interior designers of canada designers d'intérieur du canada
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By Marilyn Donoghue

This year is a truly momentous occasion as IDC celebrates 50 years as a force in interior design. I have many recollections and thoughts about IDC, ARIDO, and the industry events since 1972.

Life in the design world began with my degree from the University of Manitoba in 1957 in Interior Design in the Architecture Faculty under the head, Joan Harland.  The University of Manitoba was the oldest and only school of interior design in Canada. Joan Harland, an architect herself, saw the need for a design curriculum focused on the skills such as program development, conceptual design, and integration into built design, together with skills in drafting, colour, textiles, and other design elements.

When I look back to Canada in the late ’50s, the design world was just awakening and the future of industry, construction, and integration of interior design into the existing built environment was evident but limited. The year before l entered, the university had veterans in the courses sponsored by the government. The world wars were behind us, and we followed major developments of design in the Scandinavian countries, Hans Wagner, Fritz Hansen, and particularly Germany and the Bauhaus.  We all loved Mies Van Der Rohe, Florence Knoll, and the work of George Nelson, Charles and Ray Eames, and Alexander Girard and used them and their products in every project. Like all students, we had no idea about costs.

Design projects, which we were trained for were few, scattered across Canada. Paint stores, and furniture stores and suppliers to the industry were available as were drafting, and colour selection for architect and engineering firms.

I returned to Calgary from Winnipeg in 1957 and was fortunate to work for the architectural firm designing the new Calgary airport, McCall Field, and later a leading furniture store. Suppliers of goods were limited, showrooms non-existent, sources were all in Toronto or surrounding towns, or the US.  Deliveries were at the mercy of the supplier, and the railroad freight rates. The latter almost destroyed Canada as a country separating west and east with high shipping rates. Good deliveries were never on time, with excuses of trucks circulating the building looking for a parking place, not being able to cross the border, or other nonsense. Credibility and trust were huge problems with clients. It was also basically a residential market.  Furniture for the average family was ordered by clients from Eaton’s catalog.

Frustration drove me to the sources of the industry, and I decamped to Montreal.  A building boom was beginning to transform Montreal in 1962 with the construction of Place Ville Marie designed by Zeckandorf and I.M. Pei from New York, The Bank of Montreal, and Aluminum Company of Canada were the primary tenants. DuPont of Canada was upgrading their building, also in downtown Montreal. Toronto was not far behind with the building of the CIBC tower by the Zeidler Partnership. I was employed by a branch in Montreal of a New York firm, designing offices to occupy Place Ville Marie. My first activity was a conference on the 41st floor, a space without their windows and still under construction to encourage new tenants for the complex. Awesome view but wind sweeping in, a bit too scary for a prairie girl. Major tenants I worked with were Imperial Oil (Esso) and Expo 67 offices. This exhibition was the catalyst for design both in Canada, and exhibition countries and new ideas were flowing everywhere. It was a very exciting time. The Quebec interior design organization, SIDQ (Society of Interior Designers of Quebec,) founded in 1933 intrigued me. However, it was basically residential design, and I turned to the industrial design organization just being formed and contributed to their policy development. In 1968 I left Montreal and moved my firm to Ottawa.

The federal government was becoming active in their own building boom, and I commenced work in 1969 on their first building, housing National Defence, all 1,400 personnel for one building. The army had never shared their defence requirements and secrets with a designer, much less a woman, particularly for the war room, as they called it. They assigned an officer who was at my elbow, while I toured the existing buildings, and the site of the new one during construction, which included my visits to the washroom, and guarding the door. We somehow got through the design requirements.

Toronto, like Montreal, was moving on its own building boom. I looked into the design organization in Ontario, which was also mainly residential. IDO (Interior Designers of Ontario) had been organized in 1934 and the leading designers in Toronto were well known in the residential field: John North and W. Edgar Noffke to name several. I joined them in 1970.

In 1971 there was a momentous change in the structure of the organization. The younger designers, educated at Ryerson, the University of Manitoba, and the Ontario College of Art, revamped the organization and a trio of designers, Ken Thompson, Jack Bell, and Howard Taylor took the reins for three consecutive years as President.

Andre Dubois of Montreal and SIDQ showed an interest in a national organization and met, on several occasions in 1971 with the Ontario group culminating in a joint meeting in Ottawa organized by Howard Taylor and me. It was financially supported by a grant from Design Canada and was held at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa. A group comprising members from Ontario, Quebec, B.C., Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia met over three days and got to know each other, enjoyed the tulip festival while discussing membership, ethics, and dues; and developed, the nucleus for a charter. IDO’s constitution was the framework used and the corporation was established in 1972. Andre Dubois served as the first President, Michel McLaughlin Guest as Vice President, and Jack Bell as Treasurer. I served to assist Jack as Treasurer, and Doris Hasell was Secretary.

Membership would be extended automatically to the provincial organization professional membership and dues would be based on the number of members in each organization,  paid by the provincial organization. As I recall it was $10 per individual. Each province was to determine how the internal fee would be handled. To my recollection there were approximately 1200 members, the largest contingent was from Quebec with roughly 600 followed by Ontario with 400, and the balance in Sask, Alta, BC, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia. New Brunswick and Newfoundland were not organized. Meetings would follow the President to the provincial organization but it later developed it would be more appropriate to have an additional a meeting held in Toronto to take place at the interior design show called IIDEX, which would benefit both the members of IDC and others who wanted to take part in the exhibition and seminars offered.

