Our Design Community is our series where we visit and talk with different firms within the Winnipeg design community about their approach to design and what made them fall in love with their work.
In this feature we are visiting with Mackenzie Dieleman at Unit 7 Architecture, a super creative who thrive with a challenge and always seek a feeling of flow in her designs.
Please, introduce yourself
My name is Mackenzie Dieleman and I’m an interior designer and associate at Unit 7 Architecture.
Has Winnipeg always been home for you or have you lived somewhere else as well?
For the most part, yes. When I was in college I lived in Vermillion, a small town with a population of about 4000 in Central Alberta.
So that’s where you did your interior design degree then?
Yes! It definitely wasn’t what you would expect for design school. The college was a trades and technology school, so our program was amongst pipeline and agricultural students. It was a funny mix. We did things like shadow studies of grain elevators, and had visits from a local alpaca rancher in our textiles class. It was different, but overall was a great education.
You’ve decided to stay here. What is it about Winnipeg that you enjoy?
I would say the scale and the community dynamic that that brings. I like the juxtaposition of the city of Winnipeg being like a big small town. It feels as we, the community, have shared experiences. Chances are everybody knows the restaurant you went to, or the concert you attended. I think that the entire city comes together when there are festivals or celebrations and that sense of togetherness is really charming. When you find a niche that you fit into here, it is more fulfilling in that the community impact you have feels greater than it might in a more saturated city.
I’ve heard people refer to Winnipeg as the biggest small town before actually and it’s funny, because the city I lived in in Denmark is the exact opposite. Aarhus is the smallest big city. It’s the second biggest city in Denmark, still small, but very metropolitan and progressive. Anyways, let’s carry on. Do you have any favourite coffee shops, restaurants or shops in the city?
My favourite coffee shop at the moment would have to be Modern Electric Lunch, not only is the food and coffee so tasty, but the Fortune Building is an impressive heritage site, one of the oldest in Winnipeg. Our firm worked on the restoration of it, which was neat to witness. As for shops, I’ve really been loving Epoca Haus on Main Street for vintage decor and furniture. The owner has a great eye, she does an amazing job brining in pieces.
Summer is upon us, do you have any secret spots in Winnipeg/Manitoba that you like to enjoy?
We like to get outside a lot in the summer, typically travelling just outside of the city. I love to hike Hunt Lake Trail at least once a year. That’s definitely a favourite. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this, but in Garson, Manitoba, there are some swimming spots that maybe you shouldn’t be using. They are old lime stone quarries and makes for really beautiful day trips.
Well, you haven’t given any exact location, so I think it’s safe to mention.
“I’ve heard that it’s nice there.” Haha
Was there any specific point in your life when your love for interior design started?
I like that question, because it makes me think. I can’t exactly pinpoint the moment or say that I grew up dreaming about being an interior designer, but when I think about it I do remember constantly rearranging my bedroom when I was younger. My mom is interested in design and we would often go for walks and look at houses, or more so peer into the windows of houses. Because Winnipeg is an old city, there’s a lot of hidden gems in various neighbourhoods and I think we were always hunting for those and dreaming up what we would do with it if it was our house.
What is your biggest design inspiration? Do you have a style or other designers you look to for inspiration?
I feel like I could answer that in a lot of ways because I think that there are a lot of really good designers and design firms out there. With the technology we have today, content is just so accessible, up to the point of where it can be overwhelming even, so it’s really hard to know what is really your favourite, when everything is so good. But a resource, not only for inspiration, that I go to frequently simply because I love it, would be The Local Project a publication from New Zealand and Australia. Every project they feature is really quite amazing. But in my working life, inspiration is very project dependent. Whether it be the physical site, or a sight line, the clients art collection or a piece of furniture, I find inspiration in different areas depending on what the project specifics are. Which makes things fun!
Is there a project of yours that you are particularly pleased with?
I find the most satisfaction in our renovation projects. I like to work within constraints and find it challenging and more gratifying. Our Bridle Path project, which you just featured, in Ontario is something that I’m very proud to have been a part of. We started that project in the beginning of the pandemic, our clients were able to get in there to take some photos and videos during the buying process and weren’t allowed back in until the day of possession. The original homeowner was the designer and builder of the house, so we ended up working off his hand drawings. The project quickly became a puzzle without us or the builder having any access to the house. We had to have the design and working drawings essentially completed for possession day so they could get started. Very quickly we learnt that the drawings did not accurately represent the built conditions so we were really piecing things together. During that project I learnt a lot about effective communication and really having to trust your builder and your trades. In the end I would say that for a house that did not lend itself to being renovated, turned into a really elevated and sophisticated space that met our clients needs. It was quite a transformation.
