Our featured influencer this month is Aleem Kassam, whose keen sense of design makes him one of the most stylish people in Vancouver! Read all about Aleem below, and watch for more fabulous influencer insights in the coming months! —Vita Daily
Hi Aleem! Tell us a little bit about you and what do you do!
For starters, I was born and raised in Vancouver, and from an early age became enthralled by design! I specifically sought out interior design in my late teens, which ended up taking me across Canada, London, Milan and finally Chicago. Meanwhile, I also opened Kalu Interiors with my business partner Phyllis Lui, and we’ve been in business for almost 15 years! At our firm, we have always prided ourselves on delivering spaces that uniquely represent our clients through our lens. Interior design has been a lifelong passion for me, and every day I have the opportunity to collaborate with so many creative people from trades to makers, our clients themselves, and on a variety of projects from renovations to new construction, all over Vancouver and abroad, including L.A. Having the ability to design, curate and deliver spaces that not only reflect our clients, but also their aspirations, while improving their everyday life, with my lens on it, is what makes what I do so rewarding each and every day!
How do you use your platform to impact those who follow you?
I’ve always intended my social platforms to be an outlet to express my creativity. My goal is simple, it’s to share what I love and who I am, without regret. I have so many passions in life from fashion to interior design, architecture, travel, food, etc., and bringing my unique lens to these categories and sharing it with others in an inspiring and thoughtful manner is always my mission. I’ve also been very cognitive of how I want to share content on my platform, in the sense that I always want to express positive and uplifting images and content. So many times in this digital age, it’s easy to get sucked into the negativity and delivering images of superiority. But for me, it’s about collaboration, communication and community. At my roots, I’m a sociable, creative and outgoing soul. But, I also come from a diverse background, and have lived through many adversities in my life, so connecting with people on a deeper level through shared experiences is so powerful to me. I not only want to represent what I do, or what I love, but also provide a face and message to those who might be underserved online. For me, as a homosexual person of colour, I don’t take my role lightly and being a strong example while being able to give back to my communities is so vital, and also so much more than just a fabulous outfit or pretty picture. (Though they help!)
What’s your personal style (fashion and design) mantra?
My personal style both in fashion and interior design are, well, different. I come to each with very different goals. When it comes to my personal style in fashion, it’s constantly evolving, and I always consider myself as a “canvas in progress.” The fashion world in itself is a fast-moving hurricane, and finding yourself and personal style within it can be daunting. So instead of labelling my style, or trying to define who I am through fashion, I allow myself the opportunity to take fashion to express how I feel at any given time or moment. I don’t necessarily follow trends when it comes to fashion, but we also work with what’s accessible. Therefore you might find me pulling things from the rack, sourcing vintage items or collaborating with local designers to create custom looks! Fashion to me should be fun, it should not only represent your feelings and aspirations, but allow you the opportunity to make a statement and make you feel empowered. So playing with scale and proportion, colours and patterns, or even textures and eras, all allow me to have so much fun with my fashion!
My personal style in interior design is a different story. Unlike fashion, where you can create and remove a look immediately, while moving onto the next, that’s not so easy to do when it comes to our interiors. So designing and curating timeless and elegant spaces is very much who I am as a designer at my core. That being said, I still curate a multitude of interiors and spaces that have very different looks both in light or dark colour palettes, but designing them in tonal and monochromatic natures, while limiting the amount of colour, and curating a consistent colour thread and theme is so essential to spaces that can take you throughout the years and never feel dated. It isn’t to say you still can’t have fun with your interiors, so when it comes to elevating any space for me, it’s all in the finishing touches and accessories. From your soft furnishings, area rugs, art, accents and even plants; all of these items I love to explore with contrasting colours, or scale and even unexpected textures, which can help to not only layer a space, but bring it to the next level! These are what I would consider the “fashions” of the home, they’re not attached, interchangeable, and allow you to have a space that can be timeless and evolve with your taste over the years!
What would the design project of your dreams be?
This answer is easy, I’ve dreamed about it for since I was young: a boutique hotel in London! Ever since I travelled and also lived there, it pulled at every one of my heartstrings. But not only the city in itself, or the fabulous contrast of historical and modern architecture, but the international influence and design scene, well … they’re all perfect in my eye! When I say “perfect,” I don’t actually mean perfect either, I mean the culmination of all of these things are perfect, but the influences are so diverse and changing, present and past, and always contrasting one another, so imperfect really. So the opportunity to do a space there would be so fabulous! But I’m not one to set small goals, so doing a boutique hotel where I could allow myself the opportunity to not only be creative, but take risks on a large scale in design that wouldn’t necessarily translate well on the residential spectrum, would be a unique opportunity, while having all walks of life getting to see, experience and to visit it. For me interior design is all about curating moments and experiences. And the experience I might be able to produce in a public structure would be so very different than what I produce daily on the residential spectrum.
You recently renovated your own Gastown loft; can you tell us about the updates you made? Is it different working on your own space, than it is on a client’s?
