Leadership / Tamara Rooks – Creative Director, Workplace


Coming from a unique tapestry of cultures, Rooks was introduced to a diverse mix of influences from a young
age. Originally born in the Czech Republic to a Vietnamese mother and a Cuban father, the early years of
Rooks’ life were spent on her grandparents’ farm in Cuba. It was here that Rooks’ early creativity was fuelled
in clever ways by her Grandma. Together they would cut out paper dolls, with Rooks designing their paper
outfits herself, as access to the stencils found in magazines were not always available in Cuba.

After moves to Newsfoundland, British Columbia, and finally to Ontario, Rooks became very comfortable
with a sense of adaptability; a skill she now relies on in her day to day role as a Designer and Creative Director.
“I’m good at taking on the next challenge and seeing something new for what it is,” notes Rooks. “You always
have to keep going and look at every opportunity as something amazing.”

Having always been very artistically inclined, Rooks believes that inspiration can come from anywhere:
whether it be an early interest in fashion sparked by her seamstress mother, a pull to interior design from
watching popular home-renovation shows, or now travelling to her and her husband’s home countries to
relax and replenish themselves. When Rooks sought a more practical application for her creativity outside
of painting and sculpture, it was a high school interior design class that inspired her to other forms of artistic
expression, like graphic design. Subsequently earning her BA in Interior Design from Humber College–while
balancing work and fighting the ripple effects of the 2007 recession–Rooks’ tenacity and drive paid off in
the form of a coveted role at Figure3.

“Communication skills are huge when it comes to a role as an interior designer. The confidence, the positive energy; there’s something about Tamara and her charisma which we know is needed in the industry. It’s what clients are attracted to, and Tamara has that.”

/ Suzanne Wilkinson, Principal, Figure3

Familiar with the exceptional work coming from Figure3, Rooks was thrilled to join this growing team. For
Figure3 Principals, Eric Yorath and Darryl Balaski, the feeling was completely mutual. Having met Rooks
previously in a more casual setting, Yorath and Balaski were so charmed by Rooks that, in addition to
encouraging her to join the firm, they also brought up her name in internal conversations, including to fellow
Principal Suzanne Wilkinson. While Rooks may be hesitant to boast about her natural ease with others, her
fellow Figure3 partners are not. “As soon as the clients meet her, they are charmed by her,” agrees Wilkinson.
“Obviously the work is amazing as well, but it’s the combination of being relatable, non-threatening, very
talented, having lots of charisma, and being articulate – all at the same time.” Figure3 quickly saw these
attributes shine through socially, and knew they needed to capture it to bring these talents to their
in-house team.

Coming up on her seventh year with Figure3, Rooks is now transitioning into her newest role as Creative
Director, Workplace, and embracing all parts of the complex cycle of design. “It’s one of my favourite things
about design,” shares Rooks. “There’s not a lot of jobs where you can start off with a concept and an idea,
and then see it in a built environment where you can actually touch it, feel it, and see people interact with
the space the way you intended. There’s a full sensory expeience that not a lot of other avenues can offer.”

A master of adaptability, Rooks can go from from the studio, to a boardroom, to a site visit, and off to a
glamorous cocktail party, all in the course of one day. This challenging, ever-changing focus, flipping from
creative work to client-facing and back again, is matched perfectly with Rooks’ unrelenting drive, and a
passion for collaboration. “You can’t design if you don’t know who you’re designing for, and who you’re
designing with.” Rooks thrives while working, interacting, and connecting with people on a deeper
level–getting to know clients so they feel confident in their design process, and teaching team members
how to build and deliver concepts so they too can excel within Figure3 and the design industry at large.

Though her role as a Creative Director now gives Rooks more leadership and authority to represent
Figure3 as a designer–something she admitted will take some getting used to–she is still looking to continue
her own growth through her close mentorship with Wilkinson and other Figure3 directors. Described as an
active, natural leader, Rooks works hard to promote and share the encouraging culture she has experienced
through her progressive time with Figure3, focusing on creating an inclusive environment for her team
members where they are growing, learning, and intentionally seeking that sense of collaboration. As far
as goals or dream projects for herself professionally, Rooks simply but emphatically states:
“if I can, I want to try it all.”

