Published Feb 22nd, 2013

By Shauna Rudd

Opposites Attract

Two condo owners from the same building pick the same designer — but very different styles

Marcus Phillips’s condo  has an open concept  design, punctuated by  rich orange accents.
Marcus Phillips’s condo has an open concept design, punctuated by rich orange accents.

At first glance, the condos of Beverly Sochatsky and Marcus Phillips couldn’t be more different if they were on opposite sides of the world. Phillips’s lively, open-concept design with its rich, jewel-like tones and magnificent kitchen island stands in sharp contrast to the tranquil, divided living zones and neutral shades of Sochatsky’s elegant interior.

In the way that form follows function, style follows personality, it’s already obvious that Sochatsky and Phillips are very different people —  in fact, not just different, but opposite. She works in the public sector as a manager of a grants program; he makes his living in the private sector as a restaurateur. She steps out each morning and walks to the office; he often takes to the skies and flies to wherever strikes his fancy.

But take a closer look and you’ll notice that when it comes to underlying design considerations, these two have a lot in common. They were both drawn to the same building, Westwind Estates, for the energetic bustle of downtown living combined with close proximity to green space for outdoor activities, which they both enjoy. “I love to walk, I love to cycle, I’m going to do more cross-country skiing, and all of that is right out my front door,” says Sochatsky. 

Their units even have identical footprints — yes, you’re looking at the same condo plans done up in marvelously different ways to reflect the owners’ personalities, which makes the next similarity even more remarkable: they coaxed the same interior designer, David McElheran, out of retirement to design their homes. 

When presented with the opportunity to work on Phillips’s project, McElheran explains, “I had just retired from the business so I declined, several times, but I was asked again and again to just come and meet Marcus and tell him how to get started. Well, before that meeting was over, I had accepted his challenge.” 

McElheran’s reaction to Sochatsky’s request was — you guessed it — the opposite. The two had worked together 45 years ago at a furniture store before he opened McElheran’s Fine Furniture. Upon seeing Phillips’s renovated condo, she reached out to McElheran. “This was special, so when I returned to Edmonton [from Phoenix], I contacted Beverly to see her newly purchased condo,” says McElheran. 

McElheran got to work updating the existing peaches, pinks, and greys that checkered her condo with a tapestry of whites, creams, beiges, browns and taupes. The kitchen, living room, sitting corner and dining area are spaces unto themselves, yet the floor plan feels open and airy.

“I struggled with taking that wall out to open up the space the way Marcus has,” explains Sochatsky, “but I said no, I want to keep the wall in. I want to keep the kitchen separate.” From the glimmering glass tile in the kitchen to the wispy floral-patterned blinds to the softly textured cork flooring, the effect is cozy and serene. You instantly feel overcome by a sense of calm.

For Phillips’s condo, McElheran took the opposite approach. Because he’s in the restaurant business, the priority for Phillips was to have an open space for entertaining. McElheran explains that Phillips’s vision of a “hard-edged contemporary look” translated to clean lines, granite countertops and stainless steel in the kitchen. From the custom colour-saturated sofa to the recessed pot lighting to the ultra-chic, wood-grain veneer, the effect is inviting and invigorating. You instantly feel like you should be sipping a martini.

For all of their differences in style, Sochatsky and McElheran met again with same underlying design ethos — they both describe themselves as minimalists who prefer strong, clean lines and a contemporary look, and both agree that trust in your designer is essential.

She played an active role in her renovation, and she learned to trust McElheran’s capacity for understanding her tastes, which was sometimes better than she understood them herself. “He’s really intuitive, but as well, what I loved about David was that he also pushed me a bit in terms of a new look,” says Sochatsky. She was stuck on white drapes and trim, but McElheran convinced her go darker, and she loves it. “He nailed it in terms of what appeals to me.”

Phillips simply told McElheran that he wanted the feel of a New York bachelor pad. Then, Phillips left town for four months and when he returned, the project was done. That’s trust. “I know the condo was above and beyond his expectations,” says McElheran. 

Though the two condos seem to hail from different worlds, good interior design is not simply visual, it’s a feeling. And that desire to step over the threshold into a space that feels uniquely yours, however different, is universal. 

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