Remembering the old phone call I had with a stranger in the age of COVID-19

In the age of COVID-19, ALL of us are going through unfamiliar and stressful times…whether the lining up to get into the grocery store, trying to avoid a person while pretending that we are not, getting a doctor’s appointment through a video call (ok that was a positive one)…etc. There have been many weird and unfamiliar things/acts we had to learn and get used to.

Besides learning the new social manners(?), I am also observing the new occurrences around me: virtually empty streets, closed stores, restaurants with take-out only option. It is my recent experience of the restaurants’ take out only option made me think about the time I received the phone call years ago. I remember the story of one distressed restaurant owner who called.

Of course, both of us could not have known what we would go through years later, however, his problem at the time was HUGE for him. Although he wasn’t going through anything like nowsocial distancing, closure of non-essential services, etc-what he faced was an insurmountable problem for him at the time… and he wanted to talk to me.

This was how the conversation went.

Continue reading “Remembering the old phone call I had with a stranger in the age of COVID-19”

Why planning a vacation early is a bad idea

My vacation happened a month ago.

Although it was only a month, it feels much longer than that. Since the time we came back from the trip to this new world we live in, I am constantly reminded how lucky all of us were able to come back from the trip happy and healthy.

The word, “planning” seems out of place at the moment….. facing unprecedented time for all of us in the world dealing with things like people getting sick or dying from the new virus, businesses closing, learning new words like social distancing. I could not have “planned” any of these before the trip or even after.

This blog post is NOT about those things (ok, some part of it), things no one could have predicted…it is the story about how the vacation “happened to me” rather than the other way around.

What NOT to change resolutions only architect can come up with in year 2020

“You are so organized”.

It was a comment made by one of the colleagues I work with after glancing over my todo list recently. I was taken back by her comment. Me? Organized? especially the handwritten notes with many high lighter colours with line crossing over each to-do list items! It did not look organized…looked messy.

I never thought it was an “organized” todo list I can proudly share with others. However, it is an effective one with my own system built over the years of testing different methods along the way

Seeing everything on one piece of paper frees my mind:  redirecting me back from gazillion distractions happening from all directions  in a day to what I should be focusing on at that moment.

It is the second month of the year 2020.

I’m still reading many articles about New Year’s resolutions: ways to improve anything and everything about our lives. This constant quest to become a “better and improved me” rather than the “same mediocre me” is our forever obsession especially at this time of the year.

However, I decided to try something new this year.

I wanted to think about what I have been doing right…. instead of things to improve on.

The recent conversation with my colleague made me question what I have been doing right and how I should continue with those good habits.

Don’t get me wrong…I still have plenty of things to work on this year, having sweets after dinner, sleeping with contact lenses on (sometimes), too much drinking coffee, not drinking enough water, the list goes on. Don’t get me started on eating chips after every dinner ” me which would be about another post.

With the recent compliment from a colleague, I want to dig deeper into what I have been doing right for the last few years  and how I can continue doing those. Maybe, I don’t need  as many resolutions  in the year 2020!

A newfound love of handwritten todo lists with a red pen


Over the years  I tried many ways to get organized… Started with my high school years of carrying the bright orange/ hello kitty themed agenda, and then moved on to my first digital organizer on my computer I bought during university years, and then now using the Apple reminders which is on this iPad I’m actually typing right now.

Two years ago, I was in the middle of project deadlines and overwhelmed with many things to do/remember however these lists were all over the place: computer, post-it notes, notebooks, etc. I was constantly looking for things…I noticed I was spending more time looking for things rather than working on things.

I knew I had to make some changes. BIG ONES.

I decided on the one blank white paper to organize my day; write down everything that I had to do in a DAY, and just complete those things. That is how “one page with 3 columns” design started.

The list is written on one piece of blank paper (8-1/2X11 size) with 3 different width columns: first column with the MITs (Most Important Task) items, 2nd column with not so important task items such as picking up milk and then the 3rd column with daily todo /scheduled lists such as exercise time, meetings, phone calls to make etc.

This “revolutionary(?) ” design was not only simple and effective but also very inexpensive.

I only needed three items for this new system of organizing the Day: Black pen, red pen, white paper.

