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So Canadian eh? : Suzanne Dimma

January 15, 2012


I am on cloud nine this week, excited to have my latest guest visit my blog.
As a long time admirer, it was thrilling when she agreed to be interviewed!

Please give a warm welcome to...

Suzanne Dimma, 
Editor-In-Chief of Canadian House and Home

{Photo: Sophie Giraud}



She is

Suzanne Dimma is well known in the Canadian design scene, currently she holds the coveted position of Editor-In-Chief of Canadian House and Home. But Suzanne has been involved not only in House and Home but several other Canadian publications, was a host on her show, The Style Dept, a HGTV Canada show, which I wish was still on, is a regular design expert on the Marilyn Denis Show, and was even a judge on HGTV's Designer Superstar Challenge!

I have admired her work for many years! She is truly a Canadian design icon.
I had the pleasure of meeting her at our Blend 2011 Design Blogger gathering we organized and held during IDS West in October. It was such a thrill to be in the same room as her. I was awestruck and quite nervous about meeting her.  I wish we weren't so busy that evening, it would of been such a pleasure to have had a conversation with her, so it is such an honour to be able to interview her for my blog!

{That's me on the far left!}



{Photo:  Per Kristiansen}

Suzanne's first home. It was her design of this space that really got my attention. 
Suzanne is a master at creating timeless and classic spaces. Truly a sign of a talented designer, one whose spaces stand the test of time. I admire designers whose spaces don't scream a certain era but can look current even years later.
If you want to see more photos of her homes you can find photos here.


                       {Photo: Michael Alberstat}                           {Photo: Michael Graydon}

The entry in Suzanne's current home. I love how she mixes it up and changes things creating a whole new look. Nothing seems to stay the same, always evolving and changing with the seasons. Currently her home is undergoing a renovation, which you can follow along on her blog at houseandhome.com

{Photo:  Rob Fiocca}



Suzanne and her husband Arriz at home with their cat, Z.

Love, love the gallery wall! 
 Wouldn't you agree that every sofa looks better with an Hermes throw?



{Photo:  Rob Fiocca}

Suzanne's dining room. Ahh...wishbone chairs....


{Photo: Michael Graydon}

The fabulous off-the grid cottage Suzanne shares with her husband, featured in the October 2011 issue of Canadian House and Home.

{Photo: David Bagosy}

A vignette she pulled together for the first season of The Style Dept.


{Photo: Angus Ferguson}

A gorgeously layered and colourful living space designed by Suzanne for The Style Dept.
A frequently pinned photo and one that has made it's rounds on various blogs. 


{Photo: Michael Graydon}

An amazing family friendly condo project she worked on. The luxurious black panelled walls, double ringed mirrors and scones drip with glamour, while the simple chair and teddy bear casually thrown on temper the space and give it life.

{Photo: Ron Baxter Smith}

An Ikea print ad Suzanne styled, can you spot the Ikea? 


A fabulous example of mixing the high and low, antiques and big box store finds to create a one-of-a-kind space.


This ad was part of a 4 part ad campaign that won a Communications Arts Award. No surprise there!




Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, has design always been something you are drawn to? Did you go to school to study design?

Oh absolutely I have always been drawn to design! When I was in grade school my favourite toys were Lincoln Logs and Lego. I also spent hours fashioning model houses using shoe boxes and cardboard then decorating them with furniture and drapery whipped up from odds and sods found in the house. My family lived in Lincoln, Massachusetts for a few years and I attended a phenomenally creative school. One assignment involved sending us into the forest behind the school with the challenge of building a structure that would survive the winter using only what we could find in the woods. Each week we would go out and evaluate how our various stick houses were doing. I found it so exciting and I’m certain that these sorts of experiences were entirely influential. Later, when I was a teenager, my mother let me decorate the area at the back of the house where my bedroom was. She also consulted with me regularly about how to decorate and update the rest of the house. She still does!

In terms of studies, I was very focused on the art program at my high school, then after graduation, I completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at York University with a major in graphic design and photography. Following that I completed the interior design program at Humber College. Both were truly amazing experiences.

Before you were the Editor-In-Chief of one of the most premier design magazines, Canadian House and Home, what did you do?

Just before I took on the role of Editor at House & Home I was acting as the Home design Director of the now defunct, (but fantastic), Wish magazine as well as Canadian Family and Gardening Life. I held this role for about 5 years and was, in fact, part of the team that originally created Wish. I was also hosting my own television series on HGTV called ‘the Style Dept.’ that is now seen in many countries around the world.