Leadership / Anna-Lisa Frank, Director, Workplace


While the pace of the world around us–our city, our job, even our commute–moves at a brisk speed,
Anna-Lisa Frank, Director, Workplace at Figure3, cuts through the commotion and sees the value in slowing
down. Finding solace in solitude, Frank seeks moments of calm within the chaos, finding inspiration in
observing the world around her.

For a creatively-driven kid in a small town, the resources available to be fully immersed in the arts were
limited for Frank. It was through the parents of a friend (who happened to be art teachers in a neighbouring
town) that Frank began her journey into the arts world. Constantly sketching, drawing, and crafting, a careers course in highschool eventually introduced architecture and interior design as a way to translate her affinity
for creativity into a career. Understanding the growing importance of tech in an ever-evolving world, Frank
selected the more electronic-focused interior design program at Sheridan College. A successful three week
co-op placement at an interior design firm turned into a job offer, where Frank truly began her initiation
into the professional design industry.

Throughout her 12 years with Figure3, Frank has flourished from her start as a Project Designer, to her current
role as Director, Workplace. The key to her continued success lies in her ability to remain focused and present, while finding the time to slow down. “My husband and I travel a lot and use the time to immerse ourselves
into other environments,” shares Frank. “We love to watch and just observe how people are meandering
through and interacting with spaces.” It is in these quiet, wallflower moments that Frank decompresses,
and uses observation as an outlet of both relaxation and inspiration.

“I love experiencing the wow factor at the
end of the project.
Seeing a client walk through
the space, and having them feel like they have
been heard and it’s exactly what they thought
they wanted–or even more than what they ever
thought they could have, for their employees
and themselves.”

As a first-time mother to an already outgoing son, Frank’s once-solo commutes to and from work and his
daycare, are now used as an opportunity for her little one to divulge details about his day. “This industry and these leadership roles can carry a lot of stress, so it’s important to keep myself present while i’m in the office, and equally present while i’m at home to naturally separate but also balance the two,” she explains.

Stepping into her leadership role at Figure3, Frank now oversees the workplace design team, as well as
leading projects for large-scale clients including RioCan and Miller Thomson. To seamlessly
harmonize the multitude of moving parts, Frank looks at the big picture strategy, mapping out how all the
intricate pieces fit, and pivoting as needed as the project grows and takes shape. Her leadership style is
deeply rooted in open dialogue and communication: ensuring that everyone feels their voice is heard, and
work is completed with an abundanc e of support towards a common goal. “Success, to me, is having our
team feel as though they are functioning as one collective while we work to make our clients feel
comfortable and confident in what we are presenting.”

As the world continues to swirl and pulse around her, Frank sidesteps the clamor in search of those bites
of quiet contemplation. “Solo running is my time to help clear my head,” she shares. “I can immerse myself
in the environment around me and get lost in my own thoughts. This is where most of my best thinking
and ideas take place.”

Leadership / Andre Hartono, Director of Operations, Residential Development


It’s a long way from Jakarta to Boston, but when Figure3’s Director, Operations, Residential Development,
Andre Hartono planted his feet in North America, he knew the journey was worth taking. In fact, with
Bond-like precision and calm, confident energy, it takes a lot to “shake or stir” this Indonesian-born
designer that coworkers often characterize as a quiet, confident force, with an unparalleled eye for detail.
Having obtained his Bachelor of Science from Northeastern and then completing his MBA in Boston,
Hartono was immediately drawn to the diversity of Toronto. “I knew I wanted to be in North America,”
he says, “living in Boston was great, but Toronto offered career opportunities in a thriving multicultural
tapestry that really resonated with me.”

With a design career spanning over 15 years, Hartono has worked on numerous award-winning projects,
but he’s never one to make a grab for the spotlight; perhaps it has something to do with his early upbringing
in Bali —a place that still provides him with a positive grounding force. He is always quick to elevate his
team and share the win; and in turn they rarely let him down.

