So Canadian eh? : Michelle Morelan

This week's guest is one whose talent takes my breath away. She knows how to capture the essence of the west coast, not only in her interiors but in her art as well.

Please give a warm welcome to the beautiful....

Michelle Morelan of Michelle Morelan Design 

She is 

I have had the extreme pleasure of meeting Michelle at several blogger get togethers. Little did she know that I read her blog, A Schematic Life, well before I met her. She has been an incredible inspiration to those of us who have realized in their mid-30's, after having children and in the midst of the hustle and bustle that comes with families, that being involved in the world of design is truly where one belongs.

Michelle has the incredible talent of  one who truly embraces the west coast bringing a touch of the outdoors in. Her spaces are serene and calm, the feeling I get when I walk my dog through the tall cedars in the ravine behind my house. There is a true beauty and sense of divine in the outdoors and it takes immense talent to bring that feeling indoors. 

Not only does Michelle capture that outdoor beauty in her interiors but in her art as well. Michelle is an incredibly talented artist as well! Her paintings have such depth, layers, and texture. It would be a dream of mine to have one of her paintings hanging on my wall! 

And that isn't all, she is most famous for her schematic renderings. I am privileged to have a set of cards with a series of her schematic sketches! Tempted to frame them instead of giving them away!

Enjoy a taste of her portfolio. 

{All photos courtesy of Michelle Morelan}

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

I have always considered myself lucky in knowing what I wanted to do…I remember buying Architectural Digest growing up in Ucluelet; it opened up a new world to me. When my kids were old enough, I asked them if they minded if I went back to school, so I started my Applied Design Degree at Kwantlen when I was 36, and graduated one month before my 40th birthday…it was a great high in my life, including having Alda Pereira as my mentor in my Thesis year. I started at Kasian a month later; it helped me sort out what kind of designer I really wanted to be. The answer was absolutely residential design!

How would you describe your design style? Do you find growing up on Vancouver Island’s pristine west coast has influenced how you approach design and your style?

Definitely; I realize that site has everything to do with it…we don’t have a decorative history like Toronto; we are more Californian than New Yorker in nature, more orientated to the tides, forests, and to wildlife. We are not Whistler either…but lucky enough to have a unique reference to nature. One of the things I remember growing up on the west coast of Vancouver Island were the Japanese fishing shacks high on stilts on the tideline, clad in cedar shingles, with woodstove pipes popping through the mossy roofs. I love the simple tasks of life and how they influence what we keep around us, of the allure and romance of get away spaces which reference those regional tasks of the past.

I adore prints, but don’t use too many, since many west coast spaces have amazing views, of which I don’t like to compete. And I love natures curiosities brought inside- shells, sticks, stones. I hope my design style speaks of outdoor/indoor living, and the lifestyle of my clients.

You worked under Kelly Deck before branching out on your own? How was it to work with such a dynamic and very West Coast designer?

Gosh, Kelly has allot of energy. There were just three of us in the office in Gastown at that point…all relatively inexperienced, but shared a passion for design, and a love for west coast architecture. Her exposure on HGTV definitely propelled her career, but… (I am not just going to say this because Kelly is a friend)…she is one of the most talented designers I know. Whether writing a contract, doing concept work or dealing with trades, she really does enjoy making people happy, and that is the basis of residential design. It’s taken me a while to realize that…it’s a business, and if you don’t enjoy the business aspect of it, it may not be for you.

What is one thing you feel that one can do to inject style into their home without breaking the bank?

Nature gives away much for free. My friends all know about my love of driftwood…I adore the hues of it. Also, editing is free; I think it was Vicente Wolf who said that he took things out of the room, until left with a room he felt was its best. I like to inject something whimsical in a home…an element of surprise like a shot of colour or opposing style. Digital designs are also inexpensive…blowing up travel photos onto a canvas or manipulating photos in Photoshop offer both whimsy and value.

Where do you find inspiration for your design projects? What do you look for to inspire the direction your projects take?

A client’s lifestyle is where I start, then research, concept work/schematics…I like to know I am on track with my client at every point during the process, since I have learned going off track can easily eat up any profit. The direction always starts with site, architecture…what surfaces/systems we can work with, and of course budget.