Prior to that I had been the Creative Director at Canadian House & Home in charge of conceptualizing and developing their home product line that was sold at over 100 Hudson Bay stores across the country. It was an entirely different type of role than the work I do at the magazine. And before that I was a freelance designer for several years, dividing my time between working on residential clients as well as working as a freelance stylist for a variety of magazines and some big advertising clients including Ikea, Home Outfitters, Eddie Bauer, Homesense, Eaton’s, the Hudson Bay Co., Harry Rosen and Pottery Barn to name a few. I was very busy! And before that I had been a senior design editor at Canadian House & Home for several years. I have also worked for several different design firms doing everything from retail to corporate design work. That’s my resume in a nutshell.

How did you get your big break?

My big break actually came back at the age of 15 when I landed the summer internship for Lynda Reeves, House & Home’s publisher, when she was a practicing decorator. I assisted her for two or three summers working out of her home office and obviously we kept in contact afterwards. We have a long history and she has given me several work opportunities. Acting as a judge on HGTV’s Designer Superstar Challenge was also a big break for me as it led to securing my own television show as well as the opportunity to appear regularly on various television series including the Marilyn Denis show now.

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

That’s a tough one because I really do feel like I have reached the pinnacle of my career in design media in Canada, which was always my goal. And I am really focused on where I am right now. I suppose that down the line it could be interesting to collaborate with my husband, Arriz, on doing beautiful and quality residential work.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Like so many people, I don’t have a lot of free time so it is very precious. I try to escape to the country whenever I can. I love the outdoors and nature and am happiest when I’m swimming in the lake at the cottage, reading by the water…really anything by the water is perfect. I love to snowshoe and cross country ski in the winter.  I am addicted to yoga so I spend a lot of time at my local yoga studio, Octopus Garden. And I love spinning.  My idea of a perfect weeknight is to make a fantastic meal at home with my husband, Arriz, and sit by the fire with our two cats, Po and Z (pronounced Zee), watching a movie. I am usually pretty wiped at the end of the day so nothing beats staying at home!  And I love to check out the restaurant scene with friends wherever I am. 

As Editor-In-Chief, for a fantastic Canadian publication, where do you find inspiration for the magazine and for your own home/ design work?  How do you decide what makes the cut and what doesn’t?

House & Home has a distinct and specific taste level. When scouting shots come across my desk, I know fairly quickly if it meets our criteria or not.  I know it like the back of my hand as does the senior editorial staff. It is difficult to put into words but, above all else, we look for quality, sophistication, creativity and authenticity. We map out our issue themes every year so we need to ensure that the spaces we choose work within them. And we love to discover new talent.
As far as inspiration, it comes from everywhere; designers, books, our favourite stores and shops, the various international gift and furniture shows, other magazines, and of course blogs and the internet. The edit team has lots of brainstorming meetings where everyone has the opportunity to present their views on various design ideas so we also get inspiration from the office dialogue and collaboration. They are a pretty creative bunch!

What is involved in being the Editor-In-Chief, briefly fill us in on your typical day and the role you play at the magazine?

My days are pretty hectic. Most days I am in back-to-back meetings because everyone on the team needs to get approval on everything that goes in the magazine. There are initial planning meetings where the design editors make proposals for story ideas. There are meetings to choose locations and discuss props and the angles of shots. There are meeting with the art department to discuss layouts and meetings with the copy and features dept. to discuss the packaging and writing. There are budget meetings to make sure we aren’t spending too much. And there are some very in-depth cover meetings. I also meet regularly with the communications departments about events like the various Interior Design Shows or our annual trends breakfast. And there are meetings with our I-pad dept and the website team to make sure the magazine and our web presence gel.

I wasn’t kidding when I said there were a lot of meetings!

During the week of production before we send the pages out to press, most of my time is spent reading, editing and tweaking layouts. It is a deadline driven business, which makes it frenzied at times and there is always some drama or last minute panic. I have to sign off on every page. This is usually when I write my Editor’s letter as well.
In the middle of all this there are various photo shoots in studio or on location to attend. I also go to numerous events and store openings. Plus some suppliers will come to our offices to present new product developments. Now and then there are some fantastic press trips that I am lucky to be invited on. Last year I flew to Paris with Hermes and the year before I visited the Milan furniture fair  — both were glorious. I love to travel so this is the best part of my job. I have family and friends in NYC and Chester, Nova Scotia so whenever there is a photo shoot in either place I’ll go and handle the art direction.
Tweeting, blogging and posting on Pinterest have also become a part of my job so I work that in. Of course I also make appearances and presentations at various events. And I film a lot for our on line TV show, interviewing homeowners and international designers and doing house tours. And I go to the Marilyn Denis show once a month or so to talk with Marilyn about design …that involves a whole other series of meetings!

