Home is where the soul is

Ottawa Business Journal - Ottawa at Home - - LIVING | IN STYLE - writ­ten by araina bond

When­cus­tom home and ren­o­va­tion de­signer Carla Wolff set out to de­sign her new house three years ago, she didn’t con­sult the lat­est trends or pour over glossy ar­chi­tec­tural mag­a­zines. In­stead, she stud­ied a book of Asian prayer mats. “Each room, and the house it­self, is some pro­por­tion of the three-by-six di­men­sion of the prayer mat,” she says of the stun­ning March­vale Es­tates home she shares with her hus­band Mark.

The jour­ney to this new way of de­sign­ing with her com­pany, Yel­low De­signs, started a few years ago af­ter a health scare prompted Carla to reeval­u­ate both her way of life and the way she cre­ated liv­ing spa­ces. Her epiphany occurred when she re­al­ized the dif­fer­ence be­tween “wants” and “needs.” This en­abled her to es­tab­lish pri­or­i­ties in her life in or­der to de­cide what was wor­thy of her at­ten­tion and what was not.

“Su­gar is a want. Healthy food is a need,” says the de­signer, who loves cook­ing nu­tri­tious meals in her open-con­cept kitchen. “Dis­cov­er­ing our needs is a process that takes prac­tice so it can be­come a habit. Our lives are full of habits, and most should be ex­am­ined to dis­cover whether they are con­tribut­ing to a healthy life­style or not.”

To bet­ter un­der­stand her own ex­pe­ri­ence and to en­cour­age oth­ers to fol­low a health­ier path, Carla wrote a book about her jour­ney to dis­cover the im­por­tant needs in her life and how she built those needs into life­long habits.

“My life be­came very sim­ple when I re­al­ized I have a short list of needs,” says the en­er­getic de­signer, whose list in­cludes fresh air, clean wa­ter, healthy

and lo­cally-grown food, out­door ex­er­cise and a good night’s sleep. Meet­ing th­ese needs helps Carla achieve her high­est pri­or­ity and fi­nal goal – which is to do her best work, al­ways.

“Tak­ing care of my other needs al­lows me to put my best ef­forts into my work,” she says. “End of the list of needs.”

The beau­ti­ful sim­plic­ity of this con­cept is ev­i­dent from the sec­ond you en­ter the Wolff’s home. The first thing you no­tice af­ter cross­ing the thresh­old is the amaz­ing lack of clut­ter. Clean lines and warm, calm­ing colours greet you in the airy, open liv­ ing space. Be­hind in­ge­niously hid­den doors you’ll find spot­lessly organized work and home pa­pers, books, shoes, jack­ets, and other odds and ends.

“Stor­age helps to put the things that make us comfortable on a rainy day out of sight on a sunny day,” says the avid or­ga­nizer. “And a calm and organized pre­dictabil­ity con­trib­utes to a very peace­ful at­mos­phere.”

Carla’s love of na­ture is also ev­i­dent from the mo­ment you step in­side, as wide, soar­ing win­dows line ev­ery wall, af­ford­ing views of the forested three-acre prop­erty. When de­

sign­ing for both her­self and for clients, she takes the un­usual ap­proach of start­ing with win­dows rather than walls.

“Abun­dant nat­u­ral light con­trib­utes to our men­tal health,” she ex­plains, adding that it also means you can in­ter­act with na­ture so “na­ture can come right up to the win­dow.”

The ad­van­tages of for­go­ing man­i­cured land­scap­ing in favour of the nat­u­ral sur­round­ings, can be seen from ev­ery room in the house. Reg­u­lar sight­ings of deer, coy­otes, birds and the many other for­est an­i­mals that cross through their prop­erty are multi-sea­sonal treats for the Wolffs.

Creatinga space based on what it will be used for, is an­other im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion for Carla when de­sign­ing a home. She says that be­cause a house is such a big in­vest­ment, you can feel pres­sured to in­clude cer­tain fea­tures for re­sale value, whether they suit your life­style or not. You may feel ob­li­gated to have a for­mal din­ing room, for ex­am­ple, even though you eat all your meals in the kitchen.

“If you can trade in a few of th­ese ‘norms’ for de­sign fea­tures that are re­ally use­ful for your life­style,” she ex­plains, “then you can cre­ate a bet­ter life ex­pe­ri­ence for your­self, while at the same time pro­tect­ing or even en­hanc­ing your in­vest­ment.”

One of the ways that Carla has achieved this in her own home is to cre­ate a room for her hus­band’s large col­lec­tion of mu­si­cal in­stru­ments, as well as to cre­ate a house de­signed for lis­ten­ing to him play: “I wanted to live with mu­sic per­vad­ing the whole house, so this pro­por­tion pretty much es­tab­lished the scale of the struc­ture.”

Carla be­lieves that the things you are pas­sion­ate about should be in­cor­po­rated into your home. Whether it’s a love of art, wine col­lect­ing, or sim­ply watch­ing movies, find­ing space for th­ese pas­sions in your house is a way to serve your soul.

As much as Carla en­joys her cur­rent home, she is also looking ahead. Her con­cern for the en­vi­ron­ment means that some­time in the fu­ture she’d like to build a home that is com­pletely off the grid.

But for now, she is busy en­joy­ing liv­ing and work­ing in her beau­ti­ful, peace­ful en­vi­ron­ment, tak­ing time out to walk along the coun­try roads or to watch the birds fly by her of­fice win­dow. “This ebb and flow of tak­ing care of our­selves and tak­ing care of work that we are com­pletely pas­sion­ate about is what goes on in th­ese four walls. It is the high­est qual­ity of life,” she says. “What could be bet­ter?”



photography by mark holleron

this page: The stylish kitchen where Carla cre­ates nu­tri­tious meals. fac­ing page: The mas­ter bath oozes sim­plis­tic lux­ury.

be­low: Carla Wolff.

The view from above shows the abun­dance of nat­u­ral light. Mu­sic is good for the soul. Or­ganic food is a life­style choice. Stain­less steel is the metal of choice.

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