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Hilary Farr, Host of “Love It or List It”, Talks Success in Home Design

Photos: Courtesy of Catherine Nguyen

Using her mother as inspiration, Hilary Farr started designing in Toronto and hasn’t stopped since. Here, she tells us her story and how to excel in the world of design.

What about a career in home design first caught your interest?

I didn’t plan on having this career. Although, when I think about my background, it seems almost inevitable that this is what I do.

My mother was a big influence: very creative, curious about different cultures, and a collector. She had a great eye for design, and wonderful flair. She’d often take me with when she was shopping for our home. I’d see the results of what she had chosen and loved the way she transformed a room with new wallpaper or reupholstering a piece of furniture. She inspired me, and I inherited that same love of creating beautiful spaces for myself and friends. But I didn’t consider it as a career until I left Los Angeles for Toronto in the ‘90s.

Some of the Toronto houses were quite grand with no updates since god-knows-when. I couldn’t resist the chance to renovate them and hope that someone would appreciate them as a family home again. I always furnished them as I would want to live, and that staging became a business that led to clients and realtors wanting my services to sell their homes. And that led to my career in home design. A very long answer, which boils down to this: I have always loved creating beauty and design where none exists or has been lost, which I was lucky enough to be able to turn into a successful business.

What steps do you take during the planning phase of any project to ensure success?  

First, I take care to review the wishes and dreams of the homeowners. Then I work on the design from a purely functional point of view. Then we need to agree on a budget. My next step is to put those three elements together and come up with a list of priorities suggesting where we must pull back and where we can pull out all the stops and fulfill the dream. It’s a fine balance but it works — most of the time.

Is there one common obstacle/challenge which presents itself in each project you work on? If so, how do you overcome this? 

Communication is the biggest problem. I need to be sure I am letting the homeowners understand the constraints of the project, whether it’s space or costs, and they need to let me know exactly what they expect. There are so many moving parts to a design project dependent on other people. And then the homeowners often change their minds once they see the place taking shape, which can cause delays and increase costs. 

What is one trend in home design which you believe is going to make a big impact? 

I honestly don’t follow trends, so I don’t know exactly. But I think that with our current sense of uncertainty and turmoil, we want our home to be our sanctuary, our place of comfort, closeness, and safety. I see a lot of floral prints that are from a bygone era made modern with scale and color palettes. I think surfaces will be softer, warmer, and more matte, rather than a high gloss, stainless steel design that is cold and sleek. I could be totally wrong. Let’s see what happens?

What are some essential steps that every home owner to take to design their home in a more sustainable manner?  

This is a bewildering area. There are so many options out there, some of which are very costly and some of which don’t necessarily meet true sustainability standards. There are many companies, designers, and architects who are very committed to building and designing with the least impact on our planet. As individuals, I think the key is to do a lot of research to educate yourself on which options can work within your budget and the constraints of your home’s construction. But there are many things you can do that don’t cost a lot of money. Look at your lifestyle to see where you can make changes that conserve precious water and energy.

What is your favorite room in the house to design? 

The master bedroom. It’s the one room in the home that is just for you to indulge in creating the most perfect private, luxurious space to enjoy at the end of a hard day. 

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