In Conversation with Michelle Morelan

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As Seen in SNAP Victoria – June 2009


Michelle Morelan is a native of Ucluelet, BC with an eye for brilliant West Coast design. She lives and works between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. Aside from being a great and talented interior designer she is also an amazing artist and her project renderings are totally worth framing. Michelle has one of the best interior design blogs I follow "A Schematic Life". I had the pleasure of meeting her at a blogger party in Vancouver and I have to say that she has a great sense of humour and a very warm personality. Everybody wants to be friends with Michelle!

michelle morelan Michelle Morelan

Iván Meade - What is your favourite design find?

Michelle Morelan - We travel quite a bit, and I am enamored with the flea markets of Paris and Amsterdam, but I love natural curiosities like sticks, stones, old bird’s nests, driftwood and seashells. For example, when I installed the show suite at the Moorage in Ucluelet, I created a driftwood sculpture on a cedar plinth with drill, a dowel, wood glue and a cedar block.


Rendering by Michelle Morelan

Iván Meade - Why is it important to you?

Michelle Morelan - It’s my one of my favorite design finds because it was almost free; proof, and a reminder, that you don’t have to spend lots of money on design. With clients on smaller budgets, I have often looked to nature to fill the gap by using shells, stones and moss, mixing them with something like the client’s crystal vase, or wooden boxes from their workshop. With my first apartment, I created birch tree wall art, and I would use salal or ferns in vases; it curbed my need to spend on expensive flowers, and I learned to love all of those shades of green. Now, even know I can afford flowers; I look forward to spring, so I can force branches inside.


Interior Design by Michelle Morelan

Iván Meade - How does this item reflect upon your personal design philosophy?

Michelle Morelan - I believe strongly in the interior/exterior relationship and looking to nature for inspiration. This is when I think you can create a space that is calming and seamless. Maybe it’s not obvious, like a piece of driftwood; maybe you look to nature for the perfect colour of blue. I once specified colours from a dozen brown eggs. I think one of the reasons we find some colour choices in rooms jarring is that they are unnatural colours; nature is the best designer. Designers often translate nature’s principles of scale, proportion, colour, line and emphasis, and bring them inside, even if you don’t want to live with sticks and stones. You may not even know why you feel so comfortable in that space; it just feels good.

image Rendering of Meade Design Group Studio by Michelle Morelan

image Special Gift for Albarosa from Brillante Home Decor by Michelle Morelan

Iván Meade - What was your first experience with design?

Michelle Morelan - I think the first one is difficult to establish. My Aunt in Cape Breton had an amazing farmhouse and lake house not too far away from each other that we used to visit in the summer as children. I remember being in awe of both homes. She had exquisite taste.

At about 13 years old, I remember designing a Japanese tea garden (on paper, in plan) for my family’s rocky backyard. A couple of years later, I bought my first issue of AD. It was the Exotic Homes around the World issue and a home in Mexico was featured- there was a seamless transition from indoors to out; so different than homes in my neighborhood. I would go to bed dreaming of walking though that space; how I would come in the front door, which room would be mine, what I would be wearing and doing in each room, at each time of the day.

When I was 15, my family commissioned a local builder to build us a new home, and I was the sweeper onsite. All of these things got me thinking about the build environment.

clip_image002Aunt Glenna’s Cabin in Cape Breton

Iván Meade – Did you always want to be an interior designer?

Michelle Morelan - Yes, as long as I can remember, but I got a later start in life; I had my sons at 21 and 23 and really wanted to spend time with them as they were growing up. I opted to start at Kwantlen at 36, and graduated with an Applied Design Degree right before my 40th birthday. Albeit difficult, it was one of the best moves I have ever made. I’ve been in business for myself almost 2 years now!

image Michelle’s drafting and drawing tools

Iván Meade – Your interiors are not just beautiful and have the west coast contemporary feeling, but they are also very livable. How do you achieve that?

Michelle Morelan - Programming is key- a space can look magazine worthy, but not function for the family who uses it on a daily basis. I believe that good designers ask the right questions, understand and filter the answers, then compose a comfortable formula of form and function. The fact is, most clients bring stuff with them you wouldn’t choose, and budgets run out; that’s the challenge.

I love having the opportunity to watch clients use the spaces; the way they interact with friends at parties or play with their kids after dinner. I want my clients to praise the design after I am gone, and they start living their lives- instead of cursing it.

Contemporary West Coast is a favorite look of mine, and I love the work of Vancouver architects Brian Hemingway, Battersby/Howat and the Patkau’s. It’s about being quiet in nature, and appropriate to site. I believe the same is true with interiors.


image Interior Design by Michelle Morelan

Iván Meade - I believe one of your strengths as a designer is your renderings - all your hand sketches are always exquisitely well done – Where do you get your inspiration from?

Michelle Morelan - Thank you. I really think it’s becoming a lost art, with the precise computer renderings available at such a low prices.

