For the past 14 years, Chief Designer Aly Velji has headed his Calgary, Alberta boutique design company called Alykhan Velji Designs. Velji’s firm, which specializes in both residential and commercial design, has perfected a timeless aesthetic by seamlessly blending modern and classic elements and bringing their clients’ visions to life. In this case, Velji became a customer and designed the new headquarters of his company with a living atmosphere that invites warmth and encourages creativity. For this month Where I work, we’re going north to Canada to learn more about Velji, his practice and his new office space.
What is your studio / work environment like?
One thing that is a MUST for me in our studio is always music in the background and a candle that is always burning. I think these really help give the office an ambience and create an atmosphere. Sometimes it’s chill house, sometimes it’s 90s R&B, but there’s always something on the playlist.
I went to great lengths to ensure that there was a living atmosphere in our room. I didn’t want the office to feel too commercial, so the space is very warm and inviting. I also wanted to make sure there was a lot of natural light, which is very important to me, so we designed the room so that there was a lot of glass spacing so that the light could travel through all the rooms.
We also have a saying “in designer we trust” as soon as you step into the studio. This is a reminder to both the team and our customers that we were hired for a reason, we know what we do and that we have you! It really makes a gorgeous graphic statement too!
How is your room organized / arranged?
We have several separate areas in our office. When you enter we have a lounge area (used for breakout meetings) that is open to the individual workstations. We’re a collaborative design company so I wanted to make sure there was some separation between the desks, but also some visual separation.
At the center of the studio we have the creative hub, our design library with an oversized, curved island where we hold most of our creative strategy meetings. A great place to get all the samples and watch a room come to life with all of the finish choices.
I have my own office that is covered in beautiful wallpaper of burnt orange grass and has a gallery wall with some of my favorite prints and works of art. The room is separated by black framed glass panes, which give the room a high feeling. This really helps open up the room and gives the room a lofty atmosphere, but also helps control my organized chaos.
How long have you been in this room? Where did you work before?
We just celebrated a year in our room but 6 months of that were for room renovations and during a pandemic that was no mean feat. Before I was in this room, I had a small, 1,200-square-foot office on the edge of downtown Calgary. We had outgrown this room for a couple of years, but it proved quite difficult to find the right room.
If you could change anything about your workspace, what would it be?
One small change would be that we don’t have any sales outlets on the island! A simple and silly mistake that we would never make on a project, but for some reason we missed it. It’s not the end of the world, but it happened and it’s a bit fun when we look back. Nothing a little extension cord can’t fix!
Did you have to make adjustments to the way you work because of the pandemic?
Well, for the first time, we couldn’t even work from our office while we were locked. When things opened up again we could all work but couldn’t have anyone in our office space, but now customers are allowed to come in and of course wear masks. The biggest adjustment would be that we have hand sanitizing areas around the office.
How do you see things change in your workplace when COVID-19 is now part of our reality?
We’re lucky that we didn’t have to make a lot of big changes. The office is designed so people can work 6 feet apart and keep their distance if necessary. We have enough freedom of movement and make sure we are safe when things change again.
Is there a pet in the office?
The only pet we have is Frida, our robotic vacuum cleaner!
Do you need background music? If so, who are some favorites?
Always music in the background. Our favorites are:
Chill house music
How do you pick up ideas?
I have a million different notebooks that I buy all the time. They’re all in a drawer in the office. I pull out a new one every time one is filled.
Do you have an inspiration board? What’s on it right now?
My inspiration comes from things I see on my travels. We have a small retail section in our office where I have curated items found and made by local manufacturers. I find that the most inspiring.
We created an inspiration board with a simple pin board at each workstation. This helps the team stay inspired and organized.
What is your typical work style?
My work style is a little ubiquitous, like most creative people. Sometimes I get to work super early and sometimes I go later than everyone else. It really depends on my mood and how much sleep I got the night before. I think it always helps when I work in the office, as I can sometimes work a little lazily from home. I love being in my office early in the morning before everyone else as I can have that moment of gratitude to be able to work in such an inspiring space.
What is your creative process and / or workflow like? Does it change every project or do you keep it the same?
I always like to have a creative assignment for any project, no matter how big or small. I think this really helps the team adapt to the way it’s going to go. Once we do this, I think it helps the project flow in the right direction.
What kind of art / design / objects could you have scattered across the room?
I have a mix of everything I’ve found in my travels, vintage items, handmade items and artwork by artists from all over Canada, photographs and prints. A mix of everything that is inspiring.
Are there tools and / or machines in your room?
We needed to have a small but functional kitchen area in the office. We have equipped this room with the most important tool that I think is needed in a creative office, a coffee machine. This is a built in unit that keeps us caffeinated to make sure we are at our best!
What are your favorite tools to use in the design process?
My iPhone and my laptop are the key! I use them to create documents, find inspiration and connect with clients. I couldn’t live without her.
Let’s talk about how you’re wired. Tell us about your tech arsenal / devices.
iPhone and laptop are as technical as me.
What’s on your desk right now?
I had my desk customized with a piece of solid worktop with beautiful black and white veining and brass legs. For this reason I try to keep it as clean as possible, but to be honest, it has sticky notes, a to-do list, pens, and a sign that says “I’m not bossy, I’m with the boss.”
Do you have a favorite project / piece you’ve been working on?
It is very difficult to choose a favorite project because all of our projects are special to me. We really try to make each project a little different and respond to the needs and tastes of our customers. So I’m going to be sharing a project that I think really fits our aesthetic, mixing styles, incorporating patterns and textures, and making sure our designs stay timeless.
Tell us about a current project you are working on. What was the inspiration behind it?
We recently started a wallpaper collection with RollOut. I designed the wallpaper mural with inspiration from brutalist architecture. I liked the organic shapes and textures found using concrete but added in naturally inspired color palettes with terracottas, shades of blue, and burnt yellow to add some softness to the collection. We used the mural in our meeting room to bring this room to life and it worked really well! The collection is now available at rollout.ca.
Do you have something in your home that you designed / created?
I was working on a capsule furniture collection for Mobilia called Modern India, which was inspired by my trip to India. The collection consisted of side tables, consoles, coffee tables, sideboards and some lighting and used brass, whitewashed wood and incredible marbles as materials. These pieces are scattered around my home and office. I was very proud of this collection.