So Canadian, eh? : Vanessa Francis

This week's fabulously talented Canadian spent some time in Vancouver {yay} but now makes her home in the Toronto area. I stumbled across her blog well over a year ago and was hooked!


Vanessa Francis from decor happy

Vanessa is so....

Vanessa is a talented designer, the principal designer with Vanessa Francis Design, with such an eye for detail, her spaces are beautiful. I love her classic sense of style and have been following along as she has been designing her daughter's room. J'adore the colours and fabrics she has chosen. 

Not only has Vanessa has been hobnobbing with many local bloggers at the various events that have been held in Toronto but has had the opportunity to attend the Nate Berkus Show and most recently, Blogfest2011 in New York City!

Lucky gal!

Here are some of my favourite spaces she has designed!

Hello hodge:podgers! I have been enjoying this series and am so happy to be able to share some of my thoughts with you.

 Tell us a bit about your background? Your education? Has design always been in your blood? How did you come to be a designer?

I have a degree in Politics and Commerce from the University of Toronto.  Way back when I graduated, there were no jobs for someone with a general B.A. I followed up my degree with a Post Grad diploma in Human Resources Management. My last corporate position as an HR Manager for all the Canadian sites of a high tech company (in Vancouver), with a boss in the US and the parent company in Germany, had me clocking a crazy amount of Aeroplan (air) miles.  Being an HR Manager is pretty stressful as it is and I would dream about getting off the roller coaster, starting my own business and having time to just be.

I should have listened to my inner voice years before but at the time I thought I couldn’t walk away from such a well-paid position.  I think a lot of people think that way and stay in a job they are not happy with just because of the status, pay, benefits etc.  Life’s too short to be doing something you don’t love!

Around the same time, my obsession with design began.  I decided to go back to school (British Columbia Institute of Technology) for Interior Design.  I spent hundreds of hours at my drafting table, space planning and “thinking like an architect” which was one of the school’s mantras.  I LOVED every second of it, even though my classmates were half my age!

How long have you had your design business? What challenges have you faced along the way?

I graduated from design school in 2003 but really didn’t start marketing myself until about three years ago once my daughter was in school full time. 

A challenge for any designer is finding those clients that value what you do.  I have become pretty good at determining this from the initial phone call(s) with a prospective client and I’m OK with turning down projects if I can tell it’s not going to be a good fit.  Once you find those clients that value what you can do for them, then the project and the relationship are easy breezy!

How would you describe your design style?

I don’t really have a style that I can describe in a few words like “rustic modern” or “new traditional.”   I love creating spaces that are comfortable, livable and beautiful whether for a client or myself.  I believe in buying quality and waiting until your budget allows for you to buy that great piece.  I also try to “save” quality pieces by reupholstering or painting. I try to source Canadian suppliers when possible.

How long have you had your blog? What made you decide to start writing a blog and what have you enjoyed the most about blogging?

I wrote my first post in May, 2009 but wrote sporadically if at all that summer.  So, I would say my blog is 1.5 years old.   I had been reading blogs for a few years before that and thought “I need to do this too.”  I found that clients would ask “well, how would that look” or “what do you mean?” when I would suggest an ottoman, woven blinds, wallpaper panels etc.  The blog started as a way to corral these images for clients for illustration purposes. 

There are so many benefits to blogging.  Friends or even other designers who don’t blog, really don’t understand why anyone would spend all this time researching and writing a post.  I know that the blog has brought in clients who have contacted me because they liked what they saw or read.  In fact, I met up with a client once and she had a folder of many images that she found on my blog.

One of the greatest benefits of blogging has been the wonderful people I have met and this design community that I am a part of.  I attended Nate Day last Fall and most recently attended Blogfest in NYC and met so many wonderful bloggers.  We also now have an active Canadian Design Bloggers network in the Toronto area where we gathered together last Fall and are meeting up again in a few weeks.

{Vanessa at the Canadian Design Blogger meet-up in Toronto last November}

{Vanessa at the after party when she went to the Nate Show}

Where do you find inspiration for your designs? Your blog?

I love reading blogs and am quite the magazine-aholic subscribing to about 14 magazines and having a collection that is taking over my house! I draw inspiration from magazines from the UK, Australia and other parts of the world as well.  I also attend as many trade seminars/info sessions from suppliers as I can on new products.

I am most often inspired by a beautiful fabric and whenever I see one I file it away in my memory bank to be used in my home or a client’s later.

What goals or aspirations do you have for your design business? For your blog?

Well, I just want to keep on doing what I’m doing with great clients who appreciate good design.  I think like most designers, I would like to get published in a magazine (preferably the paper kind.)

I miss the synergy and comraderie of working with others so I would love to have a partner, my own “Tommy” if you will, to bounce ideas off.

Every blogger wants their blog to have more readers and I’m no exception.  I know I need to blog more (only post 8-12 times a month now) to do this. I’m working on this!

Is there a common design mistake that homeowners make that makes  you cringe?

If I had to choose one it would be buying the “set”.  You know, the sofa, loveseat and chair combination all in the same style and fabric.  Or the bedroom set with bed, side tables, dresser, etc. all in the same finish and all stuffed into a small room.  I’m amazed that with all of the magazines, blogs and design shows that people are still doing this today!

What is one thing that anyone can do to update his or her home without breaking the bank?

