Gillian Segal is the Principal and Founder of Gillian Segal Design, a high-end boutique design firm that specializes in custom residential design. Based in Vancouver, the fashion-forward designer has inspired over 1.7K followers on Instagram with her chic and modern aesthetic. In addition to managing her own design firm, she is a regular contributor for MarthaStewart.com. Gillian believes that the home is the perfect opportunity for self-expression and should totally reflect and embrace those who live there in both form and functionality. (Spoiler alert: We couldn’t agree more!) We got the chance to sit down with Gillian to talk about her beautiful home… and all things design, too. Read on to find out what inspires her, her experience in the design industry, and what’s next for her on her exciting journey!

We read that you watched your parents build your first family home. How did that impact you growing up?
Watching my parents build their first home as a little girl definitely opened up my eyes to the world of design and architecture. Seeing a space built from plans to reality is incredible, I remember walking through the framing thinking it was so fascinating. Looking back now I see how much the design of the house affected me. Open concept living meant a lot of time spent together as a family which was incredible (although I didn’t always think so as a teenager…) The warm color palette, wood burning fireplace and natural elements always made me feel safe comfortable and at ease. This home is still a constant inspiration to me, reminding me how much our surroundings can affect our state of mind and quality of life.

Right out of college, you launched your own firm. What inspired the jump?
After graduating design school I worked for a few different design firms, always with the goal in mind of going out on my own. Working collaboratively with other designers and professionals is so much fun, but starting my own firm meant creative control over projects which is what really drove me. My favorite part of the design process is the conceptual and artistic portion where you solve problems and establish a vision for the project. Working for another designer means executing someone else’s vision which was great experience but I couldn’t be happier to now be running my own firm.

You have such a unique aesthetic! Who do you admire most in the design industry?
That’s such a tough question for me to answer! There are so many qualities from so many designers that are an inspiration to me. I really admire Kelly Wearstler (who doesn’t?! She’s incredible) for her fearlessness. Always mixing patterns and materials, she’s constantly breaking the mold and doing something unexpected and original which isn’t easy. I love Joseph Dirand for the artistic elegance he brings to every space and Vicente Wolfe for his amazing restraint that creates refined yet eclectic spaces.

When you’re starting a new project, where do you start first?
Always with a mood board! This is basically a conceptual collage that could include anything from architectural details to millwork or finishes and furnishings. I think this is such an important part because it really establishes a “look and feel” both for myself and the client. Having a client tell me they want “traditional” could mean a million different things, so having some photos for us to look at together is so helpful. I also find it’s a great tool to look back on during projects – it’s so easy to veer off course. Usually if I ask the client, or myself – “does this fit with our initial concept?” I know what needs to be done. This also really helps to create a final product with a cohesive look that flows well from room to room.

Working with clients can be a challenge. What is the key to success to make sure their needs and personality are shown in the final design?
I think the key for me is keeping in mind that it really should be a collaborative and educational process. One of my first clients once told me she felt like I took her style and elevated it to the next level and this is always my goal. Of course I have my own personal style, and add my own flair to every project but it’s really about figuring out what your clients style is, and finding a way to create the best possible (unique) version of it. I also try to educate my clients along the way and hope that by the end of the process they’ve learned and have been exposed to new things and ideas. I must admit though, I do always try to push just a little, I think being a little bit out of your comfort zone is where the magic really happens.

We’re sure there have been other tough situations. What has been the most difficult design situation that you’ve had to overcome?
There’s definitely no shortage of difficult situations in this industry! I often compare designing a home to planning a wedding for a bride. It’s so personal and so important (which is why I love residential design), but it’s also the reason for client drama and upsets. People get nervous about decisions during the waiting period, are disappointed with project limitations (financially or physically), the reasons are endless (and usually inevitable). I try to stay patient and figure out what I can do to improve the situation. Ultimately, it’s a service-based industry so I always try to have good communication with clients to make sure I know what they need from me to be happy and excited about their project.

We noticed that you are a contributor for Martha Stewart, which is amazing! How did you come upon that opportunity?
Thank you! Yes, I’m now writing for MarthaStewart.com on a monthly basis and am so excited about it. They approached me a few months ago after seeing an entertaining feature I put together with my best friend Sophie (stay tuned to see our latest feature on Rue soon!) We shot it in my own dining room and I suppose the space and decor sparked their interest. After growing through my website and blog, they contacted me asking me to contribute, and of course I couldn’t say no! It’s Martha Stewart after all…

Is there anything in particular that you’ve learned from working as a contributor?
I definitely learn something every time I write or shoot a feature. On the most basic level I think I’ve gained a really great understanding of what translates well from real life to photos. Not everything does! When I shot my house I had some bananas in a bowl and thought it was so funny when my photographer (Tracey Ayton) was nicely trying to tell me that the bananas just weren’t working. For anyone out there wondering, safe photo-ready fruits and veggies include apples, lemons and artichokes. On a larger scale I think the most important lesson has been that while people love to look at beautiful and inspiring photos, most readers want to learn and take something away that they can apply to their own house or project, so I do my best to try and share my tips and resources.

Let’s talk more about your own home. Do you have a favorite room and why?
I do have to say I love the dining room. It was initially a small solarium but we took the doors off and decided to make it into a dining space. I had so much fun making the most of this tiny little room and tried to pack in as much drama as my husband would allow! I love all the memories we’ve made in that intimate little space with family and friends.

Finally, what is your top advice for turning a house into a home?
Being true to yourself and your personality in your design choices. If you feel at home in your space, so will your guests. It’s also important to keep in mind how you want to feel in your space. If you want to feel relaxed and at peace, add lots of storage to avoid chaotic clutter and choose calming color palette  Or, if you want to feel energized, select bold and dynamic shapes and patterns. These are just two small examples of how much design can impact our mood, energy etc. so make sure your space is tailored to your needs.

Thanks Gillian! Be sure to click through our slideshow to be inspired by her beautiful Vancouver home (and snag a few ideas for your own space).

To learn more about Gillian or see past projects, click here