When you are designing for your clients, what are some of the key ingredients that you find are important to think of and incorporate?
I would say that we, as a firm, take the preliminary design phase very seriously. It’s really about getting deep in understanding your client, how they live and interact with the space, whether residential or commercial. A well designed space is functional and should remain so for many years. So putting in the time on the front end to design a practical space for the user and working out all the kinks before moving forward is really important. The aesthetics always come. We really like to get deep. I’ve had people look at me funny when I ask them how they take a shower. But really, those are the things that you may not think about but make a difference. Human beings are so diverse and our spaces should operate and serve the user, I think that’s what improves your quality of life.
Is there an element or ethos that you hope to bring into your clients home through your design?
It’s rare that you’re designing a home that is what you would call your preferred aesthetic and instead always design for the client and what their preferred aesthetic is. The way that I would look at that question is that any good designer can really make any style work if they are following the fundamentals of design. If I were to select a principle that I try to bring in to every project, it’s probably continuity. If you took a built work and look at each room individually, for me it is important that you know that it is a set of rooms that go together. Moving through a space where there’s continuity from room to room and it being cohesive brings a state of calmness. That is comforting to me.
Now to the best part of the interview, haha. Do you have a favourite Hut K item?
It’s hard. Because you carry a lot of good stuff! If I had to pick, I love everything Blu Dot and I guess the designer answer would be to give you a chair. I would go with the Neat lounge chair. It’s so playful, but it’s versatile as most Blu Dot pieces are. They design flexible furniture that doesn’t really age.
As an interior designer, what does a typical day look like for you?
I assume you don’t want my extensive morning routine? Everyday is a little bit different depending on if I have meetings with clients or trades and distributors. Typically I get administrative work done in the morning and design in the afternoons. We work at one large table here, which is really great for collaboration but also workplace culture and overall wellbeing. At lunch I always try to go outside to take my black lab, Ovi, for a walk. He has proven to be a very loyal Unit 7 Architecture employee.
If we were to peek into your home, how would you describe the aesthetics and do you have a favourite room or nook in your home?
I’m still trying to figure it out as I just recently made the transition from apartment to house. I would say that the challenge that I am facing is how to bring character to what is an early 2000’s house that is in it’s spec home state. It is like a blank slate, but it’s slowly evolving and starting to become more bespoke. I won’t lie- we are still exiting the stage of IKEA furniture and hand me down couches. It makes for a fun design challenge and every day it becomes more and more like home. Then, for the favourite room of the house; I would have to say my living room just because as of right now it’s the most complete. It gets the best quality of daylight and is kind of like the centre of our home, where I feel the most comfortable. If you would ask my partner, he would probably say the garage which we are very lucky to have. I might agree, because he’s a carpenter, so for him to have a space to make all the projects that I dream up, I like the garage too.
Have you done any renovations in your new house?
Oh, what have we done this far.. Painting, changing out light fixtures, refacing the fireplace. There are not the same challenges as being in a very old home, luckily the layout really works for us. It’s just a lot of space, so it’s more about trying to figure out how to make it a little bit more cozy.
Is there a piece in your home that has a unique backstory and what is it?
Unique, I don’t know, but in our living room is the first piece of furniture that me and my partner made together so I think that’s special. We’ve got a mix of some local art and my own art in the living room and I’ve got a lot of tchotchkes, mostly from my grandfather. He is, we’ll call him a collector, and when I go to visit his farm outside of the city in the summer I often collect tchotchkes, little ornamental things to put on shelves. I like to pick a special piece every time I go, he sure has a lot of old miscellaneous baubles. Seeing those appear in different parts of my house always makes me smile. I don’t know where he finds them in the first place.
Is there something you’d like to add that we haven’t touched upon that you’d like people to know about Unit 7 or about you?
I would like to say that as a young designer it’s pleasing to see interior design as a profession be recognized for value added. I’d say to anyone considering working with a design professional, whether it be an interior designer or architect, not to be intimidated and that a little can go a long way in adding value or improving your quality of life.
Interior design is really important to consider. I recently read an interview on Muuto’s website about how a space actually stimulates us - be it light, colours, shapes or texture.
It is important and it’s a conversation that me and our principal Dean often have. It’s easy for someone like me or you that’s creative; we seem to be more conscious about our environment. For example, my blinds are at different levels throughout the day, and I use different levels of artificial lighting. We have routine and really care about our environment. I think it is our job, as professionals, to show people that maybe don’t have that instinct the value it can add to our lives.