But his key acumen lies in allocating resources and team members to get a job done. Understanding the
strengths of everyone on the team is critical, allowing Hartono to quickly reallocate skills to complete a job on
time, and on budget. “Ensuring the right people are on the team, at the right time can make all the difference
in a complex project,” he explains.

Occasionally when a team member is space planning, an updated engineering drawing comes in and the
design shifts, throwing the planning into question. “During construction for example, sometimes mechanical
ducting shows up in unexpected areas, or beams are deeper than expected and I think: so, what am I going
to do with my ceiling now?” Hartono explains. “I like helping the team figure out how big a problem really is –
sometimes it’s not as big as you think.”

With a passion for style and love of a
dry martini, Hartono is a critical member of
the Figure3 leadership team
, who continues to
inspire those around him with a powerful,
yet stealthy leadership style. ”

It’s this ability that eventually led Figure3 Principle, Dominic De Freitas, to invite Hartono to join the team.
“Andre and I had worked together previously, and he always inspired me,” states De Freitas. “He has an
uncanny ability to translate creative design into technical execution along with a confident and graceful
approach to people. The team really doesn’t want to disappoint Andre because they have so much respect
for him. He basically knows everything.” Hartono’s response is self effacing, and he laughs. “I wish I did;
you aren’t human if you know the answer to everything!”

Often described as the fixer, Andre’s team respects his keen ability to apply both macro and granular
thinking when uncovering a problem, and then working forward to minimize any impact on the project.
“We can always find another way to rethink a challenge.”

Clearly, organization and attention to detail are two of Hartono’s greatest strengths, which help him skillfully
manage projects through the concept design stage and translate them to a built reality. “When developing
a construction drawing package or working on a design concept, you must think about how it’s actually
going to be built; sometimes the execution isn’t immediately clear, and I love to help the team ideate that
process. It’s very fulfilling to see people break out of their comfort zones and explore options that
are new to them; knowing you played a part in their growth.”

With a passion for style and love of a dry martini, Hartono is a critical member of the Figure3 leadership
team, who continues to inspire those around him with a powerful, yet stealthy leadership style. And in the
ultimate international secret agent move that prioritizes expediency and efficiency, he admits:
“I don’t like to drive, I prefer planes over cars.”

Leadership / Monique Jahn, Director Workplace


Monique Jahn, Figure3 Workplace Director, is adept at putting the pieces together. Over the past 23 years
since she launched her interior design career, she’s knit together a knowledge of workplace insights and
strategies for her teams to craft innovative and creative solutions for clients.

From the onset, Jahn was interested in the arts, always drawing and painting. “My parents were encouraging
with me when I was taking those courses. I knew I wanted to be immersed in how people responded to their
environments, and that led me to interior design.” While at university for fine art, she took a course that
explored the relationship of art and film with current events, which proved influential. “It connected all the
dots for me,” says Jahn. “It illuminated why people design what they design, or draw what they draw. It relates
to everything happening to all of us,; connecting film to painting to the environment to travel to politics.
Now I always look at art and design that way.”

Today, Jahn says her primary role is getting projects off on the right footing. And it starts with a conversation
— without leading a client — to discover who they are, and what their goals are. “Repeating back what
you think you hear helps the client see their future in a way that shows them where their goals might lead
them, and what a space we design can do for them to drive their business forward.” She relays information
the team needs, establishes goals and ensures her team has the resources and tools they require to move
forward on schedule. “Clients may not have a precise intention at a project’s initiation. Sometimes more
conversations are required, digging deeper to reveal their goals or an end result they may not have anticipated
themselves. Finding an opportunity that they didn’t see — to exceed the expectation of the project
— is a really great success for the team, for the client, for everyone.”

It’s important to encourage people to
think creatively; helping them to build
confidence inproblem solving. If you are
constantly giving the answers or direction,

it seems like there is only one thing
to do, and that can be limiting for people.
You can’t write a recipe and do the
same thing every time.”