Seeing everything on one page with clearly written handwritten notes made the illusion of “I was in control” of the day. Besides, seeing the red line crossing off the todo list creates the feeling of contentment digital todo listers would never experience!

My love of using a red pen to cross off black handwritten to-do list started during architecture education years ago. Initially, the red pen was for correcting the architectural drawings… However, the power of the red pen moved on to other things in my life such as crossing off items from those years.

The colour, red evokes certain negative feelings; mistakes, warnings, something to correct. however, in my world, the red represents positive emotion: achievement, completion, conclusion, all great feelings.

Just to put it in perspective, seeing redline over todo lists, especially on many of the items, it is a similar high I have when I have The spoonful of Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream especially the first bite!


Coffee, 1st (3rd) thing in the morning


What is better than coffee ice cream, COFFEE! It is a difficult assessment but I would have to go with the first-morning coffee anyway!

I don’t know why… Maybe it is the taste, or the buzz I get from taking the first sip.

Whatever it is, it is one ( or more) element in a day I absolutely love and look forward to. I Especially love the morning coffee!

Last year around this time, I came up with the “brilliant” idea to combine my easy item with the difficult one: coffee(easy) + morning workout (difficult)! I came up with the idea after reading the book which states that:

to create a good habit,  not only you need to get rid of the bad one but also need to add something else on that spot to make it easier while working towards the habit forming

After hearing my first alarm in the bed, I start thinking about my morning coffeewhich helps me to get out of bed and start putting on gym clothes and work out at home. After the workout, I am ready to claim my reward: morning coffee.

Telling myself to think about coffee in the bed does not always work (warm and comfortable bed in February Toronto weather wins many days), however over the years I also learned that I do not have to constantly remind myself to get out of bed. It becomes easier as time goes…started to “slowly” look forward to morning workout with coffee.


Going out for a walk when I am down


This is probably the very best habit I’ve stumbled upon last year in October. So, it has been only a few months but it is such a valuable routine I formed and I do not want to ever lose.

It was one sunny October day, And I got a phone call from the client. The first thing he said was that he did not like the design. You see, I was designing a custom house for a couple who had many ideas with a tight budget. Of course, while I was screaming inside to point out that it is not easy to incorporate all the design ideas they have, I calmly asked. ”

Which part of the design you don’t like?

He started pointing out the bedroom is too small, the closet needs to have more shelves, The kitchen needs to have more cabinets etc. in other words, it was not the design issues but the size issue. I calmly explain to him that the house needs to become bigger, and also pointed out that the budget is going to be higher designing a bigger house.

Even with the explanation, he was not satisfied, He insisted that I should be able to design within the square footage with the same budget . I knew I was not going to win this argument, and promised him that  I would look at a few other design options and get back to him following week.

Not only I was out of ideas… I was also upset at myself for agreeing to come up with a design that creates the “feeling of a bigger house, but not actually a bigger house” dilemma which I run into quite often.

At that moment, I knew I was not going to be productive.

I also knew this particular incidence would ruin the rest of the day. Whenever I’m faced with negative things in a day, I noticed I have a tendency to ruin the rest of the day as well. I could not take that chance. I had deadlines for OTHER projects.

With these particular constraints, I absolutely had to be  productive for the rest of the day. Instead of dwelling in negative thoughts, I decide to go out. I wanted to stop thinking about the phone call. In fact, I wanted to Think about happy thoughts… That is how I found a new routine: walking while listening to music/ podcasts! For a mere 15 minutes of walking/listing to music, I started to feel different.

I was no longer thinking about the phone call,

I was free from negative thoughts. I was FREE!

That instant, I decided to add ONE MORE positive thing to this significant day. Seeing the neighbourhood running track nearby, I decided to run. Coming back home after running the track several times,  I had a huge my aha(not Operah’s) moment.

I was able to turn around a minor negative moment into a hugely positive one.

Ever since that huge memorable October day, I have a new routine of working out( aka walking with music) whenever I run into negative moments.



It is the second week of February.

I still like to believe that we are “early” in the year, therefore, we can still talk about resolutions, inspirations and improvements in our year 2020. 

What have been your resolutions for your 2020? Have you been following them? Better yet, accomplished them? Or like me, deciding to continue with the “old” resolutions that have been working. I would love to hear your stories, especially from the design community!


