Commercial Interior Design with SDI Design

Commercial Interior Design with SDI Design

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In the past few weeks we’ve interviewed a couple of talented professionals right here in the GTA who specialize in various fields of design, from interior design and architecture to home staging,  decorating and customized furniture. Continuing our series, this week we sat down with Joanne Chan from SDI Design to talk about commercial interiors, interior design trends and what’s next for the industry.

SDI Design has been focused on commercial interiors for almost 40 years. Joanne joined the company in 2001, working closely with founding partner and architect Matthew Shuster to expand the firm. Since then, SDI has grown from a 3-4 person operation to a mid-sized firm that Joanne now leads. She’s proud of the diversity reflected in her team, and she believes in collaboration.

LR: Okay starting with the tough question here. As you know, there are a lot of commercial design firms in the GTA. What sets you apart?

Joanne Chan

Joanne: Great question, and you’re right, that is tough! For me, I take a lot of pride in the fact that we’re a diverse, women-led company with seven nationalities represented on our team. With everyone coming from such unique personal and professional backgrounds, it brings a lot of different influences and approaches to our work, which is why I value collaboration. Everyone has something to offer, regardless of age or background.

LR: Thats wonderful to hear, especially as diversity and inclusion are such a big conversation right now.

Joanne: Absolutely, but we’ve been this way from the beginning so these are values that are baked in our company right from its inception. We also design with a lot of empathy. It’s an approach that residential designers use a lot, but I strongly believe it’s important in commercial projects as well. To give you an example, we work with a lot of non-profits who aren’t necessarily looking for glamour or that wow factor, so taking that into consideration we’ll focus more on functionality, ergonomic efficiency, staying on-budget, those kinds of things.

LR: Sounds like you put a lot of thought into your designs. For our readers who own businesses and are looking at commercial design, what would you encourage them to think about?

Joanne: We would recommend looking for ways to balance form with function. Of course that depends on the space and whether or not you’re looking to showcase your brand identity or create a high-performance culture, but generally speaking it’s important to think about how you’ll be using the space to create a positive environment, rather than just applying trendy elements to it. That’s a tip you can even take into your home or living space, and it doesn’t have to be boring or entirely utilitarian.

Think about investing in a piece of beautiful furniture that will grow old with you. It’s okay to buy from IKEA, but there’s something to be said about that once piece that’s dear to you. A lot of people nowadays live in smaller spaces so it’s even easier to buy that one special piece and let it last. There’s a trend in Denmark where people buy one chair a year so it takes six years to have a full dining set, but all those pieces are well-made, with real wood, and you can pass them onto your kids and grandkids.

LR: So less really is more with interior design?

Joanne: It really is.

LR: Is this a trend youve been seeing lately? Another designer we interviewed mentioned that trends seem to happen in commercial spaces first and then trickle down into residential interiors. Would you say thats true?

Joanne: I’d say there’s some truth to that, but things are changing now with the shift to remote work. Residential development is booming because of the pandemic, and we’re seeing the lines between private and public spaces get blurred. Homes have to function as work spaces, gyms, cafés and retreats and that’s affecting how we think about design. What’s been happening over the past two years, it’s changing our world and design has to adapt to that.

LR: So, what kinds of changes have you been seeing in your industry? Have you been able to adapt?

Joanne: Well when the city shut down last year, we had to revisit some of our design aspirations. We had to consider how can we be more flexible, more adaptive? Even in the retail space, the landscape is changing. Toronto’s seen this explosion in cannabis stores, and the cost of real estate has gone up across the board, for commercial as well as residential.

Before the pandemic there was this trend of pop-up shops and I think that’s going to continue as prices keep rising, because it’s a way for businesses and brands to lower their overhead costs by sharing space. So, we have to design with that in mind.

LR: Ive definitely noticed a lot of shops downtown that seem to be about two different concepts or things. Is this something you think will continue into 2022?

Joanne: Absolutely. The cost of real estate has sparked this new interior design trend of integrated spaces where you can for example walk into a shop and get your coffee and a croissant and then browse through a rack of vintage vinyl. It’s no longer about going somewhere just to buy your stuff and then leave, because people can do that online now.

I think we’re going to see this continuing on for the foreseeable future, because nowadays to make it worth your while to have a brick-and-mortar shop, you need to really offer your customers an experience, not just a product or service. So, when we design for that, we focus on these very tactile, sensual elements that are functional and inviting.

LR: I can tell that youre really passionate about your interior design work. What is it that you enjoy most right now?

Joanne: Right now? Probably the same thing I’ve always loved about interior design. Solving problems, making design more easy and accessible for everyone. But most of all I love setting goals for myself that are ambitious but achievable. I like to challenge myself in a way that I know is still possible to accomplish and that I can look forward to completing. It’s such a confidence boost when I do!

LR: I wouldnt have thought someone with your caché would ever need a confidence boost, but I guess its a good reminder to all of us that no matter where were at in our personal and professional lives, its so important to have something that youre always working towards.

Joanne: Absolutely, it’s what will keep you going!

If you have a space that you’d love to get Joanne’s expertise on, you can find her (and her amazing work!) at You can also connect with her on Instagram @sdi_designinc, Facebook @sdiinteriordesign and LinkedIN @SDI Design.

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