Fitting function and form into everyday life

Suzanne MartinBy Francie Healy

With plenty of talent and solid years of experience, residential designer Suzanne Martin has reason to boast. But she doesn’t.

Her renovation projects speak for themselves. They have won housing design awards (presented by the Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association and the Canadian Home Builders Association) as well as SAM (Sales and Marketing) and HOUZZ awards.

Most of her clients are repeat or referral. It’s not uncommon for clients, happy with an earlier renovation, to come back to do another floor.

Her projects are usually major: whole floors plus a basement, for instance, or a whole new addition. Sometimes she is called upon for a consultation – to enhance a ceiling lighting plan, for example. She enjoys these small-scale jobs as well.

General contracting for her designs are mostly by Luxury Renovations, which she owns with her husband, Mike Martin, a well-known Ottawa renovator.

Suzanne’s roots are in valleys tied to waterways. She was born in the Rhine Valley, Germany, and returned there for high school so she could take in its architectural history and culture. She spent her childhood in Comox Valley, B.C, and she has called Ottawa home since 1984.

During college, she was employed with the City of Ottawa, reviewing residential building permit applications. She also had a role in bringing the 911 system to rural Nepean. In her final year of college, even before graduating, she worked as a freelancer on a two-storey commercial building on Vanier Parkway.

Following graduation, she designed and drafted for a custom home builder, worked as a federal building facilities manager and as an office planner for a furniture company for Nortel clientele (then a leading residential design firm).

She started Reno by Design in 2001; later, in 2006, she opened a cabinetry showroom called Luxurious Living Studio. Currently she works out of her home office.

Suzanne was named one of the “Fab Four” of Ottawa’s leading designers in 2010. She has been a guest designer in several “Room to Grow” television episodes and a presenter at home shows.

Her projects are featured on Houzz.com. One project, a basement bar of book-matched German cabinetry and custom hanging wine rack, garnered more than 40,000 “houzzer” downloads.

Her work in architecture and décor follows Ontario Building Code guidelines, and when required, she teams up with a structural engineer to stamp her construction drawings, which she does herself.

Her focus is on functionality, interaction and organization of spaces. It means understanding her clients’ requirements: asking questions and listening so she can create spaces with better circulation patterns. She thinks of it as fitting form and function into lifestyle. This includes ergonomics and universal design principles.

She says her work is like solving a puzzle. But the true satisfaction comes out of “helping people make the most out of their investment, their home.”

She’s a hard worker – a bit over the top, she admits – but she knows how to take a break and have fun, too. She plays hockey and golf; she also likes to ski and go kayaking.

Before construction begins, she usually meets with clients for six or seven months. She says this time is needed to address numerous decision-making issues that happen in a large-scale renovation.

“There are so many details to think about,” she explains. So she gets together with clients once a week to focus on each element in proper sequence.

She’s stumped when you ask her about her most favourite project. There isn’t one. Her heart is in all of them.

And as for challenges?

“This is renovation,” she says. “There’s usually a challenge along the way, but with reasonable clients and a great team of trades and suppliers, we work together to figure out the best outcome.”

Her motto is simple: “There’s always a solution.” Her clients know this about her and when there seems to be an obstacle, they’ll often repeat that statement back to her before she has a chance to say it.

Her attitude is always positive.

“It’s just the way you approach any situation,” she says, “– with good intention.”

Categories Designer Profile