"Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not." Ralph Waldo Emerson
Internationally renowned designer Hilary Farr has been saturating her artistic sensibilities with beauty for all her life. She was born in Toronto, but her mother had a traveler's heart. She has lived in Australia, England, across Byzantium and into Tehran, New York, Los Angeles and finally, back in Toronto. It's home to the business of design, home to a remarkable life.
The inclination to be a professional designer evolved over time and across continents. "By the time I settled in LA, an extraordinary place of spectacular houses, colliding cultures, lifestyles and landscapes - it was difficult and interesting at the same time - but there I became driven to create the most perfect home ever."
Along the way, instigated by her mother's passion for art and decorating, Hilary absorbed the rhythm of the places she called home. "The colors, sounds, images - I can conjure them all, even though some of them were formed when I was only three years old."
Her multi-national upbringing and congenial personality have made Hilary an emissary of her profession. I asked her if her immersion into such a breadth of art and traditions has informed her work. "Absolutely, one-hundred percent. It's curious but you don't realize it at first. In a sort of osmosis, you absorb what's around you, what you experience. At some point later on, when deciding upon a design strategy, these sensations come back to you and you say, Ahh, that's it; I know exactly what to do."
These voilà moments may seem like a stroke of genius, a coup d`oeil as Napoleon would have termed it, but they are in fact a product of a deeper process. Steven Johnson, author of "Where Good Ideas Come From," says ideas brew over time. They are often cobbled together from snippets of lesser ideas. When a solution is required and you work through the creative process, these ideas present themselves in flashes of inspiration.
For Hilary, her travel and exploration has given her access, not just to the artifacts of the countries in which they were created, but the culture from which they were born, the emotions, perceptions and mindfulness of the native artisans.
Hilary compares the experience of a child living among different peoples to a sponge. The sense of each place seeps into your capillaries. "The sights and smells, the variations of color and style are processed over time. The key to design is to let the ego recede and let the senses take over."
What about the client who may not have had the benefit of this unique world perspective? How does Hilary guide them through the creative process?"I try always to steer clients away from trends. The tried & true first step is to have the client look at every design magazine they can, and pull out the pictures they love, without regard to particular elements. Invariably, they choose the same thing over and over."
Some designers think clients don't know what they want but Hilary believes they do. "My job is to give them what they need or want in the same aesthetic, to translate what they love into the reality of a great space.
It can be depressing as a designer because of the insane property values in the Toronto market. Sometimes the concern for resale values takes precedence over the aesthetic ideals.
It's not just about property values; a home is a safe haven and the memories, art from the kids, all the trappings of life fold into the texture of the home. Resale creates transience."
To help clients break through their concern for the market, she will select a specific area of the home, from just the right angle and, "make it so perfect, suit all their needs and reflect their personality." It seems the better designers and architects understand the human element is an integral part of the design experience.
Hilary Farr is one of the co-stars of the HGTV hit Love It Or List It, along with the charmingly snarky David Visentin. The show is now in season five, which is noteworthy because each season consists of 26 episodes. Audiences are captivated by the tension brought on by the premise of the show, along with David and Hilary's "Bickersons" relationship. Although, truth be known; they are the best of friends.
The homeowners come to the show with a dilemma, usually brought on by the age/disrepair of their home or the expansion of the family and its needs. The dilemma is: do they remodel the existing structure, which Hilary designs, and then "Love It," or do they take realtor David's advice and "List It." Both Hilary and David are good at what they do and homeowners are always presented with a quandary.
While Hilary and her team are designing and remodeling the house, which often includes major renovation work, David is showing the homeowners that their desires could be met by listing their current home and buying one on the market. The tension builds as the homeowners visit updated, well-appointed homes, then check back in on their own place, which is in mid-renovation and looking quite awful. Hilary says the tension is genuine, "The dilemma resonates with viewers. The show is not at all scripted and the reactions of the homeowners to renovation realities and bad news is very real." We see a one-hour rendition of a three-week process. It's a lot for the home owners to process and the anxiety is apparent.
Hilary graciously recognizes the collective effort needed to produce the show and praises her team, "They're incredible - without them it wouldn't be possible. We are working on three homes at once and it's exhausting."
It can be difficult to manage the workload while staying in a forward-thinking mindset. Her public as well as her private clients often have difficulty letting go. "People must learn there is a difference between holding on to the past and using it to inform the present."
I asked her how she ever sleeps, given the furious pace of television production, pressed by the rest of her life: running an expanding business, being a mom to her "fabulous, brilliant" son and tending to three cats and a dog. Her simple solution? "Deep breathing. I'm addicted to it. It relaxes me and allows me to shut down so I can have restful sleep."
The business aspect of design can be draining. It's the bog of accomplishment. "My professional life is 80% business and 20% design." But if you want to know what it takes to be successful - follow Hilary. In addition to her other work, she is looking forward to new ventures. Hilary is working on a book, tentatively scheduled for release in the spring of 2013.
Keep an eye out for a new product line as well, but you'll have to wait for the release; I won't spoil the surprise here. The merchandise will be sold to mass market audiences on TSC (The Shopping Channel), Canada's version of QVC. Rest assured Hilary's impeccable taste and insistence on quality will make this launch as successful as her other endeavors.
What advice does Hilary offer to someone who is considering a career in design? "I don't mean to sound flippant but - you must understand business or you will work for free." She also impressed the importance self-control, particularly when dealing with clients. "It's important to know how to process thoughts and to hold back emotions and reactions. Set your ego aside. I've noticed young people who are having a difficult time in the business are either too timid or too assertive. Sometimes they are afflicted with a massive ego." Her success is a testament to the veracity of her advice.
I'm never disappointed when I look beyond the public persona of the people I've interviewed. Hilary Farr is flat-out charming. She quickly puts you at ease with her engaging personality and thoughtful way of articulating ideas.
Unlike so many of us, Hilary never struggled with what she wanted to be when she grew up. Hilary Farr is the quintessential designer: insightful, educated, intuitive and creative.
Find her on the internet:
- Join Hilary Farr Design on Facebook
- Follow Hilary Farr on Twitter
- Follow Love It Or List In on Twitter
Joe Hefferon is a writer, speaker and blogger living in New Jersey. He is the author of the noir crime novel, "The Sixth Session" and a personal development book inspired by the principles of architecture called "The 7th Level," due out in June, 2012. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: http://joehefferon.blogspot.com