Like with the end of Lost in Translation, we may never know what specific words were exchanged between Nicole Varga and Trish Knight that made them realize just what they meant to each other. But over dinner in New York five years ago, something clicked into place for the interior design colleagues.

“I remember Trish looking across the table at me and saying, ‘I can see us being friends for a really long time,’” says Varga. “It melted my heart.”

In the design firm’s First Home project, built by Barrett Group Custom Builders, Knight Varga opened up the main floor to connect the kitchen and living space and to maximize the city views. Upstairs, the designers reconfigured the layout to allow for a home gym, a walk-in closet and a dramatic ensuite. Photos by Janis Nicolay

They’d been working together at Varga’s previous firm, their friendship and mutual respect deepening with every project. “There are certain people you can spend every single day with. Nicole is one of them. She’s family,” says Knight. And so, in 2019, the two took the plunge, opening a Vancouver-based studio of their very own: Knight Varga Interiors.

Running a business is the ultimate relationship test, but these two have passed with flying colours—and the work they’ve produced for a roster of clients across the globe has now earned them our 2023 Robert Ledingham Memorial Award for an emerging interior designer.

Despite the fact that the duo tackles international projects of all sizes (hello, Singapore and London), Knight Varga remains a two-woman operation. “We’re intentionally small. And we want to stay that way,” says Knight. “We want to work daily with our clients, we want to be hands-on on every project… even when revisions in CAD aren’t that exciting.”

Together, Knight and Varga work every angle of every home they take on, bouncing ideas back and forth and playing to each of their complementary strengths. “We push each other out of our comfort zones,” says Varga. She loves the details—the puzzle of rearranging and problem-solving—while Knight is more of a big-picture person, drawn into client stories and dreams.

Photo by Janis Nicolay

“I want to know how they picked the home they’re going to live in, who lives with them, where are the pets going to go,” says Knight. “I love the idea that everyone wakes up at home. This is where your day starts. It doesn’t matter how big it is; you need to be happy.”

While they may each have their distinct passions in the design process, ultimately they’re walking in lock-step toward a singular aesthetic vision: a West Coast modern base that celebrates natural materials and casual warmth, with details that reflect the client’s unique personality layered on top. With each project, the two aim to blend sophistication with livability—and to nod to their personal design sensibilities, too. Varga brings a lighter, brighter, feminine approach, while Knight self-identifies her style as “a little darker, a little moodier.” The result is a mix that’s expertly balanced and richly detailed.

Photo by Janis Nicolay

A recently completed new build home in West Vancouver (dubbed Forever Home) exemplifies that combination beautifully. A couple with ready-for-college kids approached Knight Varga for help with designing a hillside “forever home” to take them into their empty-nest years in comfort. The dining room is defined by arches instead of walls, while an intimate office offers sightlines across the main floor through glass doors. The kitchen is flooded with natural light in the morning, acting as the hub of the home whether the kids are crashing in one of the cozy bedrooms or just stopping in for a break from campus.

In Knight Varga’s Forever Home project, high contrast was the name of the game. “These black steel arches are one of my favourite elements,” explains Varga. The team needed to figure out how to make a support post look more decorative. “We were wracking our brains: how do we make this purposeful and look good?” The slim stair railing (below) was fabricated out of steel and brought in by crane. Photos by Janis Nicolay

Knight and Varga run their studio as a team of two, and that means being hands-on… except when they have to be hands-off. The Forever Home project, for instance, was designed during the pandemic; the designers recall having socially distanced materials meetings on the front lawn. But it all paid off, with special rooms like the home office. Through the window, the homeowner can see her dogs playing in the grass outside.

First Home, a renovation in Point Grey for a young couple, also completed in 2022, is similarly textured and welcoming—while also accommodating life’s practical needs. The 1990s steel-and-glass house was gutted and reimagined as a warm, contemporary space. The core of the bright, airy home is a wall of black-stained oak that conceals ample storage and a powder room while grounding the space. A palette of white oak, marble, quartz, glass, linen and wool brings balance and warmth.

Photos by Janis Nicolay

Judge Abe Chan, founder of ACDO, praised Knight Varga for “a cohesive body of work with thoughtful plans that have been executed well.” His fellow judge, interior designer Alda Pereira, agreed: “They encompass everything needed to execute a well-designed space. Very talented.” More importantly, within the walls of these expertly crafted homes you can wholeheartedly feel the love Varga and Knight have for both interior design and for their partnership. Says Varga: “Really, we just inspire each other.”

Photos by Janis Nicolay
Knight Varga’s Trish Knight (left) and Nicole Varga, photographed on site in their Forever Home project, built by Trillium Homes. Photo by Kyoko Fierro

Q&A with Western Living’s 2023 Robert Ledingham Memorial Award Winner Knight Varga

What was your first design project?

As Knight Varga Interiors, it was a full renovation on a South Granville condo for a great couple that was downsizing from their west-side home. They love to cook, so we doubled the size of the kitchen by eliminating a small den. They also collect wine and have tons of albums and audio equipment, so a dedicated zone in the dining room was created for these as well. We won an NKBA award for this kitchen!

What do you think is the most perfectly
designed object?

Tulips. They are so simple and unpretentious, and they remind us that spring is coming!

What do people often get wrong about design?

People can underestimate the amount of time required to create the quality of homes they see published in magazines and often present as inspiration for their own projects.

What’s your dream project?

We have been very fortunate to have worked on some amazing projects, and some of our favourites have been turnkey vacation homes for our clients. We would love to have the opportunity to design/build a weekend getaway property that we could share with our families, friends and clients who become friends, and then to rent out when not in use.

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READ MORE: Meet the Winners of Western Living’s 2023 Designers of the Year Awards