Photo courtesy of Shiva Khalilnia

Shiva Khalilnia Reads Clients’ Emotions To Create Unique Interior Designs

Toronto-based designer Shiva Khalilnia believes that life is about discovering who you are and then being true to that. She advocates that good design is no different.

“There are still people who love to buy because they love [an object]. They think it’s beautiful and they don’t care about trends,” says Shiva Khalilnia, the principal and lead designer at Toronto-based Import Temptations. She always tells her clients to follow their hearts.

If a client likes traditional design, for example, she tells them, “Don’t listen to anybody. You want to be classic. You need [your home] to resonate with your life. To have mind and body in equilibrium, they (your life and your environment) need to work together.”

Designing for clients is a balance; it requires selflessness.

As a designer, “you have to do what people like, not what you like,” Khalilnia says. “It’s the homeowner’s taste that has to be reflected in their home. [If] the family opens the door every day and it doesn’t feel like them, then I’ve failed in my job.”

While Khalilnia remains flexible in her approach to design for her clients and adapts to what they like, she certainly has her own aesthetic preferences when it comes to designing for herself.

Designer Shiva Khalilnia. Photographer by Evan Ning

Khalilnia’s design happy place

At as early as 6 years of age, Khalilnia remembers her thoughts about drawing and colouring, perhaps the first indication of her career path. “I love colour,” she says. As a child, “I was always just colouring things that were randomly in my head. I always thought in colour and colour is very prevalent in my life and in my design.”

Khalilnia loves the spectrum of colours so much she can’t choose a favourite. “I go through colours,” she says. Her homes have been a wide range of colours, from chartreuse to fuchsia to rich blues. When she was 22, she bought her first home, a three-storey townhouse, and coloured every floor a different colour, even the bathrooms.

The builder who sold her the home heard what she planned to do and said, “Are you crazy?”, indicating that she would never be able to resell. “When it went on the market two years later, I had seven offers,” Khalilnia says. “If you do colour and you do it well, in my opinion, it looks fresh and it makes you happy.”

A designer’s inspiration

Being a designer isn’t just about creating beautiful designs. “It’s also how to read your client; how to understand them, appreciate their emotions and understand their culture,” Khalilnia says.

To better understand how her clients think and to appreciate where they come from, Khalilnia believes there’s nothing like travel – and not just to style capitals. When she travels to Italy for example, she gravitates to more remote areas, away from fashionable districts to get a different point of view.

“A lot of the southern areas, especially in Sicily, have this medieval kind of history where design and architecture are phenomenal,” she says. She appreciates the building materials and attention to detail, citing the timeless workmanship and intricacy of mosaics as an example that takes her breath away. “In the markets, you see all these antique pieces and you truly get inspired,” she says. She appreciates the artistry, tradition and craftsmanship that trace back hundreds of years, resulting in magical, unique designs.

In the same way master Italian artisans create their unique pieces, Khalilnia’s designs are one-of-a-kind; each look reflecting the personality of the homeowner, expertly curated by Khalilnia and her Import Temptations team.

“I will not recreate somebody else’s home,” she says. “If I start to mass produce my creativity, then why am I doing this? I work six days a week because I love my job. I try to constantly be true to who I am.”

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Denise Williams

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