Toronto-based interior designer Lori Morris is unapologetically herself and infuses all of her creations with a touch of whimsy and edge. The interior design veteran of nearly three decades, and her team of designers and architects, works internationally on some of the most luxurious properties. Rare for a designer, no two of her projects look the same.
Several ultra-high-net-worth clients request homes inspired by their travels, and in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, her designs have never been more timely when borders worldwide are closed and many aren’t able to travel as they used to.
Morris’ design philosophy is simple: “no” isn’t in her vocabulary. Morris is known for her intricate and authentic designs, whether it’s a Rococo-inspired wedgwood bar or traditional French molding, as well as her preference for pastels. She loves to mix old and traditional design elements, as well as unexpected color and material contrasts, often inspired by the natural surroundings of a home.
Morris talks exclusively with Forbes on projects inspired by her clients’ travels, how to easily transform a space and her anticipated product line.
Do many of your clients incorporate travel into their homes?
Lori Morris: Many of our clients are interested in putting some of their world travels and or experiences within their home. It can be something as simple as a spa they went to, a fabulous hotel, some treatment they got, some vision that they saw or a feeling of a space. Sometimes it’s not necessarily just travel-inspired. Sometimes it’s a feeling of when they were in a different country that they’d like to incorporate within their home. When a client builds their dream home, it’s an accumulation of all of their experience they’ve had throughout their lives that they want to emulate within their house.
What are you seeing in terms of the designated rooms people are adding into their homes?
LM: I feel that in particular with this pandemic, it’s made people notice, ‘What happens if we can’t go out? What happens if we can’t entertain?’ We found that a lot of clients not only are trying to adjust and may repurpose their existing homes, but in the new homes that we’re building we’re actually setting up entertaining spaces. We’ve always done catered kitchens per se, but now it’s more like if clients have to have a party house, a fully functioning guest home or an entertaining space that will be set up in lieu of going to restaurants if this should happen again, or if they don’t feel safe again.
The other thing is with homeschooling the children, and the kind of homework area in the house. We’ve always had libraries and offices in the homes because it’s always been part of the palette. You want something that is a very functional and efficient space that would be both work orientated, but beautiful because beauty is something that I find very interesting. It’s nice to look at beautiful things, and if you are so privileged and fortunate to be able to provide yourself with that kind of lifestyle, then it’s nice to balance out the beauty and the function, which is what we try to do.
The bathroom tiling in the powder room is also so exquisite.
LM: I just wanted a jewel box. It was the opportunity to have a beautiful abstract floral fabric pleated wall covering with a beautiful mosaic looking like a beautiful medallion of all pastel paradises and putting it together in a color palette that just made the place sing. When you’re creating focal points, you have to balance them out so carefully because if there are too many focal points, your eye doesn’t know what to do and the cohesiveness is not as effective.
You have an exquisite range that many interior designers don’t have. Many stick to one style, but all of your work is so different, and I think that speaks to how dedicated you are to your clients. Tell me about this.LM: Number one, I’m an artist at my core and number two, I have no rules. For me, it’s very simple to create any style my client wants because I take a completely original, creative approach to everything that I do. I’m always painting a new painting, and my style is so versatile because as a true artist, I don’t have one genre I necessarily do. What I do like to do though, because I love modern design and I love traditional design, is that I’ve sort of invented my own style, where I basically balanced the two genres and created some kind of synergy between the two styles of classic and modern depending on which the client wants, whether they want more modern-infused traditional-infused. I sort of coined this term called ‘sexy French’ because I love French style.
I create a feeling. It’s not about a color, and it’s not about a style. It’s about a feeling. We build, design, renovate and decorate houses, so we do all kinds of things, but when my clients come to see me, the first thing we ask them basically is what kind of feeling do you want your house to have, how do you want it to function and what’s your lifestyle? From there, I paint the painting and the creative process for me is so enjoyable because, as a true artist, I don’t have any rules or parameters that I work towards or work around.
In my opinion, when a client is coming to a designer, it’s a big financial commitment, and if you want a very special house for yourself that should be your house. It shouldn’t be that you go to many people’s homes and see the same style. I feel that some people like a certain style and they want to have that, and that is great, but I think that originality is so critical for everybody to really basically evoke their true style within their house. I’m here to curate that and put it into reality for them.
When people are inspired by a certain location, how do you approach this?
LM: The balance is so important. It’s extremely important not to cross a line or become theatrical with your destination design. That’s critical, because I think a lot of people may take a design, like Bali, for example, Sante Fe, France or Italy. They might love a particular room and want to incorporate their whole house with that feeling, but an overkill would not necessarily create the same aesthetic than much more of a subtle design and a flavor.