We are hiring! – fashion and design bloggers

Are you obsessed with all things design:  Fashion, Lifestyle, Interior, Architecture?

Love blogging, reading blogs and keeping up with the latest design trends? If so, we are looking for you.  We’re looking for designers to create our content and grow our blog.

You’ll have to be up-to-date on the latest trends, have a keen editorial sense as well as be highly web literate and self-motivated. You’ll not only have to have a vision for what makes a great blog but also play an instrumental role in growing a community around design contents.

Continue reading “We are hiring! – fashion and design bloggers”

Why blog is a great networking tool

People ask me all the time why I created this blog.

Once they are done with the why question, the next popular question is how to come up with what to write about, and then it follows with how I can possibly have time to write weekly.

All valid questions…I myself ponder on years ago before the blogging adventure started; they were wondering if I had some grand vision for this huge project such as how this blog was going to transform me into a super blogger who was going to get fame and fortune.

Although, I was definitely open(?) to the super blogger status, I was also realistic. With less than stellar writing skills combined with trying to build my architecture business at the same time, I knew achieving the superstar blogger status was unlikely.

Now, going back to the why question.

“Why did I start the blogging adventure knowing that it was going to be long and a difficult process?”

The answer – I had time, quite a bit of time…

While building my architecture practice, there were many “down” moments; getting rejections from various project proposals, clients deciding not to actually build the project I spent months designing, not getting a response to marketing emails I sent out….endless down moments.

In the flurry of activities with no results, I decided that I was going to create something that was not going to be rejected: my own blog!


How the blog started

I am one of those people who need to have clear direction and outcomes when it comes to  projects, goals, tasks anything I was going to spend time on. I need to know why am doing certain things and how I was going to do it and even when it’s going to be completed.

It sounds like a positive trait…until it isn’t.

I drive myself and also the people around me crazy throughout the process. Therefore starting something, especially a project that is going to take time, but with unknown outcomes was not an easy decision to make.

However, I decided to push through the unknowns.

tips_coverThe easiest decision I made at that time was that I knew what the topic of my blog was going to be: DESIGN. Having definite opinions about all things design whether they are architectureinteriorfashion comes easy for me…Don’t get me started on the sculptural quality of certain leather thigh-high boots and how we all need to have one! I can spend hours.

With well-defined (?) blog ideas, I was ready. Ready to conquer the blogosphere! (is this a word?)

After the decision, my type-A personality kicked in as I had done in the face of tackling a project. I wrote down all the todo lists for starting the blog. After spending a day researching technical requirements like the domain name, hosting, etc, I was finally ready. Ready to share my amazing design stories with gazillion readers!


Unexpected benefits of connecting with like minded people

Initially, I planned to write one piece per week.

I figured it wouldn’t be that difficult… It was not like I was writing an essay for professors. I will just spend some time thinking about the ideas, write an outline for the piece, and then start talking to my iPad. How hard could it be?

Oh, how wrong I was.

Not only writing blocks which I expected, but I also had design blocks as well.

2012-02-04-during critSuddenly, I became a person who had no ideas, opinions…I was kept going back-and-forth about what I “should” write about. I was questioning everything…myself, writing topics, style/tone of writing etc. I was afraid to enter the “publish” button to post the blog.

While I was struggling to write one piece per week, I came across an article about a famous author and how he dealt with his writing difficulties.

He states that his writings “become” clear while he writes rather than in the beginning. 

He did not have all the ideas in the beginning, but with some ideas, he starts typing away. To get clear about the writing topics, he said, “just start writing” and wait for those unclear ideas taking a certain shape.

He also stated that his “true” writings happen at the editing process, not in the first draft.

I decided to try his method: bad first draft and better drafts afterward. I approached the writing as if I was having a phone conversation with one of my close friends.  Instead of thinking about the structures, vocabularies, styles, tones etc, I started talking into my iPad pretending it was a friend who I had not seen years.


Helping with connecting with local designers, architects 

While experiencing the “easier” writing process, I noticed something else on the blog: stats. The blog had the information on the readers; who was reading the post, how many, from which countries, what time of the day…helpful information for struggling writer.

