As a child, Paul Lavoie raced for the paper every Saturday morning – not for the comics, but instead for the floor plan of the featured dream home of the week.

By age 10, the future interior designer already had binders full of painstakingly re-worked floor plans. It was a completely instinctual impulse for Lavoie, now entering his 30th year in the field, 18 of which have been spent at the helm of his firm in Calgary, Paul Lavoie Interior Design.

‘I often worked with my father constructing cottages and other household projects for fun,” says Lavoie, who holds the distinction of being among only a handful of Canadians whose work has appeared in Architectural Digest. “I was always drawn to things that are space/plan or interior design-oriented.”

Recently Lavoie was approached by Fashion Calgary to be part of a contingent of the city’s cultural ambassadors, who represent the best of arts and culture, fashion and design. Along with this year’s 30 other ambassadors, ranging from Métis actor/singer Tom Jackson to pastry chef Yann Blanchard, Lavoie’s portrait was unveiled at Fashion Calgary’s annual gala in November.

While Lavoie is an ardent supporter of charitable causes as well as the city where he was raised and went to school – he’s a graduate of the interior design program at Mount Royal University, as are the six designers on his staff – he also believes it’s important to leave once in a while.

“Travel is the very foundation of good design. When you’re abroad, you become a sponge, soaking up the little details that are rooted in history, like the way a handle has been attached to the middle of a door in a traditional setting,” says Lavoie, a frequent globetrotter.

Paul Lavoie, Calgary, interiors, design, interior design

One of his favourite personal acquisitions is a 1930s modern buffet from a French flea market that he stumbled across on his honeymoon, and still holds dear. “You’d never find something like that in Canada, never mind Calgary. The craftsmanship and quality, the beautiful finish, really says something about the time it was made. It makes me happy every time I look at it.”

“We shop a lot for our clients in Europe – we’ve filled containers of antiques from the flea markets in Paris. But my favourite place for gems like that is Rome. Whether uber-contemporary or super traditional, the details are flawless right down to how a can of soup is packaged or the way a hotel lobby is designed. The Italians really know how to live well, and illustrate and execute it,” he says.

“When you travel, you get a sense of bringing something back to the place you’re from, and your clients inherit all you have accumulated along the way.”

The firm works on 100-150 jobs a month all across Canada. Of the many projects currently in the works, one includes a large custom home in Calgary “with an amazing city view and humongous square footage, for clients who are eager to create a special space,” says Lavoie. They also just finished the penthouse suite of an upscale real estate condo development in Calgary, which set an all-time record price after selling for $8.99 million in 2012.

Other projects include refurbishing multiple commercial spaces for a developer – including thousands of rental apartments across Canada – and a spin and rowing studio about to open in Calgary.

“From French chateau to ultra contemporary, my approach to design is straightforward and basic, getting right to the clients’ need. It’s much less about concept, and more about creating a space that suits our clients’ needs while giving us some creative license, and without forgetting the people who live there.”

Despite recent economic turbulence caused by plunging oil prices, Lavoie says business in Alberta has been steady. “Our clients are immune to the economic discomfort that other people might feel. They tend to be established and comfortable, and just want to be surrounded by nice things.”

Written by Barbara Balfour

Photography by Daniel Tremblay & Roger Brooks

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