For the last 14 years, Principal Designer Aly Velji has run his eponymous boutique design firm, called Alykhan Velji Designs, in Calgary, Alberta. Specializing in both residential and commercial design, Velji’s firm has perfected a timeless aesthetic by seamlessly merging modern and classic elements and bringing their clients’ visions to life. And in this instance, Velji became the client and designed his firm’s new headquarters with a residential vibe that invites warmth and promotes creativity. For this month’s Where I Work, we head north to Canada to learn more about Velji, his practice and his new office space.
What’s your studio/work environment like?
One thing that is a MUST for me at our studio is always having music in the background and a candle burning at all times. I find these really help to give some ambiance to the office and create a vibe. Sometimes it’s chill house, sometimes it’s 90’s R&B but there is always something on the playlist.
I have gone to great lengths in ensure there is a residential vibe in our space. I did not want the office to feel too commercial, so the space is very warm and inviting. I also wanted to ensure there is ample natural light, that is very important to me so we designed in the space so that there a lot of glass separations so that the light travels throughout all the spaces.
We also have a saying ”in designer we trust” as soon as you enter the studio. This is a reminder to both the team and our clients that we have been hired for a reason, we know what we are doing, and that we got you! It also really makes a gorgeous graphic statement!
How is your space organized/arranged?
We have a few separate areas in our office. As you enter we have a lounge space (used for break out meetings) that is open to the individual work stations. We are a collaborative design firm, so I wanted to ensure there was some separation between the desks but also some visual separation.
The center of the studio, we have the creative hub, our design library with an over-scaled curved island where we have most of our creative strategy meetings. A great place to pull all the samples and watch a space come to life with all the finish selections.
I have my own office, which is clad in a gorgeous burnt orange grass cloth wallpaper and has a gallery wall of some my favorite prints and artwork. The space is separated by glass panels framed in black giving the space a lofty feel. This really helps to open up the space and gives the space a lofty vibe but also helps to control my organized chaos.
How long have you been in this space? Where did you work before that?
We just celebrated a year of being in our space, however, 6 months of this was for renovating the space and during a pandemic that was no small feat. Before being in this space I had a small 1200-square-foot office space just on the outskirts of downtown Calgary. We had outgrown that space for a quite a few years, but finding the right space proved to be quite challenging.
If you could change something about your workspace, what would it be?
One small change would be that we did not put outlets on the island! A simple and silly error which we would never do on a project, but for some reason, we missed it. It’s not the end of the world, but it happened, and it is a little funny when we look back at it. Nothing a little extension cord can’t fix!
Have you had to make any adjustments to how you work because of the pandemic?
Well, we couldn’t even work out of our office for the first while as we were on lockdown. When things started to open up again, we all could work but couldn’t have anyone in our office space, but now, clients are allowed to come in, wearing masks of course. The biggest adjustment would be that we have hand sanitizing areas around the office.
How do you see things changing in your workplace moving forward with COVID-19 now a part of our reality?
We are lucky in the fact that we haven’t had to make many big changes. The way the office is designed is that people can work 6’ apart if need be and can keep their distance. We have ample room to move around and ensure we are being safe if things start to change again.
Is there an office pet?
The only pet we have is Frida, our robot vacuum cleaner!
Do you require music in the background? If so, who are some favorites?
Always music in the background. Our faves include:
Chill House music
How do you record ideas?
I have a million different notebooks that I just purchase all the time. They are all in a drawer at the office. I just pull out a new one every time one gets filled.
Do you have an inspiration board? What’s on it right now?
My inspiration comes from things that I see in my travels. We have a small retail section in our office where I have curated found and made items by local makers. I find this most inspirational.
We did create an inspiration board at each workstation with simple corkboard. This helps the team stay inspired and organized.
What is your typical work style?
My work style is a little all over the place, like most creatives. Sometimes I come in to work super early and sometimes I leave later than everyone else. It really depends on my mood and how much sleep I had the night before. I find it always helps when I am in the office working as sometimes I can get a little lazy working from home. I love being in my office space early in the morning before anyone else as I can have that moment of being grateful to be able to work in such an inspiring space.
What is your creative process and/or creative workflow like? Does it change every project or do you keep it the same?
I always like to have a creative brief for each project, no matter how big or small. I find this really helps the team align with the how it will go. Once we do this, I think it helps the project flow in the right direction.
What kind of art/design/objects might you have scattered about the space?
I have a mix of everything from items that I have found in my travels, vintage items, handmade items and art pieces from artists across Canada, photographs and prints. A mix of everything that is inspirational.
Are there tools and/or machinery in your space?
We had to have a small but functional kitchen area in the office. We outfitted this space with the most important tool that I think is needed in a creative office, a coffee maker. This is a built-in unit and it keeps us caffeinated to ensure we are at our best!
What tool(s) do you most enjoy using in the design process?
My iPhone and my laptop are key! I use them to create documents, find inspiration, connect with clients. I couldn’t live without them.
Let’s talk about how you’re wired. Tell us about your tech arsenal/devices.
iPhone and Laptop is about as techy as I get.
What’s on your desk right now?
I had my desk custom designed with a piece of solid surface countertop with a gorgeous black and white veining and brass legs. Because of this, I try to keep it as clean as possible, but truth be told, it is filled with sticky notes, a to do list, pens, and a sign that was a gift that says “I’m not bossy, I am at the boss”.
Is there a favorite project/piece you’ve worked on?
It is very hard to pick a favorite project as all of our projects are special to me. We really try and make each project a little different and cater to our clients needs and tastes. So I will share a project that I think really speaks to our aesthetic of mixing styles, incorporating pattern and texture, and ensuring our designs will stay timeless.
Tell us about a current project you’re working on. What was the inspiration behind it?
We recently launched a wallpaper collection with RollOut. I designed the wallpaper mural with inspirations from brutalist architecture. I loved the organic forms and textures that are found with the use of concrete but added in natural inspired color palettes with terracottas, shades of blue, burnt yellows to give the collection some softness. We used the mural in our meeting room to give that space some life and it worked out very well! The collection is available now through rollout.ca.
Do you have anything in your home that you’ve designed/created?
I worked on a capsule furniture collection for Mobilia that was called Modern India, inspired by my trip to India. The collection was made up of side tables, consoles, coffee tables, credenzas and some lighting and used brass, white-washed wood and incredible marbles as the materials. These pieces are scattered through my home and office. I was extremely proud of this collection.