I have been influenced by nature first, but then the sketches in AD, of Albert Hadley, Mark Hampton and a great instructor at Kwantlen- Tony O’Regan.

My very first clients showed such excitement when I walked them through a SketchUp model of their unframed space; I will remember it forever. A picture is worth a thousand words, and I feel that it’s a skill that nicely compliments interior design. Even know renderings are not in the budget for most clients, I typically include one either of the finished space, as a gift after project completion, or of the schematic space early in the process.

I really do think we can all draw. There are fundamentals and techniques, and you have to practice without fear, but it’s not that difficult. It’s one of those things you just have to DO and enjoy.

image imageimage Digital Renderings by Michelle Morelan

Iván Meade – Do you have other strengths or weaknesses that we don’t know?

Michelle Morelan - I have a very strong sense of fairness, and have little tolerance for those who do not.

image Interior Design by Patricia Gray & Rendering by Michelle Morelan

Iván Meade - What does it mean for you to blog your ideas about design, the story behind your renderings and basically open your personal life to the web?

Michelle Morelan - If I thought about it too much, I may not do it. I guess I have a level of voyeurism, and am interested in other’s lives, so I’m open to sharing mine in return. I think it’s nice to know we are human, and more like each other than not. Besides, my studio is right in the middle of my home, so there is no separating the two (or should I say three) areas of my life. There are blogs that stick to design, which I love, but I like sharing family milestones and my disappointments. You never know what you are going to get when you come to visit; it’s A Schematic Life!

Iván Meade – What has been the best experience of being a design blogger?

Michelle Morelan - Meeting people like you Ivan! Honestly, meeting design bloggers face to face has been one of the greatest benefits of blogging. I have also received a few rendering commissions from posting my work. It’s done something for me I can’t explain; maybe validation, maybe discipline, a kinship with design enthusiasts or new friendships. I just know it feels good.

image Rendering by Michelle Morelan

Iván Meade - I know that one of your favorite activities is to visit art exhibitions and explore antique markets – I have also noticed that you always use real art and the quality of your pieces is exceptional in all your projects. Do you select your art pieces to work with the room or does the room work around the art pieces?

Michelle Morelan - With a recent new build project, the client had some amazing original watercolour pieces that suited their seaside home and just needed reframing, so I was lucky. The longer I practice design, the more I see the importance of original art and sculpture in a space. Like classic furniture pieces, they will work with your changing interior over the years. Concentrate on the shell of the space first; add a few classic furniture pieces and art- then bring in some element of nature as garnish. That’s a perfect recipe to me.

I have also taken a few classes when travelling- oil in Amsterdam, watercolor with artist Marla Thirsk in Ucluelet and a sculpture class in Key West. I would suggest taking a mixed media class, and learning to paint your own canvas or do your own sculpture. They will always be special to you. When my son was 18, we painted a large canvas together, and met in the middle; I will always cherish it. I’m taking a class with Patricia Gray at Emily Carr starting in a couple of weeks.

Art is personal, and if it makes you smile, then bring it into your life. It doesn’t have to match your interior palette, but does have to work with the style or concept of the space. In saying that, it would be amazing to use a classically painted and framed piece in a stark modern space, or vice versa. Tension is good too.


image Joni’s [Cote de Texas] Living Room – Rendering by Michelle Morelan

Iván Meade – I also know from reading your blog that you are a big fan of Danish/Dutch design – Why is it so appealing to you?

Michelle Morelan - Yes, I love to travel; my husband is a commercial pilot, so I have lots of opportunities. He spends quite a bit of time in Belgium and Amsterdam.

I walked into an artist’s co-operative in Amsterdam on one of my first days in Holland a few years back, and so immediately appreciated the support for the arts. Maybe it’s the long history of artists, the quirkiness of Amsterdamers’ or the ability and desire to look forward. You can’t help but notice the way the Dutch mix old and new architecture and design; they do it so well. They also hold back and live with water in much different ways than us; so interesting and innovative.

Of course, having Belgium, Sweden and Germany as neighbors, and the availability of European goods, like Italian furniture adds to that yummy design recipe. Our history is such a short one in comparison, and I sometimes feel removed from all the excitement.

image Interior Design by Michelle Morelan

Iván Meade - Can you tell me what your next design venture is?

Michelle Morelan - Something I have been contemplating since my graduation is to apply to UBC’s school of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, so I am applying next year. For me, it starts with the site and context.

imageInterior Design & Rendering by Michelle Morelan

Iván Meade - Lastly, you have already created a stunning body of work with many mediums and styles, what would you like your legacy to be?

Michelle Morelan - HHmmm…that I created spaces and lifestyles for people that worked for them and their families; happy clients and a balanced life for my own family would be a great legacy.

I invite you to discover Michelle Morelan’s work



Ivan Meade is a local designer and principal of Meade Design Group, a multidisciplinary interior and graphic design studio in the heart of downtown Victoria –

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