Having great mentors throughout Jahn’s career, especially in design school, helped build a framework for
what strong leadership looks like. She credits various leaders with inspiring her career over the years and
teaching her specific lessons: like how to recover after a setback, or how to communicate with a client with
ease. “When someone gives me direction but doesn’t do the work for me, when they offer choices, that’s
what really has an impact.”

Jahn never anticipated that leadership would develop into a passion. “Sometimes you tap skills that you
didn’t go to school for. To suddenly manage people after so many years in the creative field was a challenge,”
she admits, but one she found professionally edifying. According to her, anyone can be a leader. “Being a
leader is just teaching other people to lead and take ownership of their actions. When you empower people
and give them permission to share their knowledge, it’s valuable to everyone and strengthens the team as
a whole. ”

Jahn emphasizes the importance of leaders who provide guidance, direction and support, without being
too specific. “It’s important to encourage people to think creatively; helping them to build confidence in
problem solving. If you are constantly giving the answers or direction, it seems like there is only one thing
to do, and that can be limiting for people. You can’t write a recipe and do the same thing every time. In our
business, there are often multiple correct solutions to a design issue.”

She notes a common pitfall is to resource employees to similar projects. “There’s a balance to pushing
people without frustrating them, and increasing the level of complexity to something they feel comfortable
with.” She aims to determine which project is right for each team member, helping expose them to novel
experiences that are necessary to move their careers forward.

“Success for me is putting all the pieces together so we have the right people resourced on the right
project, seeing someone build their career and knowing that I might have had some small influence on that.
It is incredibly gratifying to see a team bring a project to life, and hearing a happy client brag about their
new beautiful space.“

“My goal as a leader is to be a connector of parts, whether it’s people within our organization to form the
right team, or ideas for a client — supplying information they may not have had in the past . I think that
all these pieces can help drive a project to success.”

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Leadership / Dominic De Freitas, Principal


Growing up, Dominic De Freitas, Figure3 Principal, was creative and artistic. A life changing presentation
on interior design and architecture as a profession, launched a 25-year career in design.

“At school you’re pushed into choosing either the creative or technical. I found that difficult.
I kept one hand in each of those worlds, it was my comfort zone,” he says.

Dominic credits an influential high school history teacher for jump starting his love of history and travel.
“Everything she taught was so inspiring, especially learning where the world came from in terms of
architecture and design. Of course, I wanted to go to these places and see them for myself.”

Beginning his travels in Paris, he was struck by how well designed the city was was and how Napoleon III’s
influence had influentially transformed it. This trip would be the first of many, and it ignited a desire
to learn about good design and why it was that way.

After traveling the world, fashion, history, and architecture continue to influence and inspire his work.
“Discovering something beautiful is one thing but learning how it got that way is really interesting to me.
And that is where history comes in. You keep asking those questions that take you further back in time.
I was just like a sponge, I wanted to know more.”

Since joining Figure3’s partnership in 2019, the award-winning interior designer has worked on
high-profile projects with prominent residential developers across North America.

Leading and mentoring a talented team of Figure3 designers, Dominic has curated a design atmosphere
which nods to the past and embraces the future. “Designing today in our modern world is all about
connecting humanity back to history.”

Dominic continues to motivate others through sharing his knowledge and experiences. “I’m often referred
to as the storyteller. I love translating an experience into a story. I want people to feel the essence of what
I felt in that moment. The only way to do that is to paint the picture and tell the story.” Creating a working
environment that encourages sharing, inspiration, and inquisitiveness has translated into celebrated,
award-winning spaces.

When I design, if it’s not a solution
to a problem, it’s pointless.”

Aiming for an essence of timeless fashion, Dominic and his team connect with clients to create purposeful
designs that strike the balance between beauty and function. “ I think it’s really important to listen. Design
can be beautiful but if it doesn’t solve a problem, it’s a wasted opportunity. “ He prides himself on creating
lasting connections with clients and truly partnering with them to ensure the optimal design outcome.
Listening and designing with mindful intention.