What is one design faux pas that you wish could be banished?

Thinking that Interior Design is for rich people…

What made you decide to start a blog?

The truth is, over 10 years ago I had a blog; my husband and I were going through infertility, and I found a group of women that I could relate to through blogging, so I knew what they were.  In 2008, I started to want a more dynamic component to my website, where I could share my thoughts on design. I found Patricia Gray’s blog while doing an “interiors” Google search…a couple of clicks later, Joni, Ivan…well, the rest is history. I have met some of the most kind and talented people…I’m so glad I did. It’s difficult to be alone in the office, and I find my design blog friends fill that void…always there to talk design.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Sleep…seriously, I get up really early, go to bed really late, so without an afternoon siesta, I don’t know how I could do it. I also love Google Earth…so whenever I have a minute I like to virtually travel to Sorrento or Eze…among many dream destinations.

Tell us one thing that would surprise us!

That’s funny…this is where I come up with something that is witty but design minded, sophisticated but grounding…lol…ok…hmmm…ok…I am pretty sure my courier thinks I never get out of my pajamas.

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

I would sketch my way through Europe with my husband, design and build west coast cottages, and spend a weekend at Fallingwater, by myself.

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?

We have a pioneering spirit, live exposed to the elements, and have a unique relationship to our First Nations. We are polite by nature; we embrace a mix of cultures, and are dwarfed by vast landscapes, which shape us and our homes.

I was born in Cape Breton, and every time I go, I appreciate it more and more…how one country can be so unique in culture and landscape from one coast to the other is what makes us Canadian. We have respect on the world stage, so does our design and architecture, and that makes me proud and gives me ownership in pushing regional design. This is why I strive to keep true to site, to the architecture, to the forces of nature, the history and to the people…you just can’t go wrong with that formula.

Thanks Barbara ;) Eh!

No, thank-you Michelle. It has truly been such an honour to interview and to get to know you on a personal level! I am incredibly jealous that not only do you have your own design company but you are taking a "break" and heading to Europe for a few months! Can't wait to see how that experience influences your designs!



  1. Beautiful interview. Michelle seems like she has such an honest and grounded view on both and life and design. Such a pleasure reading this...perfect start to the morning!

  2. Wonderful interview Barbara. Michelle has such amazing insight and talent!

  3. Thanks so much make me look much more interesting than I really am...nice job ;) lol... Looking forward to catching up with a cup of coffee! Thanks for your nice comments Amy and Meesh!

  4. Loved this interview with Michelle. I found her insight on design inspirational for me.... especially growing up as a Vancouverite. I guess those little Japanese structures on stilts are gone? I would've loved to see those.

  5. I agree with Tracey! Inspirational! Michelle, you are really talented. And, I'm imagining the little shacks on stilts in my head. :)

  6. There are only a few left along one part of the tideline...many locals are trying to keep them, but the cool ones are all friend Julie Mayete's family had one when I was young, and I got to go inside several was really comfy and homey...

  7. well this is a great interview....Thanks Michelle & Barb...Love all the personal insight.

  8. What a talented lady!! I love her perspective on living on the island. There is so much beauty but sometimes when we grow up in a place it can seem boring. Glad to see she is still able to enjoy the beauty!

  9. Such a fantastic interviews. Love her sketches. She is so talented. Thank you for sharing this with us, Barbara!

  10. What a talent! I'd love a painting in my home too. I love that her appreciation for her birthplace of Cape Breton grows every time she visits. I think it's like that for many of us - I know that I appreciate Canada so much more now that I'm in Dubai - it's an amazing country.

  11. I loved getting to know a little bit more about Michelle - what a talented lady! And I felt instantly connected with the West Coast influence, especially Michelle's love of driftwood, and the glass balls I spied in a few of the photos. Thank you for this interview Barbara and Michelle!

  12. Finally got a chance to read this interview with Michelle. Love hearing all about her west coast sensibilities and she is a very talented sketch artist.
    I also love driftwood, I inherited this love from my Mom, which I thought was a crazy thing, when I was a child. LOL!

  13. "What is one design faux pas that you wish could be banished?

    Thinking that Interior Design is for rich people…"

    I LOVE that!


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