Western Living Magazine
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Studio Roslyn is both a winning design firm and a living love letter a decade-plus in the making.
Everyone has heard the warnings about not mixing business with friendship. But Studio Roslyn—winners of the 2022 Robert Ledingham Memorial Award for an emerging interior designer—is hard proof that there’s no greater creative muse.
“It’s a real love story,” says Kate Snyder, co-principal of the Vancouver-based interiors firm. She and business partner Jessica MacDonald met 12 years ago while studying architecture at the University of Manitoba. On the surface, they seemed polar opposites as they clocked each other across the lecture hall: Snyder was a “skater-punk country mouse”; MacDonald was dressed in pearls and a Sarah Jessica Parker-chic fur coat. But during a shared car ride after a group project, something clicked. “We were so similar in so many ways,” says Snyder. “We’ve kind of been inseparable since then. We grew up together, honestly.”
They finished up school as roommates, living in the Roslyn Apartments in Winnipeg’s Osborne Village. It was a formative experience, and not just because the building would later inspire their studio’s name. “We met at a time in our lives where your creativity is flourishing and you’re experimenting with all these different things,” says MacDonald. “It was a very impressionable time for us both.”
Each was eventually drawn to Vancouver, and they wound up working together at two separate design gigs: first doing retail design for Oak and Fort (“We built a whole pop-up store ourselves. My dad’s a carpenter so I had a blend of confidence and ignorance,” laughs Snyder), and later collaborating at heavy-hitting design firm Ste. Marie Studio. That experience didn’t just show them the ropes of how to run a startup; it proved that they were ideally matched to work together, too. So, they decided to start their own practice.
“It’s very rare to go into business successfully with your best friend,” says MacDonald. “It’s not something we took lightly.” But now, six years later, it’s clear the risk brought reward. The two collaboratively helm a team of six—a group they credit as the backbone of Studio Roslyn.
If the studio has a signature style, it’s rooted in an eclecticism that leans toward maximalism, with a happy swerve into mid-century Italian modernism. “If you look at that time, people were pulling inspiration from the past and thinking about the future simultaneously,” Snyder explains. In everything they do—from penthouses to beer cantinas—there’s a keen curiosity and an interest in building a story and a vibe: a goal that’s executed through textures that evoke a memory, palettes plucked from surprising reference points, and materials that delight.
Interiors judge and Designers Guild principal Tricia Guild praised the studio for being “full of style—rich and inviting with moody textures and shades that create spaces that feel unique and soulful.” And the Play Residence, a project headed by Roslyn’s Zafirah Bacchus alongside MacDonald and Snyder, is a prime example. There’s a different wallpaper on every wall, and various wood textures and tiles are layered throughout for a final effect that, inexplicably, is the opposite of chaos—in fact, it’s warming and calm.
At Superflux Cabana in Victoria, meanwhile, 1960s Vegas offered inspiration for a contemporary space that’s full-on vacation mode. The concept emerged not from any visual reference but from an audio one: MacDonald put together a playlist to gather inspiration. “The question is always: what is the experience you want people to have in here?” says Snyder. “And, for this bar in particular, how do you get someone to have that tingly, fun, child-like, nostalgic feeling?”
And while starting a business is a lot of paperwork and formality, when a love runs this deep, the commitment goes beyond that. “Our spoken contract is that our friendship and our love comes first,” says Snyder.
“The older we get as designers, the more that I see and understand the value of being human-centric and focused, both outwardly and inwardly with our team,” she adds. “We’ve lived and breathed that with each other, which has only made everything way stronger.”
Who’s a Western Canadian designer everyone should follow?
Our studio has such an appreciation for ceramics. Some of our favourite local ceramic designers and makers are Marion Selma Gamba at A Deumain Studios, Justin Benjamin Taylor at Newbie Ceramics and Michelle Grimm Ceramics—but we could go on and on.
What do you think is the most perfectly designed object?
The Philippe Starck lemon juicer! There’s no question that it’s a functional object at its core, but its form certainly takes precedence. It’s a sculptural art piece that demands a spot on your counter. You couldn’t tuck it into a cupboard drawer if you wanted to! This embodies our approach to design in a lot of ways.
READ MORE: Meet the Winners of Western Living’s 2022 Designers of the Year Awards
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