Being a convergent designer comes naturally for Dominic. His greatest achievement is being able to bring
ideas together and take people on a journey. “We need that connection. There is an energy you get when
you touch something, and it can really affect how you feel. The sensory aspect of design for me is critical.
When I see they are feeling what I felt, I know I did my job.”

Leadership / Darryl Balaski, Principal


Photo of Darryl Balaski

For proof of how Figure3 Principal Darryl Balaski holds the company’s corporate culture dear, you only need
to examine his track record. A typical employee spends on average four years at one company, but Balaski,
who oversees human resources, has been happily clocking in for over 18 years.

“Originally what drew me to the company was the idea of what they were doing, it was interesting and cool.
But what kept me here is the culture of trust, respect and caring about other people. From the moment
I stepped in the door, I was going to be a lifer.”

Balaski credits the culture the founding partners created. Even they knew it had taken on a life of its own.
“The moment they asked me to join the partnership, I didn’t need to look at a contract. The first thing out
of my mouth was: where do I sign?”

He admits he didn’t go to school to specialize in HR but he quickly developed a fascination with employees
and what drives their performance. “Understanding other people and relationships and being able to see
someone grow and flourish in their career is tremendously satisfying. Caring about what they’re trying to
achieve is the key.”

Applying a one size-fit-all solution doesn’t necessarily play. “You can’t be successful in HR without knowing
that you don’t know everything. What may have remedied one situation won’t work for the next 10. Being
open to learning and understanding and truly listening to people is what is going to be most successful.

“You can’t be successful in
HR without knowing that you don’t know
everything. What may have remedied one
situation won’t work for the next 10”

He admits there are downsides and one of the most difficult is when an employee resigns. “It’s very difficult
not to take it personally and we often say: eventually those who resign come back. I think we have to
design a Figure3 boomerang because we know they are going to return and we welcome everyone
with open arms. If they ever want to return, we are here.”

Becoming a partner is a career milestone, but Balaski keeps the big picture in mind, and the big picture is
a global one. Travel is a passion for it reveals insights into humanity. “My husband and I often say we work
so we can travel. Seeing other parts of the world informs what I do at Figure3. It’s a soul feeding thing.
The world feels big and vast and there are so many supposed differences but the fundamental thing is most
humans are the same, they are just trying to do better for themselves and their family. We are really very
similar, and the differences make for truly interesting discussions. It makes you think about things in a
different way and challenge other people in the firm to think of things in a new light.”

After travelling around the world, one of the spots that really resonates is Puerto Vallarta, it’s a place
Balaski imagines himself when he retires. And it’s not hard to understand why, his voice takes on a wistful
yearning when he describes the beaches nestled at the foothills that spread up the coast of Mexico. “It’s
a magical place on earth. You can just be there. There is no judgement or what you look like or wear.”
Even though it’s a resort town, there is an urban feel that buzzes with activity and the hum of a city.”

“I always told myself
to follow that voice and
it will lead the team
where it should

Photo of Darryl Balaski

It’s not just a spot to get away from everything. Balaski notes the place where he stays is opposite a school,
so he hears the bells ringing and stands in line at the local bakery with locals and tourists alike. “It’s an accepting
culture. The people are warm, friendly: there is an openness and kindness. It’s not just a resort town, it’s a
functioning city where everyone mixes in such a beautiful way.”

One night while standing in line at a well-known food stand, Pancho’s Tacos, he befriended a former pro
football player from Texas and his pageant-perfect homemaker wife. “Yes, we may have differences, but we
have so many similarities.”

Balaski admits he has heeded an inner voice, a guardian angel, to guide him. He usually listens to it, and
ignores it at his own peril. “I always told myself to follow that voice and it will lead the team where it should.
When my partners and I run a town hall I look out over a sea of faces and it catches me off guard in an
emotional way, and I think of all the people looking at us to see the future. What’s the next thing, where are
we going? Sometimes it’s scary and makes you wonder if we’re doing the right thing.”