This client in particular loved French design and lucky for me, so do I. It was just a matter of infusing the right elements. Just creating the bar and making it look like blue and white wedgwood just created the whole scene, and then everything around it comes into play. Every layer in there and every detail and texture is just part of the part, but you see the authenticity of the carvings, the limestone-carved fireplaces, the marble fireplaces, the wood paneling and all of the details, which help set your understanding and your vision that you’re in a French chateau. Then you layer it with the decoration to create the softness and the color palette. It’s done in a very elegant way as to not take over the destination design.
Tell me about your design process from conceptualizing a home to bringing it to life.
LM: We have an extensive team here at the office and quite a few designers. What we do is once you come to us and retain us and we understand the scope of work and the scope of the project and what you’re looking for, we start the process with hand-drawn sketches, which are done by Julie Ballard, the creative director at my firm here, who I met at design school. We create hand-drawn, beautiful sketches, which are perspectives that create complete soul and feeling. It really gives the client a flavor of what their house is going to feel like. These are not the computer-generated drawings that we do just yet. We start with a hand-drawn sketch because I feel that it really makes them feel it and touch it more.
They really create a significant soul-inspiring feeling. From there, once we feel they like the flavor, we get into the detailed drawing package, which the design team creates from CAD drawings. We elevate every wall of the house, design every wall, pick every finish, design every piece of cabinetry, the millwork, ceiling designs, pick all the selections for the flooring, the stone or materials required, appliances and plumbing — everything. We do a full, custom decoration process and then infuse it with vintage pieces or vintage lighting. Then we start the process.
After we are finished designing and installing your home, you roll into our other department, Lori Morris Concierge, which is a fancy term for house maintenance. This department takes care of your house long-term, from the seasonal planters, cleaning your chandelier, polishing your floor, restocking sheets or towels, whatever you may need. It’s a one-stop shop after we finish your home. We don’t leave you, but we don’t have such a big team behind you because your project is done.
If someone isn’t able to fully redesign their home to reflect their favorite travel destinations, how can they do that on a smaller scale?
LM: First and foremost to me, artwork is the most critical because it creates a large piece of personality and something to talk about. If you start an art collection, that already is design to me. If you want to redesign a room, but the budget’s not there or you don’t want to be inundated with such a huge project, find a sofa and put fabulous fabric on it. You can add big, great throw pillows and put a beautiful painting behind it. Even if you can get a subtle background coffee table or chairs, then it has some interesting pieces around that can create something interesting to look at. But again, no space is complete without art because that is what pulls it all together.
I love this Northern Retreat space you did, which looks like a glamorous ski chalet.
LM: The Ontario cottage country is such a beautiful natural landscape, and we’re so fortunate here to be surrounded by such beautiful rock formations and waters and trees. It’s always so critical when you’re working with lake properties to bring nature inside, which can be done with materials and textures, like wood. Here, we brought the dark palettes of navy, black and green.
It’s what a sky would look like, and the grass and trees. We were trying to create a balance between the soft texture of the wood, which is why I went for a little bit more of a blonde wood as opposed to darker to play off the darker pieces of lacquer. Putting black lacquer next to blonde wood is such an interesting contrast, but at the same time they can stand up to each other and create a different personality that brings the senses into a different zone. All of these contrasts play and exist in nature, and they play an important role in creating that cohesive relationship between the interior and exterior.
How are you getting inspiration while we’re unable to travel?
LM: Inspiration as a true artist comes from everywhere. It comes from a billboard, it comes from a tree, it comes from nature, wherever you may be. It comes from watching TV, reading a book, what have you. I would have to say I travel to Europe every year just for architectural inspiration because it’s mesmerizing to see European architecture, and that is what drives my bus. Having not been there in a year definitely affects your mind in terms of the thinking process, but it’s so memorized in your mind just because it’s just such a statement everywhere that even just to look and watch and see your surroundings it’s familiarizing you with your memories of what’s there.
Fashion is also such an inspiration for me. I feel that fashion and interior design are one in the same. My drapes look like dresses, and everytime I look at new fashion, I think my bed looks like this, or my pillows. I can feel the connection to fashion and always have. Fashion is key to me because the mixture of textures and patterns and styles is what I also do in design.
Tell me about your upcoming product line.
LM: We’re starting off with a small collection that we will be constantly growing and adding to, and eventually will be a full, household product collection. I’m excited to bring our color palette of creams, blacks, neutrals and, of course, my signature pastels.