“Beautifying the world”, one barrier at a time.
Michael London is one of Toronto’s top luxury interior designers. He’s also one of the only Black designers in a predominantly white industry.
We caught up with Michael to learn about his experience as a Black designer (including surprised reactions when clients saw him for the first time), how he persevered to open his own studio, and what the industry can do to become more diverse and inclusive.
Tell us about your career in interior design. Where did it begin and how did it flourish?
My career began with a grade 12 co-op placement at Gluckstein Design. My goal was to become an architect, but through the co-op placement, I was exposed to the world of Interior Design.
I was always a creative individual but learning to design interior spaces and seeing the client’s reaction to how finishes and furnishing came together at the end of a project definitely built my interest in the field. After completing one of the most prestigious projects in the city, The Four Seasons sales presentation centre in Toronto, I caught the attention of my former employer and from there set me in the direction to work on the condominium developments within the office.
Over the decades I worked on several presentation centres for various developers in Toronto, including my latest projects for North Drive. Each project had to be unique and impactful, and with that constant challenge, the desire to keep elevating design grew the drive within me.
What has been your greatest challenge in launching your own interior design studio?
The biggest challenge was having the courage to step out and move in a different direction from what was my norm for two decades. But my parents instilled in me a strong faith foundation, and my mother always encouraged me (and still tells me to this day) that “your goal in life is to beautify the world.” This meant very little to me early in my career, but now that I am in this position, her statement means so much more to me as I forge my path.
Tell us about your experience as a Black designer working in Toronto’s luxury real estate market.
Very early in my career, there were times when I noticed surprised expressions that occurred when it was announced that I was the representative designer on their project. Only one client out of the many over the years seemed to be overtly bothered by my leading of their design project, while other experiences were more subtle. Overall, the good outweighed the bad.
Some of the reactions with clients were “…you’re Michael London?” Or “I did not know you had it in you. The space is gorgeous, but I didn’t think you had it in you.” Or ”Michael, have the chocolate donut. It’s obviously for you,” just to name a few. But you push forward and, in the end, there is a deeper understanding and respect for the talent and the person that I am, since all the designs exceeded expectations. Ultimately, the work speaks for itself.
What can the industry do to foster more diversity and inclusivity?
Creating platforms and networks for minority designers and artists to feature their work. It could be within various designer showrooms for furniture or fabrics related to interior design. It starts with a small feature to then grow into a new norm. Black Design networks and other similar networks already exist in the United States. No reason for us in Toronto not to start!
How do you feel the current activism and awareness around injustices in the Black community will shape your industry moving forward?
The current state has definitely put a spotlight on the Black community, forcing some to reflect on past misconceptions of the Black experience. It’s definitely a positive experience. I’ve had colleagues, as well as former and current clients, reach out to me to talk about the greater awareness that is happening now and my own experiences.
What’s your favourite design project you’ve completed to date?
My favourite project by far is 10 Prince Arthur! The project definitely showcases my immersive design. The small details in the unique panelling and trapezoid floor design with metal inlay. The creativity in a model table with a base that rotates to feature all angles of the building and the custom-designed fixture with Gabriel Scott. The gorgeous kitchen and bathroom vignettes and overall space, which leaves guests in awe and sets the tone for the potential sale. The client, luxury developer North Drive, allowed me to push the envelope in creating a unique interior for the purchaser’s experience.
What advice do you have for a BIPOC creative who wants to excel like you have in a largely white market?
Stay true to yourself. Focus on your goals and challenge yourself with new experiences to develop your creativity.