He thinks back to one of Figure3’s founding partners, Allan Guinan, who said something that would become
his mantra: it’s not always important what the decision is, but that you make a decision to push the business
forward. And what other ways can you build a successful corporate culture. It’s something the Figure3 team
have pondered before: what exactly is the secret sauce?

According to Balaski, making sure to provide an environment where employees can choose to be happy will
help their careers flourish. “Let employees be who they are, without prejudgment. All our amazing work is
the product of that, pushing them to be better designers. But I think it’s secondary, allowing them to be
better humans is what will get them where they want to be — while advancing business goals — in a way you
can’t get from merely pushing people to be better at their job.”

He thinks to the future, on the first day of his retirement, sitting in a beach chair on the sands of Puerto Vallarta
holding a fishbowl glass of margarita. “Looking back, my success will be the people I’ve influenced over
my career.”

Leadership / Eric Yorath, Principal


Photo of Eric Yorath

For aspiring artists, an acceptance letter from Emily Carr University of Art + Design is a holy grail. But Eric
Yorath, Principal at Figure3, took a different path. While his peers were finding their classrooms and
buying art supplies, Yorath took the money he’d saved for tuition and bought a secondhand lowrider motorcycle
and blasted across the prairies and down to the States. “It was a solo trip that was pretty life changing.
I developed a real passion for being on my own and exploring on my own — and I still like that.”

And the journey has been a twisty one. For Yorath, it started in manual drafting at the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Victoria. A stint at an electrical engineering firm helped pay his way while toiling on his
associate diploma in Fine Arts, which he finished off at Concordia University in Montreal. But first,
another pit stop. During his third year at Concordia, he would hop on the bike and ride through Death
Valley to complete an exchange program in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There he met his future wife, Heather.

It wasn’t long before Yorath’s sense of wanderlust was rebooted, a sense of adventure that this time led
halfway across the globe to Tasmania. “I learned a lot about cabinetry at Concordia. I was using those
techniques to create sculpture and thought maybe I needed to study furniture design. I looked all over the
place and the University of Tasmania in Australia was the furthest one I could find,” says Yorath. He and
Heather sold everything, whittling their belongings into three or four suitcases.

After the course ended in 2000, Heather convinced her husband to move to the green pastures of Toronto,
where the fields of design and architecture were booming. It was there he worked with Suzanne Wilkinson.
After she made the move to Figure3, she advised him to pick up the phone and speak to partners Allan
Guinan and Caroline Hughes. “Within a span of 15 minutes, they turned my head around and I was in
absolute awe.”

“The brand is dependent on that
and that really resonates.
I put so much into the experience.”

In 2006 he was hired as a Senior Team Leader with a focus on project management, where he would go on
to manage projects for leading brands such as Coca-Cola, Samsung, and RBC before becoming a
Figure3 Principal himself. “I was hired by Figure3 to do all the stuff the designers typically don’t want to.
I’m in the technical world, managing engineers, communicating with clients and coordinating contractors.
All the stuff around design that helps make the design real.”

Though not an interior designer or architect, fine arts is his passion and art is a big part of his family’s life.
Both of Yorath’s daughters are in art school and the family spend much of their time either creating art or
travelling to see art. “One of the reasons we bought our current house was a shack of a one-car garage
which I immediately renovated into a woodshop. That has been my sanity. I built most of the furniture in
our living room, I’m happiest when I’m in my woodshop and covered in sawdust.”

All of his experience travelling and exploring has obviously given Yorath a real appreciation for the ‘journey,’
a passion which translates to his role at Figure3. Although focussed on business development, he’s equally
committed to the quality of the process and the ‘getting there.’ “The spaces we design are going to be
fantastic, but for me the most important journey is the process.” At the end of the project, Yorath wants to
hear from clients that they’re not only happy with the end result, but they enjoyed and learned from the
whole experience. “We’re not making widgets, our service is our brand. The process is the brand.”

Photo collage

“We’re not making widgets, our service is
our brand. The process is the brand.”

“I love to walk through spaces Figure3 has designed. It’s incredible, compelling work, but I love to remember
the great experiences getting there. The brand is dependent on that experience and it really resonates.”

