November 21, 2015

Artist Vivian Reiss Transforms a Commercial Space in Toronto, Canada

Toronto-based artist and architectural designer Vivian Reiss, turns a utilitarian office space into a vibrant, cheerful place to work.

by New York Spaces

artist Vivian Reiss
Vivian Reiss transforms an office building on Merton Street in Midtown Toronto
artist Vivian Reiss
Design by Vivian Reiss.

Vivian Reiss, an architectural designer and artist based in Canada, guest blogs about transforming a utilitarian office space in Toronto into a vibrant, welcoming space to work.

As an architectural designer, artist and urban farmer, it has become my life's work to make life happier, more colorful, and full of joy. I acquired a 1970's office building several years ago. Though I am a devotee of 70's esthetic, there was not much to recommend in terms of the décor and architecture of this office building. The burnt-orange and mud-brown tiles surrounding all the elevators amounted to a long-ago aesthetic trend gone terribly wrong. The use of space throughout the building was contrived and without personality, completely drab and practical. Not an inspirational place to go to work.

I spent a very long time working on my maximalist masterpiece, my home in the Annex area of Toronto, and had worked on renovating residential apartments, but had never had any experience with an office building. My signature style has always been unique spaces filled with creatives' ideas for a good quality of life experience. This particular project, an office building 124 Merton situated in a quiet, residential area of Toronto, I decided to remake it entirely, to put my designer stamp on it. My thinking is that it would attract an interesting clientele of creatives in different areas, from financial, health and wellness industry and professionals, and more. This is exactly what happened once the building was completed.

artist Vivian Reiss
Vivian Reiss.

My aim was to fill the building with unusual amenities to improve the quality of life for all those who worked (or would work) there. My project was to turn a bland office building that offered nothing much more than four walls and a place to work, to a beautiful, stimulating and exciting setting that would make people eager to arrive at work. And happy to be here while they did. To turn it from a utilitarian structure into a humane experience.

The garden at the entrance offers strawberries, roses, summer artichokes, jasmine, fig trees and more. It is welcoming, colorful and sweet-smelling invitation to enter the building, which is a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass. Indian rainbow sandstone paving continues in accents inside, with custom sandstone benches I designed to reflect the same details found on the stairway to the entrance

The lobby is the most arresting part of the building, as it should be, since it receives the most traffic. I wanted to turn what was a non-descript space containing the elevators into an unusual and eye-catching space. I chose Turkish onyx as the main body of the floor, a luxurious choice that showcases the beauty of the natural world. I combined this with unusual bits of marble and glass tile to form a striking pattern, anchored by a huge antique marble birdbath continuously filled with orchid plants to further bring the beauty of nature indoors. I included large-scale photos of organic flowers and vegetables from large home garden.

artist vivian reiss
Murano chandelier in the lobby.

I found a color-saturated, Murano lighting fixture to anchor the whole lobby space. The bright blue and gold of this eye-catching light is repeated in the reflective tiles and the golden artifacts around the elevator. My aesthetic is to use color, layering and lots of texture because, after all, I am a maximalist of the highest order. I filled the whole building with art, from hallways to bathrooms, photography, installations and objects, from modern pieces to the Phad Painting (folk art from Rajastan) installed on the 7th floor. We even decorated the façade of the building to make it more thought-provoking. I love to be surrounded by splendor, and I assume it enriches everybody else as well.

artist vivian reiss

The bathrooms are usually the most utilitarian of all rooms in an office building. I strived to make the bathrooms super-spacious, much designed, with marble, modern sinks and fixtures, and work in pops of color and good lighting, especially since most office bathroom lighting is so punishing.

My favorite part of the building rehab was to create the outdoor spaces. There is a roof garden now, but it was a black, tar, expanse previously, with absolutely nothing to recommend it. Now it is an oasis of zen. With comfortable seating, tons of plants and flowers (my prize-winning tomatoes are always on offer!), topiary, and private spaces for meetings, a glass of wine, a personal phone call, or just a way to de-stress, even if it is for a short time. The residents of the building love it, and use it continuously. It has enhanced their working lives immeasurably, and many of them are eager to take their clients up to this amazing space. We planted the front of the building as well, so that it is lush and abundant with foliage and color. There is also an outdoor space on the second floor of the building, which has received the same treatment. My own office is in this building, and of course, it is filled with art and collectibles and all that I love. The other tenants tend to wander over to see what I have done with my office to give them some ideas of what is possible with their own spaces. 124 Merton has been an ongoing experiment in a more civilized way to work, and so far, it has been effective. I am always coming up with new ideas to make it even more of an eclectic design space. The reward is from the tenants and their clients who tell me how much they love working, visiting and experiencing such a lively edifice.

*Interested in more articles like this? Sign up for our Newsletter!

Vivian Reiss painting the "Garden Room" series in her studio.

Join New York Spaces' Weekly Newsletter.