Victoria Tonelli: Interior Design With No Limits

This Toronto-based interior designer’s aesthetic is firmly rooted in seamlessly blending classic style with contemporary lines that find a way to push the boundaries.

Victoria Tonelli isn’t shy. As anyone who’s seen her work on some of the most popular design and renovation shows on television will tell you, each of her interior designs bears her unique signature look — clean, seamless lines that blend the contemporary with the functional.

While many interior designers develop a cadence and style in their work over time, Tonelli traces her creative instincts to something innate: “As a little girl, I developed big, bossy opinions on what colour my parents should paint their kitchen and what backsplash should be installed.” And fortunately for us, her perspective hasn’t changed since then. Today, she is creatively involved in the making of some of the most popular design and renovation shows on television, including her design work as senior art director and production designer for HGTV’s hit show Property Brothers: Celebrity IOU, as well as being décor producer for CBC’s daytime television show The Goods, just to name a few.

Continuing with the passion and design eye she possessed as a child, Tonelli has seen her work expand globally with projects near and far, including in Nashville, Los Angeles, New York, Calgary and Toronto. Her ability to take an international perspective on interior design is complemented by travel, one of the key sources of her inspiration. “Everything from visiting different hotels and restaurants to seeing different emerging fashion styles and colour combinations or historic buildings and landmarks — there is so much richness that you can get when you get outside your comfort zone and bubble.” This ability to take risks comes through in her creative process, which Tonelli describes as something that “never comes in a straight line … I’ll sweat every possible detail and I rethink designs until I really get excited about executing them. If I’m not excited about a design or an idea, I know I missed the mark and we need to tweak.”

We had the chance to catch up with Tonelli on her biggest design secret, where she sees herself in the next five years, and how to zhuzh up your space during the holiday season.

Q: What is a signature feature that characterizes your design aesthetic and can be seen throughout your work?
A: I definitely veer more toward clean lines. I try to find ways to cut the visual clutter to allow the eye to seamlessly move around a space. Whether that be a hidden drain in a custom stone sink, a concealed storage cabinet with a stone-clad door, or opting for a porcelain slab versus small tiles on shower walls and floors, I find ways to keep the different design elements of a space feeling continuous and maintaining an unobstructed visual flow.

Q: What are your top three career highlights thus far?
A: I think if you were to ask me five years ago what I wanted to accomplish, I would have checked off a lot of those boxes by now. I consider myself exceptionally lucky to have the experiences and travel I’ve had over the last years, so it’s hard to pick just one.

Of course, there’s the highlight of working with big names in Hollywood and collaborating with respected names in the design industry. Collaborating and joining forces with such influential names has definitely felt surreal at times. I’m guilty of Keeping Up with the Kardashians and also love their impeccable taste in interior design, so working with Kris Jenner was definitely a fun project that I really enjoyed. The size of the project and the scope of work were the biggest I’ve ever managed, so that was also a unique challenge that I loved navigating.

Q: If you hadn’t become an interior designer, what would you have been?
A: Lawyer

Q: What’s one object you can’t live without?
A: I hate to say it but my phone or my notebook — I’m old-school and am constantly making lists for myself and my phone because I have a terrible sense of direction and need Google Maps to stay afloat.

Q: Who’s your favourite artist and why?
A: Carol Benson-Cobb — she’s been someone I used from the very start of my career. I’ve seen her art evolve but also stay true to herself. Her work can make sense in the most modern of spaces and the most traditional.

Q: What’s your favourite book?
A: Guy Raz — How I Built This: The Unexpected Paths to Success from the World’s Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs.

Q: What is your definition of success?
A: True happiness

Q: Where has your work taken you and which city do you feel most inspired by, design-wise?
A: I’ve done contracts in New York, Nashville, Los Angeles, Calgary and Toronto over the past eight years. I truly have a love for all those cities, but I think Los Angeles is where I feel most inspired. It’s a place where people really take risks in whatever it is they’re doing and also where risk-taking is welcomed. There is so much visual variety in L.A. People are willing to try anything no matter how out there and weird it might be, so the inspiration and energy of L.A. is very invigorating. Going out for dinner, walking down Rodeo, staying at the Proper Hotel, pop-up street art — you see some jaw-dropping designs on the regular.

Q: What are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to interior-design faux pas?
A: I mean, how much time do we have here? I would say if you have a piece of art that reads “live laugh love” I’d like you to strongly reconsider hanging it in your home.

Q: What do you think is more important when it comes to interior design? Beauty or function?
A: I think thoughtful interior design can really change how someone lives and the quality of their lives. Thoughtful design to me is really striking that right balance between both beauty and function. It’s my job to figure out how to make it functional and beautiful. The spaces I design are meant to feel luxurious but livable.

A beautifully designed home’s ability to change how someone feels day in and day out is very powerful and never lost on me.

Victoria Tonelli

Q: Why do you believe interior design is important in everyday life?
A: I truly feel that good design can change the quality of someone’s life. That statement might sound like an exaggeration, but (good) design goes well beyond picking a paint colour and shopping for pretty things. A beautifully designed home’s ability to change how someone feels day in and day out is very powerful and has never been lost on me. It’s between these four walls that you spend most hours of your day, where you raise your kids, where you experience those big life moments and, most importantly, where you have your safe place where you should feel most comfortable. Having these important spaces thoughtfully curated and designed to meet your own unique needs can be a game-changer to your overall mood and happiness. Design is deeper than just the beauty of it all — it’s all about the joy it can bring and the mood shift that can happen when simply entering a space.

Q: If a student of interior design wanted to enter the field, what advice would you give them?
A: Ask a ton of questions. Make those calls and make those connections. Be pushy at times. Don’t take no for an answer. Work hard no matter what position you start off in — there’s always that opportunity to stand out and climb the ladder. Have a plan. Like a good design project, always start with a plan. Be intentional about what you want to do and where you want to go and work backwards from there to figure out the steps you need to take and the people you need to talk to to get yourself there. Lastly, just make sure you do what you love — success will always come if you love what you’re doing.

Q: What’s your best-kept design secret?
A: Hmm — I don’t know if this is a secret per se, but I’d say the first and last step of my design process is a non-negotiable for me and what a lot of people miss. The first step is to always start with a plan. I never start anything without one. Don’t just jump in, you’re asking for trouble. The final step — accessorize. The power of this step is never given enough credit. It’s this last step that can transform even an unrenovated space to feel like your own and have that magazine-worthy wow factor.

Q: What tips would you give to enhance interior design during the holiday season?
A: I absolutely love the holiday season and holiday décor. I think adding just those hints of warmth can make a space feel so cozy and inviting. Swap out your linens for faux furs or beautiful wools, and swap in some large Christmas balls on the coffee table and some beautiful pine greenery on the mantle. Candles everywhere. Simple things like this can go a long way.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?
A: I want to continue to diversify my portfolio and not follow the more traditional path of a residential designer, designing exclusively residential spaces. My newest goal is to start venturing into hospitality design. I think in those spaces you can really push the limits and execute designs that wouldn’t be universally appreciated in a residential space. Although not career-related, I see myself hopefully having a family in the next five years and navigating that very exciting next chapter.

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Estelle Zentil

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