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It did not take me long to realize that I was in the presence of the Mozart of designers.

Mila has won more awards for her design and renovation than she can remember. This has made her a towering figure in Vancouver’s design-build environment. “With her incredible creativity and natural ability to envision the completed project from the start, she is the Mozart of designers”, says Harmeet of Usar Contracting & Design, a close colleague. And I couldn’t agree more.

Are you really able to see the final project right from the start?

“Yes. When I was young, I was diagnosed with a form of dyslexia that enables me to perceive complex projects in their entirety. When it comes to renovation and new construction alike, I can comprehend space, color, psychology, and finances altogether.

This is why I chose to pursue the design-build model. It allows the clients and me to start with the large-scale architectural sketches and keep refining and working our way down to the smallest details. Everything is equally important in the realization of someone’s dream home.”

What is your process for starting a project?

“I start by meeting the potential clients and asking about their aspirations. I need to understand their story and the stage of life they are in.”

“I continue by conducting two fundamental assessments. The first is spatial; I look into the plan of the space, natural light, and interior architecture. The other is concerned with environmental psychology – how the needs, preferences, and expectations of the clients are both facilitated and limited by the space.”

“It takes me about an hour to get a vision of what will happen and how the space will be transformed. In the following weeks, I will work together with clients to fully understand and flesh out the vision. In the ensuing months, we will bring the project to life.”

You have won numerous design awards for your renovations. How did it all start for you?

“At the age of 6, I was given a dollhouse as a gift.”

“It was the kitschiest dollhouse you could possibly imagine. It was made entirely of plastic and decorated in the 1970’s gaudy neo-rococo style. The bedroom was wallpapered and the furniture was white, pink, and gold. It needed a complete makeover.”

“I started creating worlds around this house. Sometimes it would be a castle; at other times it was a school. The lives of my toy figurines would revolve around the structure and its designs. For me, it was all about storytelling, and it still is.”

Like a Bach Symphony, her design is very mathematical in nature. When I talked to her about the 15 awards she has won as a designer since 2006, she smiles.

“I could have won more”, she says. “I won one particular award in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. After that, I thought it was time for someone else to win, so I didn’t enter anymore. Time to pass the baton on, so to speak.”

Your designs are both creative and structured at the same time. How do you achieve that?

“My educational background was in the sciences, and I completed a Master’s in geophysics before turning to design. Mathematical structures do not scare me, and in fact, I find that a lot of creativity and playfulness emerges out of logical patterns.”

Is it true that many of your clients become lifelong friends?

“Of course. Working together on creative projects promotes closeness. When designer and clients make a good match, they become unified in the creative process.”

“I don’t think of it so much as building a business. It’s more that I’m building a life. Most of my clients are still friends of mine and I’ve known some of the contractors I work with for more than 22 years. We really are a family first and a business second. They are not just great contractors, they are great people.”

Mila invests herself completely in every project and lives in the presence of the ideas and values that the project stands for.

“Whenever I design, I aim to create an environment that generates new energy – an energy that enriches people’s lives as they interact with their space intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. The possibilities are truly endless. For example, my best friend and I worked for years to build Renert School in Calgary. The building and its interiors are designed to act as a learning tool. Our application of colour within the space is both creative and mathematical. This complex puzzle that we created has resulted in a space that students don’t want to leave at the end of the school day. The building improves the quality of learning and the student’s capacity to grow and change.”

Mila smiles when I tell her it sounds like feng shui on steroids.

“This can be taken even further. I believe that when we talk about climate change on the planet, we can begin by changing and re-imagining the spaces in which we live. If our personal surroundings move us to be kinder, happier and more successful in our day-to-day endeavors, we can become champions for the planet and for the common good. In the end, I just want to help people create better stories for themselves.”

Each of your projects is quite different from the others. What inspires you to create so many unique designs?

“When I design, I use my past experience to imagine what is possible architecturally within the space and how the structure’s functionality can be maximized. I then apply socio-cultural references, such as urbanscape, neighborhood features, and the clients’ outlook, to choose a style for the project. I then add multiple layers to the concept by drawing on psychological elements of design. I collaborate with the clients throughout the process, and the perspectives of all of us keep evolving.

The relationship with the clients are crucial. I get to know the families well, and I can help them reflect on the current stage of their lives. Together, we can imagine how the project will set the stage for an even more fulfilling future for the family. The home is designed to foster better communication, better learning, and greater overall happiness.” ◆

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