Leadership / Doug Caldwell, Director, Business Development


Interior design is living art; it has a reason
and a soul
. At Figure3, purpose-built function
and emotional connection is essential,
and it’s great to be a part of that.”

Growing up in Port Colborne, Doug Caldwell, Figure3’s Director of Business Development, was always
encouraged to pursue his passions. When he announced his intention to become an artist, his parents we’re
surprised. “I like to draw so I wanted to go to school for art. And my parents were like, it’s cool. Go have fun.”
Amidst that environment of freedom, it was easy to spark the creativity that would lead to an exciting
career in design.

After obtaining a degree in art history, Caldwell followed his interests and moved to Toronto on a whim.
He began working as an Art Director for movie sets, commercials, TV shows, documentaries, and music
videos for artists such as Teagan and Sarah, Gord Downey, July Black and Nelly Furtado. “I think the
overarching theme in my work is atmosphere and environments. That’s my thing. I loved doing set design,
but I hated the hours.” He also wasn’t fond of the disposable nature of set design. “It’s hard to rip down
something that you pour a lot of yourself into. It just really wasn’t for me.”

Caldwell was planning to make a move into architecture when a call came in from Universal Studios and
Nickleodeon that would redirect his attention towards the whimsical world of theme parks. He found a
natural fit in designing spas, water parks, theme parks and hotels that allowed his imagination to run wild.
“I love art theory and creative thinking. Theme parks are just a completely different animal. It’s not like music
videos, where you’re trying to accentuate the music: in theme parks you’re trying to grab attention.”
Caldwell recalls his experience realizing an entire world for the Panama Canal in the form of a giant glass
globe. “I wouldn’t want to do this all the time, it’s kind of like having sugar for supper, but it was interesting
to create an environment where there’s no limit. It’s just pure, absolute creativity.”

It was the curiosity about the front end of the business that eventually lead Caldwell to Figure3, where his
ability to problem solve and think creatively is harnessed at the onset of the potential relationship. “It helps in
a business development role to have a design background, both from a designer’s perspective and a client’s
perspective. I appreciate having those dialogues with people because you have a better idea of what
projects you want and what projects you can spearhead.”

In a typical day, you can find Caldwell reaching out to firms to assess the needs of new projects, visiting
sites, reviewing RFP’s and writing proposals. “I’ll do everything on the front end to extract the necessary
information and then work internally with the team to brainstorm how our firm can best meet or exceed
the needs of the project.”

Caldwell observes that there are two halves to the design process – securing projects and letting the
design unfold – his role being the bridge between. “Interior design is like living art; its purpose-built followed
by emotion and it’s really nice to be at a company where that’s emphasized. At Figure3 we recognize the
impact a physical environment has on the individual, and in this role, I can tap into my past experience
to help move the business forward.”

With the interior design industry known for being highly relationship based, building a rapport with key
stakeholders is critical, and a respected firm like Figure3’s can help provide the influence that opens the
conversation. “There’s something to be said about how well Figure3 is known in the industry, it makes my job
a lot easier because I don’t have to explain who we are. They know we are the talent on the block”. Caldwell
explained what impresses him the most is the elegance and clarity of the spaces created by Figure3 and it is
his desire to uphold that standard while also pushing for innovative ways to create new environments

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 / Mardi Najafi, Director, Retail Design


“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 VP, Retail Strategy and 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


“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.”