Industry Profile: Jo-Ann Capelaci of Jo-Ann Capelaci Design Image

Industry Profile: Jo-Ann Capelaci of Jo-Ann Capelaci Design

By Lucas on Sep 13, 2013

For our second interview for Interior Design Month, we discussed the process of designing a home with Jo-Ann Capelaci, a designer with many years of experience in the industry in both Toronto and California.

Newinhomes (NIH):  How did you get your start in the interior design industry?

JC: My design career started in custom drapery and then I worked for a company helping new home buyers choose the finishes and upgrades for their homes. A couple of years later, in 1994, Susan Harvey and I partnered to form our Toronto based business, Colour & Concepts.  Sue Webb-Smith of Geranium Homes helped get us an interview with Great Gulf Homes and her recommendation was a key factor in landing our first model home job. We designed model homes and provided trained colour/upgrade consultants to work for some of the GTA’s most prestigious builders. In 2003 after moving to California I relinquished that company to Susan. I began designing custom homes in Southern California. Over the last couple of years I have spent considerable time in Toronto managing Colours & Concepts while Susan was away.  I also began working once again with Geranium Homes doing design work.

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NIH: Tell us about building a home from scratch. What are the steps that you and the architect need to take?

JC: The very first step is a series of detailed interviews with the client. It is important for me to know the unique preferences and requirements of my clients. We go through each room and discuss what activities will take place and who will be using the space. When working with an architect, I review the plans to see if I have any recommendations for changes. We discuss any suggested revisions with the architect to see how they might impact the overall design of the home both structurally and esthetically. I believe that a collaborated team effort with the architect, contractor and designer is the best road to a successful design for the client.

The next step is the furniture plan.  A furniture plan is a vital element and needs to be completed at the planning stage. Once the furniture is placed, inadequacies and weaknesses can sometimes be seen in the plan.  One may not realize that the room is too small to fit the furniture or that a door or window is not in the correct place until the furniture has been placed.  Also, it is with the furniture plan that the lighting is determined.  Lighting is so important to design and often is glazed over.

The final step is developing the design direction. This is where we determine the style, colour and special design elements. Each design is carefully and uniquely chosen based on the preferences and lifestyle of the client. After the design direction has been established, we begin selecting the finishes for the home. Typically we begin with one of the more important rooms for the client, perhaps the kitchen or perhaps look at some of the elements that the client wants to incorporate into the home, such as a collection. Then the design evolves and is built upon. I believe in having as much of the design nailed down as possible before construction begins. Having all of your ducks in a row means less stress for everyone, minimizes errors and is most efficient.

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NIH: What's your favourite step of the process?

JC: I really enjoy working with the client to create the design direction. I love it when the client gets excited about the possibilities and ideas that we come up with that they hadn’t thought of. Designing a custom home from the planning stages takes a great deal of time and interaction with the client. It is important to choose a designer that hears you and designs a home suited for your specific lifestyle. Otherwise you can feel like a stranger in your own home.

NIH: Do you design mostly custom homes, or have you ever worked with any major home builders or condo developers?

JC: I just finished a design project with Geranium Homes called Copperstone. One room was chosen from each of their nine model types. We chose some rooms that had some special design elements that buyers may not be able to recognize from plans and also created some beautiful design ideas, space plans and colour schemes to give the potential buyer ideas for their home. These designs were all recreated beautifully in watercolour renditions.  It is extremely rewarding to me to help people with ideas to transform their home into a space that looks as good as a model and Sue Webb Smith (Geranium Homes) and I have discussed some exciting ideas to create that opportunity in the near future.

I have also worked with Great Gulf Homes, Intracorp Developments, Brookfield Homes, Aspen Ridge Homes, Marshall Homes and Inaugural Source. At one time we had 20 model homes on the go so it was important to be very organized.

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NIH: What's the most creative, elaborate, or largest interior you have ever designed?