My days are seriously jam-packed.


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

First off, get the adequate training. My time in the interior design program at Humber was invaluable. And if you can, apprentice with someone whose work you admire where you can learn from the best and also make connections with the trades and key industry players.
To get published, you first need to take a project to completion. We are far more likely to publish a house that is finished than one that is only half way there. Pay special attention to the details and the layers. I have seen some gorgeous homes architecturally speaking (some from fairly prolific designers and architects) that we simply cannot print because they were totally empty of decorating or any sense of life.  But it doesn’t have to be the Royal Palace for me to take notice. House and Home has published the first apartments of some established designers including Brian Gluckstein, Sarah Richardson, Candice Olsen and Tommy Smythe, not to mention myself. All of these spaces were small, affordable but very well done.

Next, it is beneficial if you can take a great photograph so you can document your work well. Take lots of pictures. My biggest pet peeve is when people send a shot of a fireplace mantle and a chair against a wall, for example, and nothing else. We need to see the entire house and that includes a kitchen, one bathroom, one bedroom, a front entry area, and living room… minimum.  Pull back and capture everything. If you have a good project and good photos, you’re well on your way. A great story helps as well. Tell me the story and send me the pictures! I love getting a surprise gorgeous house in an e-mail or letter.  In fact, I would send both. That way I have a digital copy and a hard copy to act as a reminder.


What are some design faux pas that you think should just be abolished?

- I am not a fan of leather parsons chairs. They are far too common. I was tired of them back in the 80’s and I still am.
- Guitars and other musical instruments as d├ęcor with the exception being the baby grand piano
- The over zealous use of recessed pot lights. There are so many gorgeous fixtures out there now. Invest in a few great lights and cut back on the pots.
- Matchy-matchy colour and fabric schemes. I think most of us will agree that the most inspiring spaces lean more to the eclectic side.
- The same goes for matched sets of furniture. When was the last time that you saw a gorgeous bedroom with a matching bed, and end tables and bureau?
- Over-glamourized effects. It just isn’t relevant anymore.

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

To meet:
 I would like to have the privilege to meet either of my style icons; Muriel Brandolini or Ines de la Fressange. I admire both of them for their confidence and passion and would love to speak to them about how they make their  visions happen.

To do:
I have aspirations of designing an off-the-grid eco lodge experience in northern Ontario based on the elemental design of my own cottage. There is nothing like it here and I would love to create the same type of environment for other people to enjoy. My experience there has changed my life and it would be nice to be able to share it.

You are surrounded by such amazing design inspiration, how do you decide what and how to decorate your own homes?

It is incredibly difficult not to get influenced by all of the inspiring spaces that I see daily. I have developed a rather bad and expensive addiction to renovating and redecorating because of it! (There are worse addictions though.) In fact, I am about to embark on a reno at my Toronto home soon and I have changed my mind hundreds of times because of finding or seeing something I like better since my last decision.
But my final decision is often a matter of budget. I also pay attention to the space and items that I already have. Not every look can be transported to every space. So this narrows things down a bit. I often advise people when they are just starting to make those big purchases for their home, like a sofa or a bed, to buy wisely and take the time to think through the decision because you will probably have it for a long time. Think about what kind of space you eventually want to live and aim toward that. Like the fashion world, it’s usually better to invest in one or two truly fantastic items rather than a plethora of poorly made things. Antiques and classics are always my starting point.

Your husband is Arriz Hassam, a partner in the design firm, 3rd Uncle, 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?

Oh, I have to be careful answering this one!
Actually, we work amazingly well together. We really allow each other equal say because our skill sets are quite different. Arriz has a degree in architecture so his main focus is always on construction and structure. He has an incredible gift for solving spatial issues. I like to focus more on the final look, furniture and space planning and decorating. But one of my favourite things to do is to sketch out ideas together. Now and then we disagree but we always come up with a solution.

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?

I speak to so many international designers who are impressed by the Canadian Design Scene. We can proudly boast some larger than life stars at all ends of the design spectrum including Yabu Pushelberg, Shim Sutclilffe,  KPMB, Powell and Bonell, Umbra, Brian Gluckstein as well as Sarah Richardson, to name a few.

I don’t particularly see Canadian designers as having a specific role related to their nationality. I believe that our role is the same as good design world-wide; to deliver stellar work that ultimately improves the quality of people’s lives while connecting them to beauty. I would, however, like to see Canadian designers make a mark through an outstanding effort to operate with responsibility when it comes to ecological concerns.