Can I mention two things?  I would have to say edit and declutter.  I do a lot of home stagings and just taking away a few items adds to the space (adding by subtracting).  It might be relocating a piece of furniture because every inch of a perimeter of a room is filled with pieces.  I would say that almost every staging I do involves styling a bookcase with what the client has and it is amazing how this simple task that takes a few minutes can transform a room from feeling claustrophobic to fresh.

On my blog, I write a lot about how art can transform a space without breaking the bank.  I would never advise a client to go out and buy mass produced art at a retailer.  Framing family photos is an inexpensive, personal way to bring life to a space.

What tips do you have for aspiring designers to hone their skills?

I would suggest they find a mentor if they are starting out on their own.  There are so many situations that come up that aren’t covered in design school and it would be invaluable to have someone who you can call to run something by.

If they haven’t taken any design courses, I would recommend that they do that as well.

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

With the Oprah show ending this past week, I’m feeling nostalgic.  I watched her show over the past 25 years and admired how she changed lives and made a difference to the planet.  She is so inspirational and I would love to meet and chat with her.  

As for doing anything, I really would love to travel more. I haven’t been to Europe since I did the backpack thing right after university (and when I was living in Bordeaux, France for a short time with an ex-fiance but that’s a story for another blog!)  I would love to live in France or Italy for an entire summer. 

What do you like to do in your free time?

I try and get to the gym a few times a week (doesn’t always happen though.)  I have started taking yoga classes again, including hot yoga.   I am certified to teach yoga but haven’t taught in years.  It feels so good to stretch and move and feel centered.

I also love when my daughter’s friends are over.   I love this age (9) when they are such funny, smart little people!

How do you manage to balance your family time, your work and blogging?

As every working mom will tell you (and you know Barbara), it’s a real balancing act.  I try to use from 9-3 when my daughter is at school to do client work or blog.  After school, is homework, dance, swimming etc. so I try to keep that time free.  From 9 pm until 12 (or dare I say 1 am), I am working/blogging as well.

What are your views on the role of Canadian design? 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?

Such an interesting question! It surprises me that there are only a handful of Canadian designers that are known beyond our borders.  While we, on the other hand, can probably rhyme off dozens of US designers.  I’m not sure why that is because we have a lot of design talent here.

I’m not sure if there is such a thing as Canadian design where you could look at a photo in a magazine and say, that’s Canadian like you could with a Belgian interior for example.  I think everyone has a different background, style, personality and their homes usually reflect that.  We are a diverse country with diverse interiors.  There are people that do “design on a dime” with great panache and there are those few with a healthy budget that have Veranda-worthy interiors.

Thank you Barbara for inviting me to hodge:podge today and allowing me to share my thoughts with your readers. 

Thanks for stopping by Vanessa. I adore your blog and designs. Hopefully one of these days design bloggers from ALL across Canada can finally meet.
Looking forward to seeing your daughter's room complete! 
I guess I shouldn't talk, I have yet to finish both my daughters' rooms!

XO Barbara

Unless otherwise noted, photos are courtesy of Vanessa Francis Design


  1. Thanks so much Barbara! I love this series.

    We're having a design bloggers event on June 25th, in case you can swing a trip out here. Would love to meet you!

  2. Wow - she has designed some fabulous spaces. They look so fresh and contemporary!

  3. Fabulous post! Following her blog now! Love her designs!

  4. Great post! You already know I am a fan of your blog, Vanessa!

  5. Great Post Barbara! I love Vanessa, we were surprised to learn that we are neighbors a few months back, and we bonded in NYC at Blogfest. Some great questions you asked, and a chance for me to get to know my friend a little better too.


  6. Great interview!....Glad to know more about a Canadian...Thanks Barb!

  7. Great feature! I liked the opportunity to learn more about Vanessa - seeing as I am in HR myself, her former world! haha

  8. Vanessa sounds very grounded and practical, love that!

  9. Barbara thank you so much for featuring Vanessa, I love seeing my fellow bloggers / designers spreading their wings!Her design work is wonderful.

    New very Exciting Giveaway will start on the 1st!

    Art by Karena

  10. I love this series and getting to know the work of designers outside of the U.S.

  11. So enoyed this post Vanessa. It's really great to meet in person as we did for a very short time, but this post has filled in the blanks. ONLY 8-12 posts a month...I need to up the ante for sure as well.

  12. Loved reading about Vanessa. I follow her blog and I see we have similar tastes and outlooks with regard to design. Who's next?

  13. What a lovely Q&A about my friend Vanessa and roomie from our 24hr adventure in NYC for Nate day! ;-)

    Christine @ The Glam Blog
    Decor by Christine

  14. I adore that tiny upholstered headboard for a girls room! And I totally relate to what she says about missing working with others and having someone to bounce ideas off of.

  15. I love her style...tasteful an clean.

  16. Vanessa and Barbara, fantastic post! I always love learning more about my blog friends :) I love all the pics you shared here too, Vanessa your style is fabulous!!
    Nancy xo

  17. Great interview - I learned a few new things about you Vanessa! Looking forward to Design Bloggers nite.

  18. Thanks for your lovely comments everyone!

    Rosa - the upholstered headboard looks tiny but it is a double bed and it's about 65" tall. It's just my poor photography skills and the angle!

  19. Love this post! Really enjoyed learning more about Vanessa.

  20. So nice to know a little more about Vanessa!

  21. such a terrific post! such talent!


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