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So Canadian, eh?: Margot Austin

April 3, 2011


Today I am beyond excited,
I am ecstatic that this amazingly talented Canadian designer agreed to be interviewed by me!

She is ...



Margot Austin!



Margot Austin has impeccable taste, creating and designing spaces that are always amazingly beautiful.
Her taste is refined, elegant, yet simple, creating spaces that are inviting, not pretentious.

For most Canadians design devotees, you will also know that Margot Austin is the senior design editor at one of my favourite Canadian design publications, Style at Home. 








I have been a fan of hers for years, admiring her design style. Most of her rooms have been filed away in my inspiration folder. I find I am drawn to her style, where she has managed to create spaces that anyone can replicate, mixing high with low and a bit of DIY thrown in.


Even the recent paint job of my daughter's end table was inspired by a room Margot designed for her niece.


 Photo: Donna Griffith

We were first introduced to Margot, who now has become a presence in the Canadian design world and publishing scene, when the home she shared with her husband, Kevin Austin, was featured in the April 2001 issue of Style at Home





On a side note: Kevin, is also a contributor to Style at Home, where every month he shares fantastic upcycle projects, that anyone can do no matter what the budget.

A few of my favourite spaces she has designed:


Photo: Paul Chmielowiec

Photo: Donna Griffith

Photo: Paul Chmielowiec


And one of my all-time favourite kitchens...

Photo: Donna Griffith

She has also styled some amazing sets for Style at Home, most recently this one for
the IDS show in Toronto.


You can read about how she created the space here.

A few DIY projects she has created for the magazine.



Not only does she have, in my opinion, a fabulous job scouting for and styling featured spaces, she also writes a wonderful blog, simply named, Margot Austin where you can view even more of her gorgeous spaces and projects.


Want to know more?

1.    Tell us a bit about your background? Your education? Has design always been in your blood?

1.     I studied English and History at the University of Toronto. There are lots of teachers in my family so that was kind of assumed for me. But I knew it wasn’t what I wanted. It was the journalism bug that I caught at a young age. The subject matter of the publications I’ve worked at over the years has mirrored my changing interests. My first full-time job was at TV Guide – when it was a print magazine. My interest in interiors grew gradually, but got a real kick start when I started dating my now husband Kevin. At the time he often travelled to outdoor antique sales to buy and sell -- we had great fun doing that together (though way too many early mornings). That started to get me more and more interested in furniture design and interiors. Then, our first place was featured in STYLE AT HOME and I was kind of hooked from then on.

2.   Before you became the Senior Design Editor at Style at Home, what did you do?

      Before STYLE AT HOME I worked at several different magazines. At every one I learned skills that are so important to me today. At TV Guide I learned to write in a concise and pithy manner – “the art of the blurb”. At Canadian Living I was a fact-checker and copy editor. I will never forget fact-checking a story about Marilyn Denis and somehow not catching a spelling error in her name. I was mortified! I also got my first taste of working on decorating stories at Canadian Living. When I worked at IMAGES magazine (a predecessor to GLOW) I got to write fashion and beauty stories and had my first experiences with producing photo shoots. It was also there that I got to work with David Livingstone. He is brilliant – a superb writer with encyclopedic knowledge of fashion, art, film, photography. He’s a real character and the journalist I admire the most. When I worked at the Home Depot magazine I got to meet and interview amazing designers such as Barbara Barry, Tricia Foley and Darryl Carter. By then I had become a complete interior design devotee.


3.   How did you get your big break?

      My big break. Hmmm, I’ve just worked hard and always been keen to try new things, to pursue new goals, learn new skills. Timing and luck are important, but I’ve worked very hard to get where I am. One defining moment was when founding STYLE AT HOME editor in chief Gail Johnston Habs promoted me from senior editor to senior design editor. It’s not that common for the “words” people to move over to the styling side of things. Gail let me style some stories while I was a senior editor to try it out, and then when the opportunity came up she gave me the job. That was seven years ago. I still love the job.


4.   Even though most of us would feel that your job would be our dream job, what goals or aspirations do you have?


     I’m really interested in the new publishing world. I’m keen to get involved in creating enriched digital content, podcasts, becoming more involved in social media. I don’t see publishing as a world of editors and readers, I see it as a community of like-minded people – a world where a design blogger, a stager, a designer, an editor, a retailer can all meet and chat and share ideas and inspiration. It’s already happening, but it feels like the very beginning and I’m anxious to move forward.

