Worldwide: Toronto-based designer Anwar Mekhayech’s favorite things

DesignAgency co-founder Anwar Mekhayech.

Saty Pratha

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For someone who doesn’t believe in Canadian design, Anwar Mekhayech has spread a lot of it around the world.

“There is no such thing as an innate Canadian style,” says the Toronto-based co-founder of DesignAgency, a 130-person firm whose global offices design spaces for clients like Soho House, Momofuku and Vice Media, as well as giants like Hilton, Air Canada and Ritz-Carlton . “The Canadian is the sense of joy, the lack of ego, the transparency, the trust. Our studio is also multicultural and we take advantage of that.”

As the pandemic ravaged DesignAgency’s hospitality clients, the 25-year-old company was more concerned than ever with the move to multi-family housing projects. “The most important change in home design is the connection between work and home, and how everything now has a hospitable or social aspect,” says Beirut-born Mekhayech, 48. “Because life isn’t 9 to 5 anymore, you can do that things not in buckets. It’s a big soup.”

With travel opening up, lengthy hotel projects are finally coming online, he says. After six years of work, DesignAgency recently unveiled a sleek new wing of Toronto’s beloved 1890 Drake Hotel. The company is currently designing properties for The Pendry, an upscale brand from a former Four Seasons executive. Four Seasons itself is a customer. And Dimensions, a “psychedelic wellness” retreat in northern Ontario, is set to debut this year.

DesignAgency also designed Tokyo Smoke, the Toronto brand that brought cannabis to the upscale.

“The big trend at high-end is ‘regenerative’ travel,” says Mekhayech. “We told the client that architecture and design should lead and that this should be the new luxury.”

Mekhayech shared some of his favorite things penta.

My favorite hotel in the world is… Being in the industry, I almost never stay in the same hotel twice. I’m always looking for the new. But the two most influential were both over [French designer Philippe] Starck at the peak of his career. One was the Paramount in New York. My parents took me with them when Ian Schrager opened it in the 1990s. I remember the scene in the lobby when I walked into the room and the door slammed against the bed – that was before anyone talked about micro hotels. The other hotel is the Hotel Costes in Paris, where my father lives.

The trip I’m most looking forward to this year is… the world opens up again. We have been to Costa Rica many times. We spent five months there last year and two months recently. This year we are going to Asia. I haven’t really circumnavigated the world yet, but probably Thailand or Vietnam, or maybe even Bali.

I would take a first time visitor to Toronto to see… I always show visitors the CN Tower and City Hall – two iconic moments. I would do a walking tour of the West End neighborhoods -[38-acre] Trinity Bellwoods Park is near our studio. We’d end up in a cafe or restaurant – Union on Ossington is my destination. It’s kind of a neighborhood French bistro. I always bring people to the AGO [Art Gallery of Ontario]. I grew up near there, bordering Chinatown and [125-year-old multicultural district] Kensington Market. And I always take people to Kensington Market.

If I could redesign something it would be… not something monumental like the Eiffel Tower, but all about health and wellness. This segment needs serious love.

If I didn’t live in Toronto I would be in… Costa Rica. i love people I love the sea. I love that it has a real calm. There is something about this country that I find very peaceful. It is also a good home base. You can work from there and jet to different places, be it Miami or LA or New York or Toronto. I also found that it’s only a five-hour flight from Toronto, so not as engaging as Asia, but you can feel just as disconnected. Surfing down there or looking at the jungle and mountains you could be anywhere in the world.

The designer who has inspired me the most is… The fun side of me has always had an affinity for Starck—his approach, his whims, and his creativity. In the spaces I like, I’m a mid-century modern man, if that’s it [American designers] Ray and Charles Eames respectively [American architect]
John Lautner. I’m into that kind of retro minimalism that touches on brutalism.

I’m reading now… My books are in a box because we just moved. I read [the magazine] Monocle, and there’s always one by the bed. If wallpaper [which shares a founder with Monocle] came, there we came up. I read a lot of biographies. i just read Mick: The wild life and mad genius of Jagger by Christopher Anderson. Biographies are great. That’s what my father taught me. He always had a biography or autobiography on hand. He was addicted to learning and being inspired by other people’s lives.

This article has been edited for length and clarity.

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