When I initially walked into the space a couple of years ago, I knew it was our perfect home. I’ve always wanted to renovate something historical for myself personally, and my partner of course. Though, your traditional lofts in heritage buildings can be ones that can be difficult to bridge the gap of design between industrial and sophisticated. The shell of this space, though ’90s and dated, was exactly the canvas I needed. Architecturally speaking, as the second-oldest heritage building, built in 1896, and later converted to residential, the loft coming with exposed heritage brick and structural rebar, were all of the significant architectural features I always wanted to work with in the design of a space. Deciding to start from scratch, we literally stripped the loft down to concrete and studs. Of course maintaining the brick and structurally significant aspects, I also wanted to respect the open nature of the space by maintaining a completely open plan. Though re-configuring the rooms, especially in the kitchen, which flanks the centre of the unit with a 14-foot island, I wanted each space to be seamless and communal. For me it was all about scale and application playing with few materials but introducing them in each plane of the home. From white oak that spreads the flooring in wide planks throughout, it’s brought up the walls in millwork, and even spans across the ceiling in the centre of the unit. A singular stone selection from Dekton clads cabinet surfaces, countertops, backsplash and even the fireplace. For me, it was all about limiting the materials and palette, but utilizing them in big and profound ways to create drama and impact, while also being restful. Lighting is a huge aspect in the fundamentals of any space or design, so you’ll find a variety of not only light fixtures throughout our space, but accented LED lighting in the ceilings, cabinets and walls, allowing us to curate different moods and focal points throughout the day to evening. Though designing your own home and space, especially as an interior designer, is the hardest thing you can do in this profession. We’re so exposed and informed of options when it comes to materials, fixtures, technology and products available on the market. When designing for a client, you can take definitive and established action in your selections as you’re a “funnel” of information for the project. Knowing the person, space and budget. All of the things you would think you could do best for yourself, but it’s in fact the opposite. Designing your own space as a designer means establishing who you are as a designer and what your statement is meant to be. Which for me as a designer is quite opposite; as I always start with my clients and who they are, while curating the design through my lens to reflect them. Not myself. So coming to my own space meant a little “re-introduction” with myself, who I am, what I believe and what statement I want to leave … personally.
What do you see as being some of the key decor trends for fall/winter 2021?
I don’t mean to “beat a dead horse,” as I’m sure most (like me) are fatigued from this last year plus, but we can’t address the future without the past. So the past year plus of living in this pandemic world, not quite yet pre-pandemic, means we have all become quite re-acquainted with ourselves and our spaces. This past year plus has also allowed us the opportunity to reassess the things most meaningful to us. In that regard, I feel there’s be a wide re-establishing of personal connection to the outdoors, and thus nature. So for this fall and winter 2021, you’ll continue to see a reinvigorated trend toward bringing the outdoors-in. From colours, to textures and feelings or even scents found in nature, this resurgence to finding ourselves through our natural settings is huge. Deep contrasts, natural tones and scents, evoking textures and playfulness with light is very much on trend, and personally, I think here to stay. Because nature never goes out of style! Consider literally bringing in nature such as plants, bold and large natural arrangements, deep hues of greens and brighter layers of viper greens, dark sultry blacks and browns, and organic shapes in furniture and accents. Rounded and curved shapes in seating and tables, stone and wood accents and soft furnishings lush in texture and pattern.
Do you have any top/pro tips on easily flipping our summer for fall décor?
Evoking seasons on interiors can be simplified when you consider one thing: mood. Fall is all about setting the stage for warmth, rich and vibrant hues and scents. Dark and rich accents in your tabletop goods such as amber glass and black marbles, or layering seating with plush velvet pillows and quilted wool throws, down to the scent with natural fragrances such as sencha tea and guaiacum wood in the fragrance I adore right now from Culti Milano. More than ever our spaces and homes are our retreats, and especially as the weather starts to cool, or even become more dreary (especially in Vancouver), we need to turn our focus indoors and curating moods and spaces that bring us joy and warmth. I would also really recommend tying back nature especially for fall, so harvested branches and foliage in every space, small or large, can really help to set the stage for fall indoors.
If you could only buy one new piece this season, what would it be?
I couldn’t narrow it down to just one; two items, sourced from Secret Location in Gastown, evoke everything fall through sight, smell and touch. Rounding in the deep and vibrant greens we’re seeing invigorated into our homes and fashion as a reconnection to nature and the provocative scents that bring us outdoors, all while grasping soft and natural textures and forms, I’m lusting after the Culti Milano green diffuser stile ($110) scented with bergamot, sencha tea and guaiacum wood, as well as Seem Soap Studio’s forest fresh green tea soap ($40). Both bring a mix of calming tea and forest scents and rich and vibrant greens, and encompass a mix of function and style. I’m all about items that bring added value to the home, so pieces that are visual, functional and smells delightful are my triple-threat picks for fall.