JC: Most of the custom homes I have worked on are between 6,000 and 8,000 square feet. The most creative and fun project for me was working with a couple who were very involved in the design and construction of the home. They had built numerous large custom homes and had excellent taste. My job on the project was to come up with ideas and resources that they hadn’t thought of or discovered. It was definitely a collaboration of talents and it was so rewarding to go through that process. When a client like this is happy with your creative talent and your ability to find solutions and effective results you know you are doing a great job.

I also really enjoyed a project completed recently that will be appearing on HGTV House Hunters. It is a ‘before and after’ with one of my favourite clients. We had such a good time together that she told her friend that she thought her designer might be her new BFF. We spent a lot of time together and really gelled well and consequently it produced a design that was perfect for them.

NIH: From where do you draw your inspiration for designs? Is there a constant, or does it change from project to project?

JC: Inspiration can change from project to project. Often times it comes from an instinctive awareness or understanding of the project. The design can develop from a favourite ingredient of the client such as a family heirloom, piece of art or maybe even a fabric that they love. If the client loves the outdoors inspiration may come from nature. I may scan magazines and websites to extrapolate components of a design and then incorporate these ideas in some way.

NIH: You reside in California, but you also work in Toronto. Are homes that you design for Toronto different than your California designs? If so, how?

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JC: Homes that I design in California are definitely different than those in Toronto. Generally speaking I think Torontonians like a cleaner more contemporary design. Californians seem to prefer a more relaxed style of design. Many of the designs in California will have Spanish or Tuscan influences.  That being said, many of my California clients do like a modern direction, with some industrial elements.

NIH:  What is the biggest challenge involved with interior design?

JC: My biggest challenge is helping some clients to let go of things that no longer serve them, or old decorating styles. Often I will hear that they have paid a lot of money for an item so they don’t want to dispose of it. I love to reuse and repurpose items in a design however, if something is outdated and no longer serves a purpose of function and beauty, why keep it? I am a firm believer in the fact that when you dispose of or give away something that no longer suits you, it frees up space for the right things to fall into place.

NIH: What are some design trends that are currently popular in Toronto? In California?

JC: The Toronto market is really capturing outdoor spaces more than ever. I spent July and August in Toronto and noticed a lot more beautiful exterior furniture. One of the design projects I was working on recently with Geranium Homes, called Uptownes, has some fabulous rooftop terraces. I designed some different ways that people can use these spaces. It is a fabulous opportunity to increase one’s living and entertaining space.

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- Condo or house?

Depends on the age and lifestyle of the client. If you don’t like, or are too busy to do upkeep and maintenance, then a condo is a good option. If you want to live in the downtown hub then a condo is also an excellent choice. For some, owning a home in a community with a yard for children and pets is very important.

- Wood or metal?

Depends on the application. Hardwood is very popular in home design for flooring and cabinets. Adding some metal elements can look really great. Copper and zinc are great options.

- Contemporary or vintage?

I love mixing the two for a unique look. I almost always try to create juxtaposition in my designs, and mixing contemporary and vintage is a great way to do that.

- Granite or quartz?

Again it depends on the client and the design criteria. In some instances I prefer quartz; such as in a design when we want it to look modern with clean lines. I find that Toronto gravitates to quartz more often whereas in California more of my clients prefer granite or marble. My favourite thing to do is to create that juxtaposition again by combining the two in the same room. For example to choose quartz for the kitchen perimeter counters and pick a signature piece of natural stone for the island with a beefy nosing detail. It is such a great statement piece to have a stone island that looks like a piece of art.

- Hardwood or laminate?

Definitely hardwood. I prefer its natural beauty and quality.

- Favourite colour?

I don’t have one. I like a classic white and charcoal combination, warmed up with wood tones and then, providing that colour splash by changing the accents with the seasons and design trends.

We thank Jo-Ann Capelaci for taking the time to discuss her approach to interior design. To see more of Capelaci’s work, check out her website at

Stay tuned - we’ll have more features for Interior Design Month coming very soon!

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