That was how I found my regular reader from Brazil!

I was floored. The reader’s comment about how she appreciated my writing style- funny, honest and yet informative-made the day! I felt like she was a friend who understood what I was trying to do.

With that encouraging comment, I decided on my target audience for the blog:

design enthusiasts who appreciate things in life with a keen sense of design with funny and straightforward communication style.

d2683-pale-pink-moodboardFrom that fateful day of my first follower, I slowly started getting more readers, followers, likes, etc including the local ones. I was approached by several designers in Toronto who wanted to submit their own design stories to the blog.

With more readers coming to the blog each day, it also created more physical connections to designers who wanted to connect outside of the digital community. Meeting these designers in person, and learning about their stories was an unexpected benefit I never thought of when I started my blog adventure.

From these get-togethers, I came up with even more blog ideas.


My blog is helping me with my business

I did not see this coming…. when I started my blog adventure years ago.

Remember why I started the blog…..time on my hand. (code word for slow or no business). I started because I had time, and also wanted to improve writing skill, and possibly make tons of money through being the superstar blogger:)

Although the super blogger stardom illusion doesn’t seem within my reach, there were many unexpected/happy surprises along the way.

Beginning of this year, I was contacted by one of my LinkedIn contacts who was a structural Engineer looking to find the architect for his client. He wrote to me through a LinkedIn message that he read the blog piece I wrote and wanted to talk to me about a project!


It was like the moment the Brazilian leader who made the first comment on my blog! Except that it was 10 times better. Ok, 100 times better!

Not only for the potential project possibility but the perfect stranger who wanted to recommend me to his client because of my writing piece! I was ecstatic,

The project is on hold at the moment due to the client’s financing options… From this experience, I learned to appreciate the biggest WHY of the blog. It was the best networking tool connecting like-minded people, whether digitally or even through physical meetings.

Since that fateful connection back in January this year, more and more people contacted me through social media platforms due to my blog. There are even non-designers who appreciate the writing style/ information as well as many people who want to sell things to me.

Final words

These days I “try” not to ask the why questions too much…. especially, when it comes to long term / unclear but interesting projects. I am realizing that you cannot have all the answers before you start something…

Sometimes you just need to drive-through the unknowns.

I learned that there might be a much bigger prize at the end of the long tunnel even with unclear, fuzzy efforts if you have the energy to push through to see it.

What has been the big adventure you tried without having all the plans, strategies, contingencies etc.? Do you agree with my assessment?

10 Interior Design Tips for a Stunning Home Office on a shoestring budget

Written by guest contributor, Tess Cain.   

One of the many benefits of working from home is that you can have your own home office. 

Despite popular belief, working remotely is not a synonym for lying around all day, but it is certainly less stressful. There’s not as much pressure and you work at your own pace.

It also means that you get to organize your home office by yourself and however you wish. It’s your home office, your rules.

Nevertheless, there are some practical interior design tips that can help you make your home office stunning and welcoming.

1.  Plan out

Ask any interior designer, and they will all tell you that you should make a good plan of action before you start redecorating. 

Now ask yourself: How do I envision my perfect working space? What do I want?

Updated DrawingSurely, you have thousands of ideas piling up already. Why don’t you put it into words and pictures? Do online research and find some home office inspirations.

You can even create a mood board using the Pinterest app that will guide you. Don’t feel embarrassed to ask your friends and family how they picture your office. You can brainstorm for some ideas together and then design a theme accordingly.

remember: ‘’by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’’

2.  Storage

Good storage is a necessity if you want to have a practical and functional office. Not only will you have a safe place for all your work documents, but it will also allow you to have a well-designed home office. There will be no piles of papers getting in your way all-day.

If you are worried that your office is not big enough for file cabinets, I would suggest opting for vertical storage units because they will make the space look bigger. 

3.  Good lighting

image 1.jpg

Having good lighting can make a big difference to an interior, so place your desk next to a window and take advantage of the natural light as much as possible. 

Imagine yourself at work with a nice window view and sun rays on your desk. That’s the dream!

I would suggest installing good lighting systems that won’t kill your productivity even when the sun goes down.


