Living Minimal in a Toronto condo - there is a Zen to reducing possessions


Zen and Now. Designing for nothing at all!
Minimalist movement takes root in urban centres

By Stephen Weir

I recently pitched the Toronto Star on an update of this story which I wrote for the PDRA magazine in the US 5-years ago. After digging the story out archives I decided to post it, story is as relevant then as it is now

It’s a designer’s worst nightmare -- a wealthy client with no possessions and no desire to acquire any. But, wait, as both Seinfield and Sheila Doris know, there is real money to be made when comes to the Zen of nothing!
“North Americans are over-run with stuff,” exclaimed
Sheila Doris “ We are junkies for stimulation, we don’t lightly give up on our toys.”
But, as the Canadian educator and decorator told a large group of interior decorators, the times are changing! Speaking at a standing-room-only PDRA sponsored series lecture in Toronto, Ontario during the Canadian Hardware and Building Materials Show (CHS) she said that many urban centres are simply running out of living space!
“It used to be, in Toronto, that everyone lived in three bedroom homes, with basements and garages,” she said. “Now? We are seeing here what has happened already in New York, Chicago and LA. Living space is all of a sudden very very expensive – people just can’t afford to display everything they own.”
As a designer, Ms Doris is now being challenged by clients who embrace the smallness of it all. She has found that there is a new generation of people who want to incorporate both Feng Shui and Zen into the design and decoration of their living space.
“Zen is not a design trend as such, it is a way of life -- both a philosophy and a religion,” she continued. “However Zen (like Feng Shui) is having an influence on our industry. Zen demands a simpler approach to living but with a much deeper meaning for every single aspect of a person’s living space.”
Zen, short for Zen Buddhism, originates in the 2,500-year-old teachings of Siddhartha Gautama an Indian philosopher prince. The Buddhism movement has spread from India to China and Japan and now to North America’s condo markets.
The Zen approach to design can best be described as reducing a living space to its simplest components. Given the influx of space-challenged lofts, Zen design, by necessity is taking root.

“ Zen instructs you to cast out your possessions, to contemplate rather than collect (stuff),” said Ms. Doris. “ That means using very little furniture and wall decorations. However, what pieces you do find, have to have significance. An antique wooden stool wins out over a couch made of synthetic material. Bamboo beats out laminates every time.”
“ Zen calls for restful colors,” she continued. “Think taupes, grays and rust reds. Plants have their place, but not the indoor jungles that North Americans seem to prefer. One or two oddly shaped flowering plants say so much more.”
The biggest change is in the bathrooms and the bedrooms. Candles, stones and flowing water created a healing atmosphere in the bathroom. The big bed with the requisite side tables, lamps and nearby entertainment centre has no place in a Zen environment.
“Low beds, Futons or just sleeping on a mat keep us grounded to the real world,” she said. “ With a movement away from furniture that bedroom sptace can become a more public space simply by rolling away the futon in the morning and bringing in a chair.”
Sheila Doris readily admits that Zen is not the only answer to designing for small spaces. In fact, at the CHS, she gave two other lectures on designing for the new urban home, which take into account society’s love affair with “stuff”.
At a Decorating and Design for the Urban Environment lecture, she noted that there are four other common design styles that are now taking root in the condo, loft and townhouse environments.
“As designers we should study the Modern (overscale & minimalist) movement, Retro-International Style (leather, chrome & glass), Retro-Scandinavian (cubist upholstery pieces) and, one of my favourites, Italian Contemporary (clean lines, light, minimalist). Minimalism is the key!”
Multi-purpose furniture, bedrooms that include work-at-home offices -- Minimalism allows you to do that. In today’s lofts, less is truly more because it keeps the space open.
Just because a designer has to think small doesn’t mean a loss of business. The new consumer is looking for advice on how to reduce the stuff in his or her life. Creativity is the Zen to it all!
EDITOR'S NOTE: No, the Star did not go for the pitch. Why? They liked the idea so much they already had done the story. I keep tabs on all the papers but missed the Star piece. Blush.
CUTLINE: Minimalist style in a NYC loft. Statue of the Budah. Bottom: Sheila Doris from her Facebook page.


Over the last few years, the appeal of loft condos has been exploding.

Toronto Condominiums

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