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5 minutes with the Top 5: Mel Sanderson

Mel Sanderson, designstead


mel1) What did it mean to you to be named one of IDC’s Top 5 Under 5 Emerging Interior Designers for 2013?

I was very honoured to be declared one of the winners of this nation-wide contest. Having just graduated from the Ryerson School of Interior Design, I was slightly reluctant, as I consider so many of my peers and former classmates to be much more talented and innovative than I am! I wish there could be a “Top 50” award to acknowledge the many gifted interior designers whose diverse talents and abilities make all of them to follow and celebrate. Peter Heys of IBI Group introduced me to the competition and I was extremely proud to live up to his belief in me.


2) What inspired you to become an interior designer?

It seems inevitable that I chose to become an interior designer. I was fortunate to have a family whose interests exposed to me to the world of design. My grandfather was an engineer, furniture designer, gifted painter and photographer. Several family members worked at the National Gallery of Canada; my aunt Karen worked there for her entire career, her mother was a docent and lectured in architecture and design, and my grandmother was a volunteer. My aunt Sue is a scientist and together with my mystery-solving mother, they taught me to attack problems with perseverance and dedication. My father was also an entrepreneurial architect to whom I owe a lot. Together they exposed me to a world of art and design that I am forever grateful for.


3) What advice do you have for other interior designers in the first five years of their career?

My advice for other emerging interior designers is to approach the profession with an open mind and a willingness to take the time to find the niche in design where you are most comfortable. Interior design is a diverse profession with room for creative people of all kinds. I think it is important to find the place that suits you best, whether it be a traditional form, such as hospitality or corporate design, or whether it be more academic or artistic in nature. It is helpful to be open to opportunities, to be involved and to gain exposure to all that design has to offer. Whenever possible, travel can be beneficial. Seeing art and architecture in different cities and countries of the world can open your eyes to the marvels that design has to offer.


4) You will need to start thinking about writing the NCIDQ exam soon – are you ready? How are you preparing?

It is important for me to obtain my NCIDQ certificate, so I plan on writing my first NCIDQ exam in the fall of 2014. As an ARIDO Intern, I am taking all the necessary steps to remain on track. It helps to work with others who have written the exam and to ensure that my daily work offers exposure to the variety of challenges that will be tested.


5) By becoming a Top 5 for 2013, you received an extensive prize package including airfare and accommodation to IIDEX Canada, participating in the Top 5 roundtable, a trophy designed by Tim Forbes presented to you during the IDC Annual Meeting, access to showroom parties and tours sponsored by Interface and Knoll, and dinner at one of Toronto’s chicest restaurants through Dine by Design. Which part was most meaningful and what did you take away from the experience?

As the only one of the 2014 Top 5 living in downtown Toronto, I am lucky to be exposed to many of the design resources that the city has to offer. Both Mahesh Babooram from Interface and the Knoll team, including Judy Brant and Chris Knoll, were wonderful people who have also helped me with work projects. I had a great time at the ARIDO Awards -- it was wonderful to see so many talented firms being celebrated.


6) Where do you see yourself five years down the road? Ten years?

In five years, I hope to still be working as an interior designer. Currently, I find it exhilarating to work as a designer -- to be able to be artistic and challenged daily. I feel very lucky to have found a profession that I love. I hope to continue being creative, making use of new technologies to streamline the design process and allow more time for innovation. In ten years, I hope to be an expert. I’m not sure in which area of interior design I will specialize, but time and experimentation will allow me to figure that out.


7) How do you define sustainable design, and what significance does it hold for your generation?

I am concerned that the expression “sustainable design” is not always used as it should be. The label is frequently slapped onto the side of a project like a sale sticker. People then think that something is being saved when they actually are being duped. I believe that “sustainable design” should mean “responsible design,” where designers are accountable for their choices – where their decisions take into account the implications for the health, safety and well-being of occupants, as well as the impact (short and long term) on the environment and on communities. I am interested in a diversity of low tech strategies, balanced with the latest material and technological innovations. I think it is really important to be educated and stay current with regard to a variety of design possibilities.

8) How do you feel your winning design solution expresses the values of your generation?

I consider my design solution to be unique in that it is less about artistic expression and more about creative problem solving. When responding to the design challenge, I became interested in the various needs of the women in the WELNEPAL network: their goals, their daily lives and the challenges they face. The solution was about creating an adaptable marketplace and community space that could transform easily throughout the day, and one that takes advantage of local materials and construction techniques. It is not anything fancy or overly complicated, and I am proud of it. I thoroughly enjoyed the research and the challenge. I think the solution speaks to the adapting focus and new values of my generation; leaning more towards people than profit, and focusing on curating and editing rather than consumerism. I think that our generation has an amazing access to information and tools that enable us to understand and thoughtfully respond to the design challenges of the world.

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Benjamin Moore Knoll Architex