4.  Add plants

image 2

Plants are another way to brighten up the room and to bring some positivity into it. They have healing and relaxing powers, so you should add ‘plants’ to your mood board right from the start.

Green is a color that goes well with everything; another reason why plants will never go out of style.

Health, productivity, and well-being are essential ingredients for every stunning home office – plants will provide you with all of those.


5.  Wall colors

The home office is not your typical room, so while you are deciding on the color scheme for it, you should consider taking a slightly different approach than with your other rooms. 

You want your office to feel warm and cozy, but still not too much because you don’t want to be tempted to nap all day. 

Green and blue are usually used for painting resting areas, while red and yellow go well with conference rooms where you want ideas to come to life.

According to interior designers all over the world, the best color scheme solution for offices is a mix of natural colors and wooden elements. If you want a peaceful ambient in your office, this is the combination for you. 

6.  Colorful rug

Your home office will become very chic if you put a colorful and creative carpet in the center. It can serve as a great starting point for matching the entire room with it and connecting the pieces together.

Before you choose your furniture or your decorations, explore the carpet options first. As soon as you find that perfect rug, the rest of the room will speak to you.


7.  Mirrors to make the office look bigger

Mirrors are a great interior design tool, especially for small offices. They can help you take full advantage of the natural light and at the same time, make the room look bigger.

Consider placing mirrors across a window so that the natural light can fill up the room. 


8.  Organization is key

Every interior designer will tell you that the organization is key. Apart from being creative, you need to be practical or else your office will become a mess.

Choose furniture that will not only be stylish but also functional. A high-quality desk and chair are a must, so choose wisely. After all, that’s where you’ll work all day.

Keep your desk well-organized and clutter-free. Office tools such as binders can help you with that. Essentially, cleaning every day after yourself comes a long way. 

Your messy cords can be arranged using special cable kits or even better, hidden behind your furniture. The less visible the cables are, the better!


9.  Resting, meeting area

Meeting areas might be essential if your business requires you to meet with clients and team members. However, even if that’s not the case, you should still try and make a special resting area for yourself. 

Your home office should not only be welcoming for others, but for you too, so save some room for a small sofa and some cushions. Trust me, you will feel and work better in a space like this.


10.  Add inspiring elements


small-room-lighting-6The finishing touches are what will make your office stand out from the crowd. It shouldn’t look like every other office, but it should be a mix of you and your lifestyle.

Choose your accessories depending on your life aspirations. You have a favorite inspirational quote? Frame it and put it in a visible area so that you get a boost of energy every time you see it. There’s a piece of art that inspires you? Get a framed replication and enrich your home office with it. 

Final thoughts

The first question you should ask yourself when you enter your freshly done home office is: 

Is this me? Does my home office represent me?

Feel free to ask your friends the same question. If both you and your friends think your office is you, then you did a good job.

If your home office makes you feel like you are not even working, then your business and life will blossom. 

And isn’t that the point?


If you have great design stories  to share with the  readers, please check out the WRITE FOR US section and let us know!

I met a dream client years ago. Here is what happened at the first meeting.

It was my first big commercial office renovation project. Continue reading “I met a dream client years ago. Here is what happened at the first meeting.”

Why design is not valued, but the execution is

“I have already selected a very good and reputable contractor for building my new house, I JUST need to have someone to design my house “


It is a recent phone conversation I had with a potential(?) client who is looking for an architect to design his custom house. He got my contact information from a person we both knew. While I was mentally making a note to call my contact to give my piece of mind, I took a deep breath and decided to hear him out. Continue reading “Why design is not valued, but the execution is”

10 insights I gained this summer instead of having a vacation

I desperately needed deserved  a vacation…this summer.

It has been over four years since the last vacation which feels like an ancient time ago.  After taking care of my father since 2015 after his accident while running an architecture practice, studio jonah,  it has been one of the most difficult four years of my life.

Continue reading “10 insights I gained this summer instead of having a vacation”

5 questions you like to ask the contractors at the first meeting but afraid to

“Do you have secrets to selecting the right contractors for YOUR project?”

I get asked a lot from friends and family members often about this question. Being the architect somehow gives the illusion to those that I have some “secrets” about hiring the contractors… Continue reading “5 questions you like to ask the contractors at the first meeting but afraid to”