Western Living Magazine
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Introducing Western Living’s 2023 Designers of the Year Award Winners
WL Architectural Designer of the Year 2023: SMStudio
The duo behind Falken Reynolds create quietly confident designs that celebrate that sweet spot: where function and beauty are one and the same.
If you follow Falken Reynolds on Instagram—and you’d be among the 22,000+ people who do—you’d know that the designing duo behind the moniker, Chad Falkenberg and Kelly Reynolds, are regular attendees of Milan’s Salone del Mobile, the largest furniture fair in the world. You’ll have seen them touring flagship design stores, highlighting design trends, popping behind the scenes at manufacturing facilities, exploring the city—and sit-testing a whole lot of sofas.
Because this year’s WL Interior Designers of the Year understand that for design to be truly great, it must be intimately connected with livability. And a beautiful, on-trend sofa isn’t going to make anyone happy if it won’t stand up to a Netflix binge or three.
Partners in business and in life, Falkenberg and Reynolds created their firm just over 10 years ago after Falkenberg had studied design in Barcelona and then worked with legendary Vancouver interior designer Robert Bailey. Reynolds’s career path, meanwhile, took him from sailor in the Navy to officer at the Vancouver Police Department jail to his own interior design studies in Vancouver—with the push to take up the field inspired in no small part by working at (and deeply admiring) a Bailey-designed hotel. A decade into their practice, they now lead a team of seven, with over 30 projects on the go. Most are based the Lower Mainland and Whistler, but clients in Alberta, Nova Scotia, the U.S. and Mexico have sought them out to bring their firm’s brand of quietly confident design out from the West Coast.
At its heart, a Falken Reynolds project is thoughtful. Beautiful, always, but also carefully considered, and work that judge and interior designer Abraham Chan, principal at ACDO, celebrated as “handsome, effortless, tailored work.” The firm bases its design principles on the Vitruvian triad, translated from Latin as strength, utility and beauty. Every space sees visual beauty balanced with utility and usefulness—and an overarching holistic endurance that considers every last detail, from colour palette to the sustainability of the materials. “It’s a little like colour circles when they overlap in RGB,” says Falkenberg. “We’re trying to find that perfect white section in the middle. Part of it is functional, part of it is durability and usefulness, and the other part is that it inspires, and that it’s beautiful and we enjoy it.
That happy place in the middle—that’s where the design is really successful, and has endurance for the client.”
Those details, of course, include focusing in on the minutiae of everyday life—from where to stash the kids’ sports equipment to creating functional spaces for pets. And that starts from the very beginning of the process. “We’ll reflect back to the client and say, okay, you have dogs. Well, let’s design for the dogs—let’s not just put the dog bed in at the end,” says Falkenberg. “Let’s figure out how you feed them, and how often they go out, and where you are going to put the leash. And then we can plan everything so that a big part of their life is taken care of.”
Every Falken Reynolds project begins with this type of conversation, resulting in client-centred projects that simultaneously feel like just about anyone would love to live there. For a project on Cadboro Bay near Victoria, the home needed to be both durable for a busy family with sports-oriented kids (plenty of storage room to dump the rugby gear on the way in the door) and to feature quiet retreat spaces within the home. A bench seat in the primary bedroom, for example, was literally made to measure for the homeowner, who happened to be the same height as another FR team member—just big enough for her to sit and read a book, creating that intimate moment she craved.
For their Sunset Flat project, the homeowner wanted each piece of furniture to feel inspiring—sculptural, like a work of art in and of itself. “Every individual piece had to be something very special,” says Reynolds. “It was really fun to go through the process and understand what clicked for her.” Part of that process included bringing her to Vancouver’s Bocci workshop to watch glass blowers creating lighting fixtures right on site. (There are three separate Bocci installations in the final project, including one over a space in the kitchen that she calls her tea room—where the team customized a Lek sofa by Christophe Delcourt to a higher seat height for a comfy spot to enjoy the view over Vancouver’s Sunset Beach with a cup of tea.)
Another project for retired hockey player Dan Hamhuis and his family took the crew up to Smithers, B.C., where Hamhuis and his wife, Sarah, grew up. But the couple hadn’t spent winters there in over 20 years, and Falkenberg, who grew up in Edmonton, jokes that he was able to bring a special bit of knowledge to the design. “I know really hard winters,” he laughs. “It was helpful to get them to think through that they’d want their mud room and entry to be a bit larger, because everybody’s going to come in with their puffy jackets and winter gear, and they’re going to need somewhere to dry it out.”
The home itself is designed in warm layers, creating a family space that’s meant for gathering. The design team really shines when they’re bringing together seemingly disparate styles, and there’s perhaps no better example than in this home. Collected vintage pieces from Scott Landon Antiques intermix with custom, modern designs from Vancouver’s Brent Comber; a natural stone fireplace is in contrast with light wood millwork; and there’s both richness and restraint throughout. It’s a home that’s made to be lived in, and that will only develop a natural patina with time. Judge and designer Marie Soliman of Bergman Interiors commended the team’s “excellent framing of the views and using the spaces as white canvases, blending the boundaries between outside and in.”
Each project brings its own set of design puzzles, and for the West 9th House in Vancouver, it was a handrail—a set of black spindles that for the average observer might seem fairly straightforward. But the complexity lies in the materials that the feature brought together: solid, wood-block stairs and a handrail that needed to start right from the bottom. “I always try to teach the designers we work with to figure out: what does it have to do? And then start sketching and connecting the dots,” says Falkenberg. “And that’s literally what we did with this.” The solution was for the rail to take a little swoop inward, creating a sculptural element in the room that’s both modern and surprising.
It’s a smart solution to a design problem, but, more than that, it also resulted in accolades from one of their design heroes. “One of my proudest moments was when we were having lunch with [Spanish architect] Patricia Urquiola,” says Falkenberg. “She asked everyone to show an image of what we were working on, and I showed her this. And she said, ‘Oh! That’s quite nice.’”
A perfect example of those Vitruvian triad principles of strength, utility and beauty in perfectly elegant execution—just the kind of a dream space that’s worthy of celebrating alongside our Interior Designers of the Year.
Do you have a favourite home from a TV show or movie?
KR: Colin Firth’s home in A Single Man.
What do people often get wrong about design?
CF: Forgetting to ask “What is it supposed to do?” until after they decide how it should look.
KR: That good design happens fast.
Who do you admire most as a designer?
CF: Arne Jacobsen, John Pawson.
If you weren’t a designer, what job would you
KR: Probably researching animals in a jungle somewhere.
What are your design pet peeves?
KR: Building things that don’t last.
CF: Plastic objects or parts that break and can’t be fixed.
What are you listening to?
CF: Justice Der, Pandora’s Jukebox, Goldfrapp and The Presets.
What’s changed for you, personally or business-wise, after the last few years?
KR: I’m happier with less.
CF: We’re spending more time in homes – our own and our friends’.
Get Your Ticket to This Year’s Western Living Designers of the Year Awards Here.
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