Leadership / Eric Yorath, Principal

ERIC YORATH:
THE JOURNEYMAN

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
experience
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

NADINE BURDAK
THE SENSORY DESIGNER

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 / Mardi Najafi, Director, Retail Design

MARDI NAJAFI
THE DISRUPTER OF RETAIL

“I love retail because of the strategy behind
it and that the outcome of our design
influences behaviour.”

For Mardi Najafi, it’s taken a world of experiences to get him to where he is today. As the son of a diplomat,
the first two decades of Najafi’s life involved a fair amount of moving around from one city to the next,
primarily in Europe and the Middle East. This instilled his love of travel, which he believes to be the
best educator.

“It broadens one’s horizons and offers new perspectives,” says Najafi, the director of retail design at Figure3.
“Having interacted with the world and being exposed to diverse art and culture, I’ve unconsciously picked
up inspirations, possibilities and references, which reveal themselves over time in my sketches, between my
lines and in the shadows of my concepts.”

Najafi describes himself as an urbanite, which is why New York is one of his most-loved cities. Its density,
energy, the sounds and movement is what attracts him to The Big Apple.

“My childhood dream was to be a pilot or an architect,” says Najafi, who is a true adrenaline junkie. “I just
love speed and height. Whenever I get stuck and there’s a problem to solve, I hop in the car and just drive.”

Having moved around a lot in his earlier years, Toronto has been his home-base for the past 20 years,
which to him is a calmer, tranquil New York. When Najafi isn’t travelling, he enjoys observing people on
how they interact with their environment, which has proven to be a useful skill over the course of his career.

With a degree in Industrial Design, Najafi started out in office furniture design, then quickly changed niches
and moved to a firm that designed exhibits. The fast-paced process of micro architecture excited him,
which ultimately led him to explore the world of fashion events and runway design in cities like New York,
Paris, London and Tokyo. The hustle and bustle of the fashion world opened up the world of retail, which has
become Najafi’s realm for almost 30 years.

“I love retail because of the strategy behind it and that the outcome of our design influences behaviour,”
he explains. “At Figure3, we design spaces for people and as part of the design process, we embed
ourselves in the spaces we need to design to observe the target group – be it the customers or the staff.”

While retail design isn’t just about aesthetics, the minimalist, “less is more” approach to Danish and
Scandinavian design has inspired a lot of his work. When asked about his views on the current retail
landscape, Najafi says that “retail is not dead but boring retail is.”

The focus in retail is moving from a purely transactional exchange to an integrated customer experience,
which is why retail designers have to help brands create more powerful customer-centric experiences that
stir emotions, prompt conversations and create lasting memories.

“I believe the modern human being has gone too far. Modernity has introduced technology that consumes
energy and leads to such things as air pollution and climate change. Another impact has been the
breaking up of social ties that bind people together in traditional societies,” he says. “This pandemic
dramatically reminds us that we are social beings.”

I love seeing designers grow,
I try to pull the best out of them and push
them out of their comfort zone.
That’s my approach to leadership.”

While retail and hospitality are Najafi’s main focus, the cross pollination between the different studios and
design fields at Figure3 allows for him to bring designers together and feed ideas off one another.
Being a mentor and educator comes as a natural trait to him. Najafi has taught in Tehran, Paris, Eindhoven
and Toronto, and continues to wear his teaching hat while at the office.

“I love seeing designers grow,” he says. “I try to pull the best out of them and push them out of their comfort
zone. That’s my approach to leadership.”

Najafi believes that as a leader, trusting employees instead of moulding them to think, behave and solve
problems a certain way is vital. The same goes for emotional intelligence, which is why he never designs a
retail space from a designer’s point of view, but from the angle of the user.

“Solving problems and creating something that hasn’t existed before is very exciting,” says Najafi.
“Once you’ve been bitten by the design bug, you’re hooked for life.”

Leadership / Suzanne Wilkinson, Principal

SUZANNE WILKINSON
THE EQUALIZER OF FIGURE3

“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.”