening up to North America.
At this moment in time, we are at the fruition of developing those relationships with Latin America and this approach takes time and must be nurtured and respected. Otherwise you get nowhere—the people of Latin America can tell right away if you are genuine or not. Therefore it is important to be honest with yourself and your intentions.
A current example of South America’s genuine hospitality is when Brazil lit Rio De Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue in red and white lights to honour Canada Day on July 1, 2014 in the midst of the World Cup Soccer games. It definitely symbolizes our relationship with Brazil, bestowing Canada and Canadians alike, which we very much appreciate.
Nat: What kinds of resources and activities do you use to continue honing your design skills and developing new business?
Warren: In terms of honing our skills, we continue to educate ourselves whether its attending lectures, taking courses or going to trade shows and showrooms which only enhances our core knowledge of the industry and discipline. These kinds of on-going skill-building activities and resources not only benefit us internally but our clients as well as they benefit from the vast knowledge and skills we continually acquire. To share resources that we typically use or visit would be Interior/Architectural/Graphic design based magazines and publications; current events that not only happen locally but nationally and internationally such as trade shows like NeoCon, The Interior Design Show, HDExpo, etc.
In terms of hard copy publications, we find Phaidon, Daab and Taschen always produce quality related material and El Croquis always provides very in-depth, quality publications regarding designers/architects works, essays and of the sort.
Nat: Continuing the above line of thought, what goals or aspirations have you defined for your design business going forward?
Diane: Going into our 5th year in business our main goal is to get 1point0 to the forefront and create more visibility nationally and internationally.
Nat: Is there any advice you’d give to a young designer starting out in the business?
Diane: Well the biggest advice I was always given was “stay in school”! But I’d like to give the opposite advice and say get in the field as soon as you can, start learning and asking and stay that extra hour and talk to Senior designers and try to understand what they do. You learn a lot in school, but I am a believer that in this field the real learning begins when you start working.
Volunteer, do internships, and be willing to do all aspects of the design process, not everyone can be a design superstar but it will help if you understand everything involved in making a design come to life, not just designing it.
Warren: Don’t get into Interior Design (it’s not as glamorous as you think) unless you are willing to make it a part of your life, dedicate endless hours and constantly educate yourself. Basically, if you do not intend to live, eat and sleep design, do something else. The level of passion defines you.