Victoria Tonelli isn’t afraid to sweat the small stuff. Instead, the Toronto-based designer believes we should all focus on the details—especially when it comes to design, because great design can be life-changing.
That’s the mantra she takes into her projects, which range from full-scale home renovations to starring on TV. Tonelli masterfully fuses classic design principles into modern spaces making them feel at once comfortable, luxurious, and soothing. Her ability to eliminate visual clutter and create eye-catching spaces have made Tonelli’s expertise sought after among celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow, Snoop Dogg and the Kardashians—and likely onto a TV screen near you.
Once a contestant on the reality series Canada’s Next Designer, Tonelli’s designs are regular fixtures on top home renovation shows including Property Brothers: Buying and Selling, Celebrity IOU.
We managed to squeeze in a few minutes with Tonelli between designing a guest suite for Brad Pitt and managing her full-scale Toronto design firm to discover the inspiration, design mantra, and advice of this globetrotting innovator.
How did you first get into interior design?
I’ve always had an interest. I started having big opinions about my parents’ home when I was in grade 5 or 6 and watched Home Day religiously with my mom on a show called Cityline (which I’m now on). I really jumped in when I emailed designers I saw on the show to ask for a chance to give them my time and learn from them in the process. I surprisingly got lots of no’s before I got this one yes and from there I never looked back.
What is your idea of good design? What is your goal when working with a client?
Good design should be able to enhance the way someone lives. It should improve the way you feel when you wake up with the morning and the ease in which you fall asleep at night.
There should always be that right balance between function and beauty.
What is your favorite kind of project? Or is it still out there waiting for you to create? What would be your dream project?
My dream project would be a boutique hotel. Coming up with the overall concept and creating guest rooms that transport their guests. Designing the hotel lobby bar, a chic outdoor patio and an incredible reception desk. I’m ready!
Do you adhere to a specific design style or aesthetic?
I think my design style is ever evolving. I never want to stay stagnant and want to continue to grow and have my design style grow with me. I think a constant throughout all my designs is that I’m alway trying to find a way to create clean lines and avoid at all cost visual clutter. I try to constantly marry modern lines with classic style so that my interiors remain timeless but still feel relevant.
How do you like to start projects?
I always start with a site visit. I often like to do the initial site visit with my contractor so we can bounce ideas off of each other and come up with an innovative but doable plan. During this initial meeting I often shoot for the stars and have my contractor there to ensure it can be done and we’re on the same page.
What inspires your designs?
I’m often taking inspiration from my every day, whether that be taking photos of a restaurant, or a hotel lobby abroad or even the color combination I’ve seen on the runway. My phone is filled with starred screenshots or photos of what I want to try next.
What is the hardest part about running your business?
All the responsibility in the end is on you. It’s the thing that I love and hate about it.
What is your favorite part?
Being able to dictate my day to day and also eliminate any glass ceiling. The sky is the limit.
What does being “an innovator” and being on the Innovators Council mean to you? How has being on the Innovators Council made an impact on you?
I’ve loved the experience thus far. The questions I’ve had to answer and weigh in on has allowed me to connect and reach others, hopefully my advice has offered some help to those looking for it.
It has also made me analyze and further expand upon my process as a creator and made me dig deep to explain to you but also myself why I do what I do or think what I think. It’s so easy to just get into a groove and not question your process because it works. But questioning and analyzing is the only way you can really grow and be better. So it’s reminded me of the importance of that!
What advice would you give a designer starting today?
I always say to just jump in. Don’t take no for an answer, be persistent. Like any other job, once you’re in the door don’t be afraid to work and excel no matter what role you’re initially given. Go above and beyond to impress. If you’re consistently great at your job, the first one to arrive and the last to leave, showing an ability to think ahead, being asked to do something only once before it’s complete, asking questions and wanting to learn, being reliable, showing up with a positive attitude, you will stand out and you will grow I guarantee it.
What advice would you give your former self back when you started?
The same advice I’d give myself now. Enjoy the ride and to celebrate your wins.
Is there a piece of furniture or lighting that you “must have” in every project?
I think different sources of light is a game changer in any design. I always like to include a combinations of can lights, overhead decorative lighting and ambient lights through tables lamps and floor lamps in a design. Dimmers are also a non negotiable.
What are your keys to a successful design project?
Proper planning. I think the lack of planning or rushing into a project without a developed concept can make for a finished product not nearly as polished and beautiful as it could have been. It will also make for a process that feels chaotic and unenjoyable for all involved. Design should be a fun process. It can be inherently stressful no matter how much planning is involved (because there is always those unforeseen hurtles that come up) but planning in advance can mitigate those as much as possible and it can be a process that’s incredibly creative and rewarding.
How do you like to source product?
I’m a mix between online and in person. It’s always so nice to see product in person to really get a feel for materials and scale but the options available to you online are endless and you can very quickly source or at least narrow down some amazing selects in a fraction of the time.