5.    What do you like to do in your free time?

      In my free time I’m likely napping, antiquing, golfing, canoeing or tweeting and feeling guilty about not doing laundry or cleaning….


6.   As a design editor for a fantastic Canadian publication, where do you find inspiration for the magazine and for your own home/ design work? 

      Inspiration is absolutely everywhere. For example, a couple of weeks ago I was in Maine and I found those gorgeous Araucana eggs at Whole Foods – you know, the pale blue-green ones that Martha Stewart often has in her magazine. Well, I’d never seen them in a store before. I was so inspired. My mind is still mulling over ideas inspired by the eggs: 1. A paint colour for a bedroom ceiling. 2. A story on decorating with eggs – egg botanical prints, shadow-boxing egg specimens, faux nests as accessories, decorative objects inspired by eggs, dishes and textiles featuring eggs and nests, colour schemes combining the hues of yolks and shells. 3. A food story on easy egg recipes for entertaining. 4. Easter brunch table design ideas. 5. A design scheme for a nursery. The wheels never stop turning. Sometimes I just see a dried oak leaf on the ground and think – oh, that would be an amazing paint colour, or I imagine that colour of velvet on a sofa… 


7.   What is involved in being a Senior Design Editor, briefly fill us in on your typical day and the role you play at the magazine?

      As senior design editor I lead the team of people who find the interiors we feature in the magazine, comb the market for new products and trends, and style studio shoots and home shoots. I do all of these things, too. The thing I like best about my job is that I don’t have a typical day. It’s always something different. I might be at the office doing web research, writing copy and proofreading stories. I may be out all day in my car going from store to store, scouting for a big shoot coming up. On those days I always forget to eat, so I’m munching a granola bar from my handbag. And I also need to keep aware of where the decent public washrooms are – an aspect about scouting that I dislike! In one day I might have to source items at Home Depot in the morning, attend a Tiffany & Co lunch at midday and then pack up my car full of buckets of flowers and props for a shoot the next day. Everyday is a new wardrobe challenge! One of my roles is to be on top of what and who is hot in design – and what’s not. Saying no is the hardest part of being an editor. Well, not true, sometimes it’s really really easy…;-)


8.   What tips do you have for aspiring designers in getting their design work published or to hone their skills?

      Oh my, this topic is HUGE and I could go on and on and on. Mostly, I think what aspiring designers need to do is use their own home as their laboratory, their showcase. If you don’t have many clients yet, or much money, that shouldn’t matter. If you have style and skill, you can make any room look fabulous. Experiment at home. Change it up often and most of all – TAKE GOOD PICTURES OF ALL OF YOUR WORK, or ask a friend who’s good at photography to help you. And when your career is launched, avoid banality at all cost – bring the magic. If you want to get published, become familiar with the publications you are targeting. What types of rooms do they feature? What special themed issues do they have? Who works there? Deliver content that fits the publication’s needs.


If you could meet anyone or do anything who or what would it be?  


Some people on the top my wish-I-could-meet list are Margaret Russell, Gil Schafer and Albert Hadley. As for something I’d like to do – I’d really like to learn drafting and rendering. I see rooms in my head all the time and would love to be able to bring them to life on paper, if not real life
     
     You are surrounded by such amazing design inspiration, how do you decide what and how to decorate your own homes?

     I’m notoriously indecisive when it comes to making decisions for my own home. Ask my husband. He rolls his eyes while I collect and paw a million fabric samples for months and even years before a project. That said, for any project I start with the architecture and character of the space, then fabrics. The room tells you what it wants to be.




      Your husband, Kevin Austin owns the well known shop Chair Table Lamp, how do you two work together in designing your homes? Who has the most say, or the most influence, he or you, or is it pretty even?

      Kevin and I are both feisty and opinionated so you’d think it would be a challenge to come to consensus. But we make a great team in decorating and in life. We stick to our own territory or areas of expertise to come up with a finished space we both love. I handle the big picture -- floor plans, paint colours, fabric choices. Kevin finds all of the furniture and we choose accessories together on our travels. We both play around with styling. The downside of our work is that our homes can sometimes become a jumble of props and extra furniture bits coming and going along the cycle of car, house 2, shop, photoshoot, house 2, office. 

     What are your views on the role of Canadian design on the world stage? Do you feel that Canadians have a unique sense of style, the way we design and decorate our homes? If so, what do you think sets us apart?

1.     I wish there were more Canadian designers on the “world stage”. I think the main reason why there isn’t as much of a design celebrity culture here is because Canadians are notoriously hesitant when it comes to self-promotion. It’s a shame really, but I think blogs and social media are making self-promotion easier for everyone.

