Posted by: Daryl & Wendy Ashby | November 18, 2010

Cynthia Hoisak

There’s an obvious Middle Eastern feel to Cynthia Hoisak’s Blackburn Hamlet home. On the outside, the house blends easily into the leafy, suburban neighbourhood. But on the inside, the living area is full of reminders that Hoisak and her husband lived in Saudi Arabia for seven years.

There are rich, colourful carpets on the floors, and smaller carpets hung on the walls in ways that show off their textures and craftsmanship.

Craftsmanship is equally evident in the Arabian and North African embellishments — many of them mementoes of the couple’s life on the edge of the desert.

Those seven years in Saudi Arabia were transformational for Hoisak. She went there as a weaver, a woman interested in textiles. She came back as a designer. And after getting some formal training here in Ottawa, she’s been designing people’s homes ever since.

How did you get your start in design?

Her husband, she explains, got a job with a big international engineering firm working on building the city of Jubail on the shore of the Persian Gulf in Saudi Arabia. She went as an accompanying spouse. The wives were told they should bring something to work on as a hobby — something that would hold their interest. Hoisak was a weaver, and so she brought a loom. Over seven years, she says, she taught some 300 women how to weave.

How did you get from weaving to interior design?

Jubail, she says, was a city under construction and the Saudi government at one point built 12 guest houses for visiting officials. The houses had been supplied with furniture from England, but Hoisak recalls that the interior of the houses was horrendous. So four women — wives of men working there — decided to give the houses finishing touches to make them livable. She bought Bedouin weaves and sculpted them into attractive shapes and hung them on the walls. The result was such a success, her husband’s company asked her to decorate its guest house. It went on from there.

Are you entirely self-taught?

The decorating work in Jubail was as a volunteer, but Hoisak saw the career potential and signed up for formal training so she could work as a designer. Once back in Ottawa, she studied interior design at Algonquin College in the mid-1980s. She worked with a local firm, before starting out on her own.

What’s your favourite room?

The family room off the kitchen showcases some of her favourite Saudi mementoes and weavings.

She points to a camel bag — it is an incredible piece of weaving, she says, adding that it came from a private collection in Jeddah. “It’s a very difficult piece to make. I love looking at it.” On another wall is a piece of weaving from the Qatif region of Saudi Arabia.

One of her trademarks is her sculpting of woven fabrics: Instead of hanging a piece of fabric on the wall, she works it into a three-dimensional shape by folding or arranging it.

The colour scheme in the room is burgundy and blue, with touches of rich cherrywood, inspired by the Arabian rugs. Hoisak loves the colours; although she never wears them, preferring black.

What work are you especially proud of ?

She worked with one client on a massive renovation that took over a year, submerging herself into the details of the luxurious project. “I’m very much a detail person.”

What makes for a good client?

“Someone who has an idea of what they want,” she says, “and can get that across to me. If they can do that, I can help them achieve it.” She loves talking to people, “but the most important thing is to listen,” says the designer.

Do you have a particular style?

“I work in all styles. I can just get a feel for the clients. I’m able to get under their skin. It’s all about the client. It’s what they have hired me for.”

Who are your favourite designers?

There are three: Canadian Brian Gluckstein because of his classic elements; American Ron Mann because of his use of natural materials, and British designer David Hicks because of his whole esthetic.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Hoisak says she goes on a lot of house tours to see what people are doing and subscribes to magazines. “I don’t watch the home-decorating shows because I just find them too out to lunch.”

Where’s your favourite place to shop?

Decor Inc. in the Montreal district of Mount Royal. (5650 Royalmount Ave., http://www.decorinc.ca).

Have you had to deal with mistakes?

Hoisak recalls doing a bathroom and ordering matte tiles for the shower. The supplier made a mistake and sent a mix of shiny and matte tiles. The workman putting up the tiles didn’t immediately notice; it wasn’t until all the tiles were all up that he thought to call her in to see whether the matte/shiny mix was part of her plan. It wasn’t.

“Luckily, the grout hadn’t hardened and he was able to remove the shiny ones.”

What’s your favourite part of a project?

Accessorizing, hanging pictures and creating tablescapes when the rest of the work is done. “I like all the finishing details.” 

Designing Minds

Name: Cynthia Hoisak

Firm: Textile Decor Residential Interiors

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