Travelling to Italy a few years ago, Ottawa interior designer Michael Courdin visited the Vecchia Murano Glass Factory on Murano Island in Venice. On a shelf at the back of the store he spotted five grey-textured vases, prototypes for Giorgio Armani's Home collection. Michael bought the vase that Armani had rejected for its shape, and now it has tripled in value and become his prize possession!
Looking for the unusual and distinctive is his signature design sensibility. At the age of 20, armed with art and design courses from the Ontario College of Art & Design, he was initially unsure of his career path. His father wanted him to be an architect, although extensive testing and counselling at the University of Ottawa confirmed that interior design was his future.
With that comfort level established, his design career evolved. At his first job with Taarn Torontow Interiors, he met his mentor Bruce Summers, who guided him through the complex process of successful interior design. More than 30 years later, with clients all over the world, Michael creatively incorporates timeless and eclectic design in all his projects.
What was the design world like in Ottawa when you began? At that time there was a design company called Raintree Interiors on Bank Street and they were true designers. Some of the shops were retail decorators and some were retail design. Eventually it became more sophisticated as clientele became more demanding. You had to perform bigger tasks. Design furniture. Do renovations. It evolved into true interior design as opposed to decorating.
What represents good design taste to you? I don't like the American show home mentality featuring automatic decoration achieved with one-stop shopping. My style is more eclectic and this is what I try to do for my client. The client becomes a personality as opposed to a stage set.
What qualities should a designer have? Really good designers are born with an understanding of how things work to make something unique. They pull things together without worrying about everything being perfectly matched to create interesting environments. I like to be a little more daring and change a client's mindset by throwing in something strange. Once they understand, they love it. A good designer also doesn't push their own personal esthetic on a client.
What's exciting now in the design world? The volume and diversity of new things is amazing. The Americans are coming out with more contemporary design - I prefer higher- end designs. You can create a spa-quality feel to your home with the tranquility of things, and don't be afraid to introduce some colour influences. Take a retro fixture and throw it into a traditional setting. Be distinctive.
Which celebrity's home would you ?love to make-over? ?Wayne Gretzky's California home, which was featured in Architectural Digest.
Are there ever any design no-nos? Over-puddling of drapes that drag on the floor.
Is there a Michael Courdin signature style? I prefer a fairly neutral palette and let art and objects stand out individually. It's important to understand the client's personality. The objects in their home speak of the person. It is not the sofa or the drapery, although they can become part of the theatre. Some people need the background of a lot of style because of their personality and I do that as well.
What helps you stay current? Magazines inspire me and if I like something I see in a magazine room setting, I want to try it. Just walking down a street can trigger you subliminally. An exhibit, watching a movie, viewing an art show - these are all influences. Travelling also pushes me to try different things after I have immersed myself in a different culture.