A gig in customer service is a necessary part of life for many young adults. (It helps pay the bills while building character and plenty of patience, after all.) But Gaile Guevara could never have guessed that a part-time managerial stint at a local lingerie boutique would lead her to her calling—one that involves not retail or the production of frilly underthings, but instead the design of beautiful spaces. “I found that I was quite good at merchandising,” she says, “so I really thrived in that environment.”

Guevara’s knack for staging retail goods in a way that optimizes a store’s look and increases sales led her to transfer from fine arts to an interior design program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, B.C. She began her career working on multi-family developments, though she was soon drawn to single-family projects—renovations in particular—because of the more meaningful relationships she could establish with clients during these jobs. “It’s almost like a marriage when we work with a homeowner,” explains the winner of our Robert Ledingham Memorial Award for an emerging designer. “They’re meeting us and seeing if they like us. And we’re building something with them.”

Such intimacy is developed during what Guevara calls the “discovery phase,” when the designer asks her clients a litany of surprisingly profound questions—from “what does home mean to you?” to “what are your most precious space-related memories?”—to determine not what they want, but what they need in a home. For almost 20 years now, this inquisitive process has allowed Guevara to transform dark, dated and dysfunctional spaces into “approachable, thoughtful and modern” abodes that better facilitate everyday life for folks who hope to stay put for years to come. In other words, longevity and sustainability—creating spaces that homeowners can grow with, not out of—are guiding principles in Guevara’s work. These values are present in the designer’s makeover of a 1960s post-and-beam construction in Burnaby Heights, which was stripped down to its studs and ushered into the 21st century with an airy, open-concept plan that ensures that extended familial gatherings for a brood of three will be a breeze even 10, 20 years down the line.

Meanwhile, the home’s expanded wall-to-wall views of the North Shore mountains (made possible by the installation of motorized sliding glass doors) and the careful preservation of its cedar character, which is complemented by a pared-down grey-and-white palette, form a timeless aesthetic that’s meant to outlast fleeting trends. As with many of Guevara’s renos, the resulting look is contemporary but grounded, understated but never uninviting and, above all, decidedly West Coast. “Gaile has a unique talent for creating minimalistic interiors that have soul,” says Kelly Deck, director of Vancouver-based interior design studio Kelly Deck Design and one of three DOTY judges in our Interior Design category. “Her small spaces make for large living with her restrained approach to materials and forms.”

After running her interior-design biz solo for more than a decade, in 2015 Guevara launched her firm, Gaile Guevara Studio, where she employs a 10-person team. She says she realized she needed the helping hands after taking on more projects—including the design of a recently unveiled 10,000-square-foot co-working office in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood—and stepping into a caregiving role for her mother, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2012. That latter development has sparked two other passions for Guevara: designing multigenerational housing that supports aging in place, and fostering a workplace that prioritizes a work-life balance. “That’s kind of been the embodiment of our studio: creating a place where women in design and architecture can be successful in both caring for their families and doing great work,” she says.

Q&A with Gaile Guevara

What was your first design project?

I began my career working in development and had to do a French Country display suite in White Rock. Although this was one of the furthest projects from what I aspired to be doing, what I positively gained from it was being exposed to the opportunity to impact so many people at once, working in an environment where so many homes were being built. This repetitive work in development both challenged and inspired me to constantly try to make the work interesting and meaningful. It was then that I took something mundane and not so interesting and suggested a different perspective, through thinking more deeply about the people who inhabited these spaces rather than the traditional development model of putting people in boxes.

Who do you admire most as a designer?

John Pawson. His attention to detail, cohesiveness and ability to be distilled and pared-back while equally impactful.

Which Western Canadian designer is one to watch?

Lock and Mortice. They embody the values of generational legacy family businesses€”a lineage of woodworkers. Most importantly, we share the belief in what they are building and the amount of care in all that they do.