A few years ago he convinced Figure3 partners to get staff a corporate membership with AGO. “I like to
work towards exposing designers to other ways of approaching creative challenges. A lot of young talent is
uber-creative, but the tools that they use to solve challenges are quite finite. The world of creative problem
solving is much vaster than what we know. I love exposing designers to other creative process. To see how
artists or other industries overcome creative challenges is important to me.”

Leadership / Nadine Burdak, VP of Residential Development and Hospitality


Well designed spaces aren’t just about what
you see, but rather how they make you feel,
think and even behave.”
/ Nadine Burdak

“The world is not a flat screen; we are designed for a richer experience. Our mind and bodies take in
information on so many different levels” Nadine Burdak reflects when asked what excites her about the
built environment. “Well designed spaces aren’t just about what you see, but rather how they make you
feel, think and even behave.”

One of Burdak’s fondest memories as a young girl is of spending time in her grandfather’s woodshop – a
builder in British Columbia; he developed properties along the Sunshine Coast in Ladysmith, Victoria and
North Vancouver. She would sit at the edge of his workbench watching him intently as he milled cabinetry.
She clearly recalls, the AM radio always tuned to CBC Radio One, the way his tools were precisely organized,
as well as, the sweet smell of freshly cut wood.

Although exposed to design at an early age, it wasn’t Burdak’s first choice for a career and she has travelled
various paths to find herself in her current role as VP of Residential Development and Hospitality at Figure3.

Born and raised on the West Coast she grew up near Grouse Mountain in Vancouver and has a natural
affinity for the outdoors, even studying Pure and Applied Sciences at university with aspirations to become
a Marine Biologist.

After various roles in finance, she came to a cross roads however and felt that something was missing;
uninspired by her career choice she tested the waters in the arts by enrolling in first year design studies at
Kwantlen Polytechnic. “After that there was no going back, I knew I had found my passion.”

The following year Burdak applied to and was accepted into the degree program at Ryerson in University in
Toronto. Without hesitation she sold her car, cleared out her apartment and hopped on a train with 15 boxes.
Adventure bound. “To really mark the passage of time and solidify what was a huge step in my life, I had to
experience and see the change in the landscape, something I would have missed if I had flown.”

After graduation Burdak was offered the opportunity to practice residential design at a prominent design
studio, and contributed her talents to many projects in Toronto, as well as, New York and the Caribbean.

Fast forward over a decade later and Burdak reflects on the breadth of her experiences, “I have a very analytical
mind as well as a creative side”. Her designs are holistically informed by the practicality of how a space functions
– from the perspective of efficiency, cost, and longevity but also the intangible, putting the user experience at the
forefront. “I strive to find that balance between necessity and purpose with excitement and joy.”

The most memorable experiences we have are always multi-sensory, engaging all five senses: vision, touch,
sound, smell and taste. When describing a successful hospitality space Burdak stresses that “every single guest
or user touchpoint influences the way they feel about the brand and shapes their experience and perceptions.”

Burdak is drawn to hospitality design specifically because “there’s more freedom to break rules and provide
an unexpected “wow” moment for the client and those who will experience the space.” Architects like
Luis Barragan and Tadao Ando inspire Burdak because their spaces tend to reveal themselves over time
and are imbued with a profound sense of feeling and mystery.

“Every single guest or
user touchpoint influences
the way they feel about
the brand
and shapes
their experience
and perceptions.”

When asked about her favorite quote she is quick to reference Andree Putnam, the iconic French interior designer.
”If you create a space with expectations, people will live up to them. (Good or bad),” adds Burdak. “We have a
responsibility as designers to consider the choices we make and how they will affect people’s experiences not
just in the moment but in the long term.” She laughs, “That sounds like an awful lot of responsibility but
I do believe that what we do can influence and affect people’s day-to-day lives.“

Burdak feels that there are a lot of great designers, some better known than others simply because they have
the confidence to give voice to their ideas. “I am the biggest champion of my team and their abilities; I strive to
encourage them and I foster a collaborative environment.”