In 1974, the organization moved to B.C. with Michelle McLaughlin as President. I remember the meetings in B.C. where a number of Quebecers had not traveled beyond their borders, and it opened up their eyes to the strength of design and their support for the organization and Canada nationally. It was the same for the meeting held in Hubbard, Nova Scotia close to Halifax. It was an organization, sharing design philosophy, and mutual goals and objectives.

In 1974-75, I took over the Presidency. Financing was a challenge. Quebec was not prepared to remit based on its membership and would not charge each member individually. Rather, the onus was transferred to the individual member to determine if they wished to join and to deal directly with IDC. I met with the President of the Quebec organization Jacque Viau, personally as I had worked in Quebec and IDC took over the responsibility of discussions with each member.  Many members opted out with a substantial reduction in numbers. An office for IDC was also established in Ottawa, and a secretary looked after the files. Much of my work at the office was contacting and soliciting fees from individual members in Quebec with the help of Jacques Viau and Denis Chouinard.

Following my Presidency, Ron Veitch became President. A professor at the University of Manitoba, Ron was also a member of a group founding IDEC along with Diane Jackman, further developing the requirements of qualification for interior Design schools.

Ron’s daughter was working on her Ph.D. at the National Research Council focusing on sound and its transmission in open office interiors. I incorporated these ideas with “bureaulanshaft” and applied them to National Defence’s new open plan systems. This too was innovative, and I saw the need for more direct research and development into technology, which should be the responsibility of the Interior Design Foundation through grants and scholarships financed by the industry. With new concepts of design, it is necessary for the development of a knowledge base in design elements where designers can contribute substantially.

The Federal government has some 57 departments with HQ in Ottawa and Gatineau and over a million square feet of office spaces that needed new offices, consolidation, and redesign, most of it occurring over several years in the early ’80s. I, along with a staff of designers, was responsible for the generic program development, the criteria, specifications, and the budgets for tendering. It was an opportunity for design firms in Ontario and Quebec, and indeed all of Canada to undertake design work with the federal government. These were stand-alone design projects, which would integrate with the architecture and engineering of the projects.  It also gave me the experience to meet and review the designers and the work of many design firms from coast to coast.

On a personal level, my work also included design on Parliament Hill, involving the Cabinet Room and Prime Minister Rt. Honorable Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s office in the Center Block as well as in the Langevin Building.

In 1981 Canada was host to the G7 summit held in Montebello, Quebec. The Chateau Montebello, a CPR luxury hotel made of B.C. lodgepole pine was converted to meet the organization’s requirements, with the help of the Chateau Frontenac, also under my purview.  It was the early development of the wire world and Japan arrived with every possible electrical device known and blew the systems. I did not know my design responsibilities involved finding transformers in the province on a Sunday, eight hours before the conference opened.

I was also responsible for the Office Residences of Canada, which saw work at 24 Sussex, Rideau Hall, and the Citadel in Quebec City for Governor General Mdme Sauve. The residence was partially destroyed by fire. The documents (scope of work) for the Official Residences were also developed prior to transfer to the National Capital Commission.

In the early ’80s, IDO was broken into separate cities to provide more direct activity within the organization. Eastern Ontario Chapter was established in Ottawa, and I served as President there as well, while at the same time as President of the American /Canadian organization known as Upstate New York/ Canada East division of ASID.  Fellow members of IDO, Eleanor Brydone, Susan Mole, Dee Chenier, and Vaughan Dues were also heavily involved, and Eleanor Brydone served as national president of ASID.

I was invited to sit in on the discussions for the revised Foundation for Interior Design Education (FIDER) program in Chicago (now known as the Council for Interior Design Accreditation), and subsequently acted as a Visitor Chair in the review of a number of universities for qualification for FIDER. One I particularly liked was Pratt Institute in New York (Brooklyn). This school had been the basis for the design course at the University of Manitoba, so I was fascinated to see its origins. Others included the University of California/Berkley, Mount Royal College at Calgary, University of Indiana, and Texas State at Austin, Texas.

I returned to serve as President of the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario (ARIDO) in 1990. My experience and understanding of government put me in a good position, and with the help of Brian Hay, and team members, Lynn McGregor and Peter Grimley we met with the Minister of Justice, and subsequently the government of Ontario to present the ARIDO brief for the designation of Registered Interior Designer, the fruition of many years of long work and advocacy on the part of many members of ARIDO.

While I am a Life member of ARIDO and a Fellow of both ARIDO and IDC I don’t seem to have retired. While in Singapore I was asked to write a paper on design in the Environment in the city of Singapore, which I hope to have published. In addition, I was part of a team to address Aging in Place, for which I feel particularly qualified, in Singapore at the University of Singapore, along with Dr. Carol Tan, a doctor of gerontology heading a group on Wellness.

I see a great future in design, particularly along the lines of research including the impact of design in many environments. In the building industry, we are gaining a seat at the table of multidisciplinary organizations as we progress on the quality of life and the impact we can make on the interior of all the habitats where we work, live, and socialize.

It’s hard not to allow the last two years to influence my current thoughts. Workplaces are continuously evolving, and we are yet again in a phase of great change, and with that, there is a need for confidence and the educated insight of those who create spaces for great ideas to develop and flourish.

I also see an expansion of the Foundation of Interior Design, into strong research and integration into the body of knowledge of Interior Design to face that future.