Alda Pereira decided from the start she wouldn€™t be one to follow the rules—and it's been a winning decision.

The year is 1987. The world was in an all-too-familiar state for us future-dwellers here in 2010—knee-deep in recession. It’s also the year that Alda Pereira graduated from an interior design program at Kwantlen University College; she entered the working world at a time when the working world didn’t have a lot to offer back. So she did exactly what she wasn’t supposed to: she opened her own business. “The first rule they teach you is to never start a business straight out of design school,” she says, smiling, as we sit on the back patio of a Pereira-designed home. “And I broke that rule right away.”

Alda Pereira

Pereira launched her business from her home at 12th Avenue and Granville Street—one of those legendary historic buildings in Vancouver where, she says, “everyone does their time.” (Among her fellow tenants, a young unknown musician named Sarah McLachlan and this magazine’s assistant editor.) She started small: her neighbour needed help designing a new salon. But small resulted in big rewards: that first project nabbed her a gold award from the Interior Designers Institute of British Columbia. Not a bad way to launch a career.

Fortunately for Pereira, she wasn’t one to burn bright and fade away. Within a few years she’d caught the attention of legendary design magazine Metropolitan Home, which named her one of four “Bright Talents” in North America in 1996. And, by the year 2000, Canadian House & Home had named her one of the top designers in Canada.

Those out-of-the-gate accolades allow a designer to be a little bolder. In Pereira’s work, you never see a shrinking wallflower looking to please the multitudes. Even when she started designing multi-family homes 10 years ago—the kind of work that sometimes sucks a designer into generic, please-everyone spaces—Pereira’s knack for pairing the unusual with the well-tailored served her well. While some developers opt for middle of the road—a modest beige sofa here, an inoffensive settee there—Pereira has the kind of clout that sways the ones with the dollars to give in to her vision. (And it pays off: search Alda Pereira’s name with “condo” and you’ll see dozens of advertisements laying claim to her design genius.) So a recent project near Vancouver’s Olympic Village featured a small office space with a boldly painted canary-yellow wall and a rainbow-striped chair; another in Yaletown showcased a bedroom where the graphic headboard was actually wallpaper—which continued onto the ceiling and over the bed itself. Hardly vanilla design.

Midcentury modern breakfast nook

Her finesse for condo living didn’t go unnoticed: one developer named his building after her (the Alda) and Oprah Winfrey branded Pereira a small-space expert—then flew her down to make over one viewer’s Chicago apartment for an on-air special. It was the kind of attention a young Vancouver designer could only dream of—despite having to pull together a reno in just four days in a city she knew nothing about. “They gave us a room with a computer and said ‘Get businesses to donate materials,’” she says. “‘And we’re shooting on Monday.’ It was probably the most stressful four days of my entire existence. But would I do it again? Absolutely.”

Dining room

She had an easier time designing the West Vancouver home we’re relaxing in today. The place is pure Pereira—from the cool West Coast palette of greys, browns and blues (inspired by a coat the homeower was wearing when they first started planning) to the wow moments seen in a chandelier discovered in the Lincoln Center or a set of violet-coloured accent chairs in the dining room. There are calming details, too: a rich walnut millwork, for example, that lines the kitchen, the stairwells and the bar downstairs, all harvested from a single tree. It’s the kind of just-right house that brings industry accolades to Pereira’s firm and, more importantly, draws homeowners and developers to her work year after year.

And it’s just the kind of work that made judge Paul Lavoie exclaim, “Wow! Unique interiors, unique executions.” Judge Kelly Deck agreed, saying, “Perfectly executed—Alda is both artist and designer.”

BedroomOutdoor Kreiss chairs