Burdak is always challenging her team to think outside the box, discover those wow moments and encouraging
them to push beyond their comfort zone. “Based on my own experiences, you never know where life will take you
and playing it safe isn’t much of an adventure. I am all about the adventure, and the memories and the people we
meet along the way.”

Leadership / Suzanne Wilkinson, Principal


“My favourite aspect is being part
of a team of entrepreneurs and drawing
ideas out of everyone”

Having grown up on a farm with five brothers and sisters, Suzanne Wilkinson was raised in a very
traditional household where each member of the family played their part and were treated as a unit.
Today, she is a partner at Figure3 and seems to have a similar outlook on her leadership style.

“My favourite aspect is being part of a team of entrepreneurs and drawing ideas out of everyone,” says
Wilkinson. Since Figure3 works in various sectors, from high-rise condominium development to corporate
offices, there’s a lot of cross pollination. This is where Wilkinson’s strength of bringing together the
best in the business and pulling each individual’s expertise comes in handy to get the best results for
each project.

“People inspire me,” she says. “I’m fortunate enough to work with a lot of amazing talent. I get really
driven by working with a group of people with endless creative ideas.” Dominic De Freitas, a partner at
Figure3 describes Wilkinson as “the equalizer”. “Suzanne’s greatest ability as a leader is to instill trust
and independence. She guides you to discover the right answers without giving them to you,” he says.
For Wilkinson, the pre-planning stages of a project is the most important, which is where a lot of the
fusion of different people comes into play.

“The way I like to inspire my team is by really seeing what sparks that light in their eyes when they’re
working on a project,” she says. “If I see a designer that’s really interested in one aspect of the project,
I’ll encourage them to dig more, research more, go find new and exciting ways of solving that problem
and then bring it back to the team.” She describes her job as the conductor of those ideas to ensure
that there’s one cohesive design coming out of the team.

Wilkinson had an interest in interiors since she was a little girl. Her first exposure was in high school
where she took a woodshop class and had the opportunity to work with materials by hand. “It really got me into understanding forms and objects, and working with materials such as wood; it sparked my interest in further exploring design,” explains Wilkinson, who originally was thinking of pursuing a
business degree. Her father was a big influence on her choosing to pursue interior design and learning
the business first hand as she continues her journey in the industry.

Wilkinson is one of four partners at Figure3, and the only woman. When asked what her experience
has been like as a woman in design, she gracefully responded with: “I don’t really focus on specifically
being a woman in business or this industry. I focus more on what I have to offer as a business person
with my partners and as a leader in design with my designers. I see myself as an equal to all genders
that I work with.” Even outside of the office, Wilkinson continues to design – this time a passion project
of her own. “Design is really something you live and experience – you breathe it all the time,” she says.
After purchasing a property in Roncesvalles, where she lives with her husband and three kids, the
opportunity to build a laneway house arose, and the couple jumped at the challenge.

“It really got me into understanding forms
and objects, and working with materials
such as wood; it sparked my interest in
further exploring design”

Design is really
something you live
and experience –
you breathe it all
the time”

A laneway house is a home built in your backyard off of a driveway. Wilkinson says it’s a very
unique opportunity and it’s a way for her and her husband to leverage her design experience
and his construction experience to build this custom home for their family.

“This is a passion project for my husband and I,” she says. “We really love urban dwelling and
the idea of finding new and innovative ways of living in our growing city.” The couple decided to
engage architectural firm Williamson Williamson Inc. to realize the vision.

“One of the luxuries I’ve allowed myself to have is to be a client for once,” she says. “And have
our own personal visions listened to by a professional to help us along.”

She describes her own design style to be very clean and simple, but well executed. This will be
evident in her laneway house, which she says will be very modern but with a twist. Natural,
locally-sourced materials will be incorporated into the design. And in order to integrate the
house seamlessly into the neighbourhood, Toronto-made red brick was chosen for the exterior.
“I’ve really enjoyed the process of being a client and working with others,” she says. “Again, it’s
about drawing upon other people’s expertise to create the best result possible.”