In regards to defining a unique Canadian style, design has become so global that I think it is difficult to distinguish a style with a place. Words that come to mind when I think of our design scene as a collective though are: authentic, subtle, thoughtful, and restrained. What sets us apart though are our heritage and natural resources – especially our wood. I think a lot of people see Canadian style in things like fur and antlers and rustic, organic qualities. I do see a lot of homes with antlers! But it is really only a small portion of the kind of work that’s being done here. It is interesting though that the oldest company in Canada, The Hudson Bay Co., is in the midst of a total brand overhaul and is suddenly ultra-cool. Those red, yellow, black and green stripes, truly iconic Canadiana, are showing up in some of the most fascinating interiors as well as on the most stylish people at home and abroad.

Suzanne, thank-you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to participate in my series. I am truly honoured and flattered you agreed! What a busy life you lead.

I can relate to making things out of Lego, as a child I loved to build houses with what little Lego I had. I was also constantly making new cardboard box homes for my Barbies and I re-decorated my Barbie house constantly!
As for my room, my patient mother let me paint my whole room several times and create a rainbow theme - yikes - so 80's. Down to rainbow print sheets and drapes, which she gave to me last year for posterity sake!


XO Barbara

34 comments:

  1. Suzanne, Barbara ... what a fantastic interview. I ate up every last word. I was honored to meet Suzanne at the IDSWest event as well, thank you so much to her for attending! What a talented woman with such a diverse number of responsibilities, it was neat to read about the role an editor is required to play. Thank you Suzanne for all the inspiration, and for giving us pages and pages of beauty from around the globe that conveniently arrive at our door steps month after month. All those meetings are worth the time and effort, we can be proud that Canada has such a world-class magazine to offer.
    Nancy xo

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  2. Oh Barbara - what a fabulous interview! The photos are all gorgeous, and she has some great advice - I'm in awe! What an incredibly talented Canadian eh!

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  3. Thank you for that great interview. I have always liked Suzanne and love the direction H&H is going under her direction.

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  4. Great interview Barbara. One of my favorite magazines which I have delivered to my Atlanta home even though it is $$$!

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  5. Great intrview. The photos are amazing.

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  6. What a fantastic interview Barbara! congrats!

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  7. I really liked the wall with frames..and the rest of them to..

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  8. Amazing interview Barb! I love Suzanne's show especially of her front entrance for the "Canadian" Issue. Suzanne's style is elegant, timeless, and sophisticated. I am crazy about her off grid home and totally blogging about it in the Summer this year.

    Great tips on how to get started in the business and getting published. It's also interesting to learn of incredibly busy life of the editor-in-chief!

    Thanks again for bringing Suzanne to us today!

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  9. As a subscriber to H&H mag I have always enjoyed her input and take on design. She really does have a lovely style and provides a perfect balance to the style set by Linda Reeves. Her cottage is such a great statement and I love the fact that she is off grid and also in a low-impact home. I believe that is a MAFCO house which is such a great design and so environmentally considerate.
    Oh, by the way, I am your latest follower. Found you through Razmataz blog,another fellow Canadian blogger!

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  10. A wonderful interview Barbara and Suzanne. I loved reading the chronology of Suzanne's career. Wow, she is one busy woman!

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  11. LOVED every ounce of this interview. Big thanks to Suzanne and Barbara. I just LOVE her work.

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  12. I really enjoyed reading your interview with my morning latte! I have always had such huge respect for Suzanne going back to her first house. I must have scoured those pages a million times finding new little details every time. I still have that issue! Great interview as always:)

    Andrea
    xo

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  13. Barbara Thanks for this interview for the time & great insightful questions. Thanks to Suzanne for the time and the honesty! Barbara I really appreciate the effort you make to entertain & educate us! Thank you!

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  14. Fantastic interview!! I've always been a big fan of Suzanne's work throughout the years and it was so great to read about how she got started and has progressed throughout the world of design. You've interviewed so many amazing Canadians for this series Barbara, can't wait to see who you find next!!!! xoxo

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  15. I have been waiting for this interview from you! It was such a great way to enjoy my morning latte as Andrea said. Suzanne is an extremely busy girl but look at all of the inspiration she has given us and to our careers. I still have an episode of hers on my PVR from Style Dept. One day I randomly saw it playing and it was my favorite episode. (Urban Farmhouse) every once in awhile I'll watch it and get inspired all over again. I should have all you girls over to watch it. Thank you Barbara for these interviews, you do such an amazing job!

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  16. Great interview. Suzanne Dimma is awesome. I always look forward to the next House & Home online TV episode arriving in my email box.