I     I think how we like to live is informed by our climate and architecture and social customs. So, in as much as we are a distinct society according to those criteria, our interiors follow suit. Canadian style is definitely a multicultural and regional mix. I see influences coming from northern Europe and Britain – places that we share climate and architecture styles with – and then it all blends with the North American way of life. 



I would like to extend a great big thank-you to Margot for taking the time out of her busy life to be part of my "So Canadian, eh?" series. I am deeply honoured and flattered.

XO Barbara


*All photos courtesy of Margot Austin Interiors unless otherwise noted.

25 comments:

  1. Exciting!! Fab interview!! I adore Style at Home! I could definitely see myself working at a magazine someday...just need to graduate first haha

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  2. What a great interview. I love that Margot is so open and honest and willing to share her story. She is definitely an inspiration. Good job Barb!

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  3. Oh wow! Such an amazing interview. I am so jealous of you! But you did an incredible job - I loved the questions you asked. Her answers make me love her even more. She's so much more down to earth and humble than I could have imagined of someone with such talent.

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  4. Awesome! LOVE the interview...thanks for tweeting me it was up. Excellent questions...loved her answers too!
    XO
    Shannon

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  5. I am endlessly inspired by Margot and this interview gave a gorgeous glimspe into her world and talent! A fabulous interview!!

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  6. Wow, I'm super impressed! Love, love, love Margot's work!

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  7. What a great interview - it was interesting to see how her career evolved into what it is today. Margot is someone I much admire too, so that was a fun read. Thanks!

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  8. Interesting questions with clear answers. Margot seems so approachable. Thanks for giving us this window into her life!

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  9. Wow, this interview was wonderful Barbara and Margot, I ate up every word. This was a fantastic glimpse into Margot's life, and I am thrilled that she is anxious to move forward in the world of social media. Wonderful questions Barbara!
    Nancy xo

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  10. Incredible Barbara! What a great interview!

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  11. It was so great learning more about Margot. And so cool that her husband owns Chair Table Lamp...I did not know that!

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  12. Outstanding and informative interview! I especially enjoyed and devoured the quote,

    "That said, for any project I start with the architecture and character of the space, then fabrics. The room tells you what it wants to be."

    I could never put into my own words how I just know. But there it is in a nutshell. The room tells you.

    Donna
    http://funkyjunkinteriors.blogspot.com/

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  13. Another fascinating interview, Barbara! Your questions are intriguing and really help us get to know the interviewees better. Well done!

    Margot is so talented and I enjoyed getting to know more about her. How interesting she came up the ranks through the "words" side of magazines. I covet her Tweed kitchen too.

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  14. I am now a fan. I am not familiar with this publication. Thanks so much for the introduction:)

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  15. Thanks for this interview! Love her work, I agree that kitchen is wonderful!

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  16. Excellent interview! I found it interesting to read about what her work is like on a day to day basis. It sounds like fun! Thanks again!

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  17. Thanks for the great interview! Nice to learn something about her, after admiring her work for years.

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  18. OK Barbara and all you commenters have rocked my world! Thanks a million times over for the kind words. Ever since Barbara sent me the questions I've really been thinking about the last question, and you know what keeps popping into my head: The Hudson Bay Point blanket. I know it's an item and isn't Canadian design as a general topic, but I must say I have always loved them. I think if I had to choose one Canadian design icon, that's what it would be. I have a vintage one that I adore. I think every Canadian household should have one. And wouldn't it be awesome if the Gov Gen gave one to Wills and Kate for their wedding? No, strike that, how about us? Why not a So Canadian Eh? wedding gift from design bloggers to the Royal Couple....

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  19. This was wonderful Barbara! She seems so down to earth. I think you have found your calling in this design world. Interviewing for major style magazines! You are doing a great job.

    Jodi

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  20. Margot, thanks for stopping by the blog. You are right, the HBC blanket is a Canadian icon. I am just helping my 15 yr old study for her Canadian explorers test, HBC was such a driving force in the exploration and expansion of the country we now call home. The blanket is such a symbol of that. That blanket would be a perfect gift to the Royal Couple!

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  21. What a great interview thanks for sharing,,and I like the kichten picture to /Marie

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  22. How interesting where she finds inpiration. I love that kitchen, too. Come see my first give-away...open to Canadians, of course :)

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  23. Way to go Barbara !!! What a fabulous interview.

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