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Inside The World Of Interior Design With Gillian Gillies

Originally from the gorgeous city of Edinburgh, Scotland, Gillian Gillies has migrated across the Atlantic to the vibrant metropolis of Toronto - where she has established a very successful interior design firm, the furniture line Essence, and, on top of that, has co-created an interior design project management software, DesignDocs, Inc.

Fully emerged in the design business, this award-winning designer has no intention on slowing down any time soon. Gillian is highly sought-after for her stylish storage solutions, custom millwork, unique lighting, and locally sourced materials, offering everything and anything a homeowner could want in a designer.


Widely known for her timeless, classic designs with an updated twist, her clients love having the opportunity to merge their design visions with Gillian’s eye for clean, tasteful interiors. Whether Gillian is hired for a single room design or entire home renovation, you are guaranteed to be astonished with the end result, often consisting of custom furniture, brilliant color and fabric schemes, unique casegoods, and artistic decor and accessories.

So, without further ado, I am extremely excited to welcome the talented Gillian Gillies!

Q: How did you first get into interior design?

Gillian: Growing up I had a tiny bedroom so making changes to it and moving furniture around was not an option. So I had to use my imagination – a lot! I also loved magazines from an early age and was always drawn to the images of homes and would imagine myself living in these places and the changes I’d make. When watching TV shows or movies, I was always preoccupied with the homes and spaces, but I never imagined that it could turn into a career.

In my late teens, Kelly Hoppen and Andrew Martin were making big waves in the British design market. I have all their books, and it was really Kelly Hoppen that made me decide that design was what I was destined to do. TV shows documenting ‘real life’ transformations began in the late 80’s and all of a sudden the role of an interior designer was being broadcasted into people’s homes and slowly but surely it became a real career.

My first proper job in design was in my mid-twenties. I moved to Glasgow from Edinburgh and worked as a designer for a large firm there. It was a very vibrant, fast paced place to work and I learned a lot on the go. They had a storefront location – so there was always accessories and small sized pieces for styling. They had a good selection of upholstered pieces that clients could try out for size and comfort as well as a massive range of fabric and wallcovering suppliers. We had an in-house construction team, so anything we needed could be achieved. I loved it!

Q: As a residential interior designer, have you ever thought of working in commercial design? What are your thoughts on this?

Gillian: I have certainly thought about commercial design – but it would need to be of the homely, inviting, sanctuary kind. In my design firm, we create homes, spaces that you walk into and exhale. Spaces where you can feel yourself and where you can truly relax. When I return home to Scotland, I always go to Archerfield Spa – it is the spa that all other spas should want to grow up to be one day! I’d be more than happy to design a space like that or a lovely boutique hotel. When we travel, nothing beats a great bed and a great bathroom.

living-room-interior-luxury-gillianImage Source : Gillian Gillies Interiors Inc

Q: Are there specific elements that you look to harmonize in your design?

Gillian: The harmony priority is to ensure that the client feels that they belong in the space. It’s a little like watching the Oscars – sometimes all you see is a movie star’s dress as though it's wearing her instead of her wearing it! I want to ensure that my clients don’t feel like their new design scheme isn’t letting them be seen or be themselves. So ensuring client/design harmony is number one. Then I look for balance in the space itself. I generally like to have one thing that is the focal point (it could be a patterned fabric or an area carpet or a piece of art) that acts as the glue that holds all together. Then I start to source and select the layers; I like a mix of textures and natural materials in a design scheme. My designs rarely have a timestamp so they can last for years.

Q: Who are some interior designers that you find inspiration from?

Gillian: As mentioned previously, Kelly Hoppen is my design icon. She’s smart and an incredibly savvy business woman. She has been in the business for 40 years and is still current and very much in demand today. Her design schemes are timeless. She has a very cohesive brand. She started her business at 17 with no formal training and is now one of the top designers in the world.

I also really admire and find inspiration from Windsor Smith. I heard her talk at High Point, and she blew me away with her honesty and integrity. She was so open about her processes and how she designs for clients, I learned a lot from her. Windsor designs for family homes and is a pioneer for utilizing the spaces as you want them to be instead of how they are traditionally designed to be, such as using a formal living room space as a games room.

Barbara Barry is also someone I have heard speak, and she is a really fun and witty person. She too was very candid about her process and how she presents her ideas to her clients.

Many designers inspire me, but I think it’s really only the ones who talk about their processes and their ups and downs that really inspire me. It's these ones that you know are working in their companies and not giving their names to things.

luxury-family-room-interior-gillianImage Source : Gillian Gillies Interiors Inc

Q: What exciting new projects are you currently working on?

Gillian: We are working on several condominium projects & several homes in Toronto, as well as a project in Winnipeg, Manitoba. We are also working on a couple of exterior projects. Having worked with my clients for many years and having completed nearly all the rooms in their homes, I am now finding a huge demand for exterior works – hard and softscaping.

Q: Where do you like to do your design shopping?

Gillian: For me, the starting point in most design schemes is the fabrics. So I tend to begin my sourcing at Designers Walk in Toronto which is home to multiple fabric houses. From Designers Walk I often look for area carpets, working with a couple of local showrooms as well as one in the US to source and specify carpet orders. In terms of upholstery and casegoods, most of them are bespoke – designed in-house and manufactured locally. Lighting is also a key element, and I actually do a lot of light sourcing online.

living-room-design-kitchen-bliss-gillianImage Source : Gillian Gillies Interiors Inc

Thanks, Gillian, for allowing us to get to know you and your approach design! I loved the analogy with the Oscars, as it is so true that a design (and a dress) can be beautiful, but just not right for the person it's been designed for.

It's also lovely hearing just how in-tuned Gillian is with each of her clients - as one would hope to be with their designer - knowing exactly how to make her clients feel relaxed and "at home" as soon as they walk through the door. For many of us, coming home after a long day at work just isn't as satisfying if we're not happy with the aesthetic of our home, as interiors have such a psychological effect on us.

To learn more about Gillian Gillies Interiors Inc. and see their portfolio, visit their https://gilliangillies.com/ and follow them on Houzz.