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  17. Fantastic interivew - and congrats Barbara! Great feature, as always.

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  18. Barbara, this is AMAZING. You must be thrilled to bits. How fantastic to have interviewed Suzanne Dimma. Your questions were fantastic: so interesting and I learned a lot about her, even though I have been following her for years. I am seriously impressed by you and thoroughly enjoyed reading this post.

    I know how you feel, now, about being deflated over espresso stained furniture being "out". I have leather parsons(ish) chairs in our dining room because they are so flippin' comfortable and in perfect condition so I see no need to replace (nor to I want to cough up the cash). But now I feel a little sheepish. Meh. I decorate to live here.

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  19. So wonderful to read all about Suzanne. Fabulous interview as usual, Barbara.

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  20. Wow...what a fabulous interivew. Barbara, I am so thrilled for you...and so proud of you! That is such an accomplishment to interview such a prominent designer and editor in our country.
    Suzanne, double wow! You're work load sounds like the work load of about 10 people!!! LOL. I don't know how you do it, but I am incredibly inspired by your passion and drive for Canadian design and media.
    Best wishes to both of you :D Cheers!

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  21. I was thrilled to be at the IDSwest talk where Suzanne presented about the process of designing and building their cottage. I completely relate to her love of nature, and adore her cottage. I loved hearing about her creative school experience building a structure... I'd love my kids to go to that school! Great interview questions and answers!!

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  22. What a great interview, Suzanne and Barbara! I loved hearing the busy day to day of life inside House & Home and all of the advice to aspiring decorators and designers. Thanks so much for sharing! ~Lily

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  23. So excited to read this interview as I am a huge fan of Suzanne's. House and Home is quickly becoming my favorite magazine and I have so enjoyed watching their online TV spots. As a neighbor to the south, I have noticed that what Canadian designers not only have extraordinary taste, they manage to pull it off in a very down-to-earth, humble way. Suzanne seems no exception.
    Camille

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  24. A great interview Barbara. So informative yet it felt like we sat down across from Suzanne ourselves to have a nice chat. Great job!
    Dana

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  25. Oh my gosh, Barbara... dare I say it? This is perhaps your best interview yet! Fantastic and interesting responses from Suzanne that had me reading every word twice!!
    Cheers!
    Victoria

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  26. Great interview Barb. Love, love, love Suzanne and House and Home. You really get the sense she puts 110% into everything she does - like this interview. Her answers are well thought out and detailed - loved every word! So interesting that she forged the relationship with Lynda Reeves when she was only 15. I look forward to following along with the reno of her home - her taste is impeccable and can't wait to see what she does.

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  27. Bravo Barbara!! This was such a great read. Like so many others I have always loved Suzanne's style and work, but I think this might be the first time I have felt like we had a glimpse of the woman behind it all. Your questions were spot on, and she responded with really complete and open answers. This column is really high quality, I love the breadth of personalities you have introduced us to! Thanks for putting so much effort into it, we are lucky to have you! :)

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  28. Just found your blog. Love the Canadian Eh segment. So happy to see someone writing about Canadian design and promote Canadian talent.

    Excited to read more.

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  29. Well done Barbara, you are a pro! I loved your questions and of course enjoyed all the answers. She is so talented and must have so much energy to accomplish everything!

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  30. Wonderful interview and amazing post all around Barbara!! Thinking I will be coming back a few times to read this one again!

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  31. Fascinating interview Barbara! I appreciate how in-depth and revealing Suzanne's answers were. She really has had quite a breadth of experience in Canadian media. And what a crazy, busy (albeit stylish) life she leads!

    Just when I don't think your So Canadian, eh? series could get any better, you surprise me with even more intriguing subjects and questions. Well done, Barbara!

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  32. I love receiving my House & Home magazine in the mail and it's so great to read such an amazing interview with the Editor! Fabulous job!!

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  33. Fantastic interview Barb! I've followed Suzanne for so many years - what a talent! Wish was one of my favourite mags and I loved her Style Dept show. Her home has always looked chic, no matter how many years later you see it, it still looks current. She has an amazing eye and I love that she has kept the upscale feel of House & Home but managed to inject some youthfulness into it as well. Definitely my favourite mag!

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  34. I wanted to make sure I could sit and enjoy this interview, thus the delay in reading and commenting.

    As always, Barbara, this is an exceptional interview. You have asked some excellent questions, and in turn, Suzanne has given some very thoughtful answers. She has given us all a lot to think about, but what I take away from this is how hard she works. What a journey she has been on, and the place she finds herself in now she has clearly earned.

    Thank you so much for this!

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