Ann Squires Ferguson, CEO of Western Interior Design

For our July 2020 Newsletter, we asked Ann about Western Interior Design, her work there and how it’s changed since Covid-19, and a bit about her life outside of work.

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Can you briefly introduce yourself and Western Interior Design Group?
Hi! I’m Ann Squires Ferguson, CEO of Western Interior Design Group, in the midst of rebranding, on the eve of our 30th year, to Western Design+Build. We are a commercial interior design and construction company, specializing in hospitality, office, retail and multi-unit residential. I was born and raised just south of the Yukon border, have previously served in the Canadian Navy, and now have 19 years in the construction industry.

What sets Western Interior Design Group apart from other design firms in the area?
As an integrated studio, completely unique here in the island, we are Registered Interior Designers first, and General Contractors second. Building what we design means that specifications, details, schedules and full pricing are all factored into the earliest design phases, so projects are fast-tracked and there are no surprises during construction. From a client’s perspective, they work with the same designer / project manager throughout the life of the project. There is no hand-off, no delay, all direct messaging. Once converted to this way of working, our client relationships often carry on for decades. One client called me their ‘construction soulmate’.

What do you love most about your job, and what type of projects do you get the most excited to work on?
I love becoming immersed in our clients’ businesses, seeing their outlooks, aligning with their priorities, being an ambassador for their brand. When we worked with the Victoria International Marina, I travelled with their team to the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show, the largest yacht show in the world, to better understand the market they play in. I also love complexity and technicality, which are the driving forces behind our recent design+build of Music Tribe’s global R&D facility in Dockside Green. My first degree is in electro-mechanical engineering and that grounding in function and performance meant a perfect synergy with them, as a premium audio engineering company.

What are the largest challenges to being an interior designer, and how do you overcome them?
As a Registered Interior Designer, a designation that requires a minimum of six years education, experience and professional exams; we are often underestimated in relation to other construction professionals. Popular media has unfortunately portrayed interior design as an only as aesthetic profession when, particularly where it relates to commercial design, ours is a value proposition. Being an engineer myself has been such a gift, a unique lens through which to view our contribution to the team and tailor our responses. Acting as the GC on our projects has also transformed every dialogue with clients, consultants and trades, and we are able to make our true value visible at every phase of the project.

How do you see Western and your team contributing to the greater community during this current COVID crisis?
Within the first week of the COVID crisis, we had two major hospitality contracts cancelled. Rather than lose our momentum and reduce staff hours, we immediately launched a pro-bono initiative, giving away 10-hour blocks of subsidized design time to local businesses, to help them pivot and adapt. We drew floor plans, designed graphics, sourced screens, interfaced with municipalities – anything to give local businesses a ray of hope in dark days. To date, we have gifted more than 200 hours, or $30,000 in design time, to Habitat for Humanity, Coldwell Banker, Mayfair Optometric, Caorda and many others. We all live here – we eat tacos and drink gin, we go to the clinic and the hair salon, we get tattoos and buy houses and get great new glasses – so anything we can do as a studio to ensure that community diversity remains is time well spent. Our hope is to inspire others to pay it forward and share what they have to share, whether that is time, expertise, space or other resources.

How has your business model adapted since Covid-19?
We are so fortunate to be able to serve our clients from anywhere, with only a trusty laptop & cell! I have never been so grateful for technology, be it Teams, Zoom or DropBox. While all of our staff continue to work from home, we do miss having the creative hive mind, all of us together developing concepts and building solutions, and thus we will be re-entering the studio in September, socially distanced of course. On all our jobsites, many of which are multi-unit residential, we are strict adherents to the BC Provincial guidelines, with full sanitization and distancing precautions in place. This is the only sustainable way of functioning, now and into the foreseeable future. There is a time component to the extra labour, and certainly a cost implication as well. These are, however, small prices to pay for continued health throughout our broader community.

Do you expect to see any lasting changes to how we design interior spaces, and if so, what?
We are already seeing significant and what we expect to be permanent changes in internal circulation paths, in the move to non-touch interiors, and the incorporation of physical screening. We are using all our technical and creative abilities to design cost effective and unique barriers, to ensure our clients are able to maintain their esthetic and ambiance. With Il Covo Trattoria, we are designing custom mobile stone-look bases that will hold acrylic screens, each receiving a unique graphic film of a stone medallion and scrollwork. Just because it is necessary doesn’t mean it has to be boring. We can always add value and increase the quality of the experience.

What do you love most about living in Victoria?
I love the interconnectedness of Victoria. I love the fact what who you are as a human being matters. I love that we all know one another at a much more intimate level, and that we can genuinely enjoy one another’s company while we add value to this amazing city. Victoria has it all: it is cosmopolitan and gritty, it is natural and refined, it is equally comfortable on the city stage and at the neighbourhood block party. Becoming genuine friends with our clients, going for beers with our leasing agents, being able to happily recommend trades and suppliers to other GCs and designers – we do these things on a daily basis and still never take them for granted. A rising tide floats all ships.

When you’re not working, what are your favourite activities?
While this may be unusual for an ‘interior’ designer, I am never happier than when I am outside. Rain or shine, every season, we are out in the great outdoors. Together with my husband Andrew, currently Cox’n of HMCS Vancouver and our ten-year-old twins Danger & Daring; we hike, bike, camp, kayak, paddleboard, picnic, garden and barbeque – literally anything that gets us outside. I am also personally an avid trail runner and every morning at 5am, you’ll find me outside for my own personal meditative run.

Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
My entire childhood was spent in northern BC, living off the grid. Our home was a log cabin my Dad built, and Mom chinked between the logs with mud and moose hair. They were taken in by the Tahltan Nation of Telegraph Creek in 1970 and that community continues to be my extended family. We hunted, fished and gardened for food, and Mom home-schooled us. I had no idea that our lifestyle was unique in any way until I left home and joined the ‘real world’ in 1990.