Meet Renelle Laliberte, owner of Renelle Design and winner of the Interior Decor Excellence Award—for the second year in a row! We caught up with Renelle to talk about her journey so far, her amazing touch with traditional styles, and her advice for those just starting out in the design industry.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your business.
I own and operate Renelle Design, which is located in Toronto, Ontario.
However, I work on projects in Quebec and Ontario. I provide full renovation and design/decor services including furniture upholstery and custom drapes, and I have in-house staff to work with me on my projects.
What first motivated you to get into the design industry?
I first got introduced to the world of design and construction in the mid 90s when I was working as a sales director for a construction company in Montreal that was building condo towers. I was in charge of a project that consisted of two towers of 100 units per tower. Since the real estate market was very soft at the time, my strategy to move the units was to customize the units according to the buyer’s lifestyle and taste. I loved that job and developed a real passion for homes and design, and also acquired valuable experience by working on a construction site for 4 years—it was an amazing school!
I later reoriented my business activities by returning to university in business management. After graduating, I did consulting work for many businesses and ended up taking the leadership of a company in the fashion industry, but I was always doing design on the side for myself, family and friends. In 2010 I decided to follow my passion and started to put things in motion to start my own business in interior design/decor.
Your Lumber Baron’s House Project won the 2015 Interior Decor Excellence Award—congratulations! Can you tell us a bit about the project?
The project is located in Haileybury, Ontario, and involved a big house that was originally built in 1907 by Bill Powell, a mine owner who became very rich during the silver boom in Cobalt. In 1922 he sold it to Howard Dumbar, a lumbar baron who also became wealthy after the great fire of 1922 in Haileybury by supplying the lumber for the reconstruction of the city.
So the house had a lot of history and a lot of character, but there were some additions and renovations that had been made to the house at various times that didn’t blend with the style and character of the house. My clients were looking for a property to turn into a bed & breakfast, but to also have a place that could accommodate groups for weddings, anniversaries, family reunions and business meetings, and felt this house had a lot of potential. My challenge for the project was to bring back the character of the house, to create a flow and consistency throughout the entire house as well as provide designs that were consistent with the needs of my clients.
In January 2015, I had the privilege of creating the designs and leading the team for the restoration of the house that would turn into a beautiful little country inn. The project was completed in September 2015, but the owners were able to rent parts of the inn as of August, much to the enjoyment of the patrons.
You’ve got an amazing skill for traditional styles. Where do you get your inspiration?
I’ve always loved beautiful architecture, antiques and the rich European styles, particularly Italian and Tuscan styles. In 2013, I decided to go to Italy to see what was going on in the world of design. I went all over, starting from the south in the Amalfi coast and ending in Venice, with a stop in the regions of Chianti and Verona … the world of Romeo and Juliette (sigh!). I met with furniture companies, fabric manufacturers, designers and design firms and I also interviewed people who did major restorations/renovations projects with huge budgets. It was so incredibly enlightening and inspiring and I developed an even deeper appreciation for history and historical buildings.
However, I came back to Canada with a feeling of gratitude for the opportunities, and the flexibility we have here in our industry. In Europe, there are very few renovation projects, most of them are restoration projects and architects do most of the design and decor work. As well, the historical boards are extremely strict and don’t allow much flexibility for creativity. The experience gave me a deep sense of honor towards our history and I take pride in respecting the architecture and the environment I am working with, while exploring the privilege of creating and expanding on every project.
This is your second year winning the Interior Decor Excellence Award! What’s your secret?
LOL!! Passion!! It will carry you through anything and will give you wings! Creative wings!!
How did you choose QC Design School? What did you like most about your studies?
I chose QC Design School because I wanted to do my studies online, at my own pace, but I wanted a school that I could contact easily if need be, that was in Ontario and that provided good service.
What do you find most rewarding about your career?
The flexibility of managing my own time is extremely rewarding. Although I often work many hours when closing a project, I can make up for it afterwards. I plan my own schedule and can balance my work life and my time with my husband, my family and my vacations.
We notice that your website is bilingual. Is working in both English and French an asset for your business? Are there challenges?
Being bilingual has definitely been a big benefit as I have two clienteles available to me. The challenge I sometimes face is the barrier of not being as articulate in English as it is a second language to me. However, I must say that Ontarians are extremely accepting and generous in listening to accents, or if I struggle with a word here and there, they always reach out to help.
Many of our students dream of owning their own business, just like you. What’s your best advice for those who are just starting out in the industry?
I think the biggest challenge of owning your own business is to have the skills and the financial resources to wear all the hats of a business owner. It requires marketing skills, management skills, people skills, creative skills, technical skills, etc. So the best advice I can give them is to continue to learn in any way they can. Mentorship, networking, continued education. Join a decor association; go to the seminars, etc…
What does the future hold for you and your business?
LOL!! Growth I would hope… if God continues to bless me with health I would love to keep working on inspiring projects and expand my contribution where I am needed.
Thank you so much 🙂