An interview with design writer and HGTV star Candice Olson


Kitchen designed by Candice Olson. (Brandon Barré)
May 3, 2011

Ten years ago “Divine Design,” a home makeover show hosted by Candice Olson, began on Canada’s W Network. The show has since been syndicated in more than 160 countries, including in the United States on HGTV, where Olson has become the cable network’s go-to girl for surprising remodels and down-to-earth decorating advice.

Design stardom wasn’t always the plan. Hailing from Calgary, Alberta, Olson played on the national women’s volleyball team while pursuing a major in medicine at the University of Calgary. Prompted by an interest in her minor, fine arts, she applied to the Ryerson School of Interior Designin Toronto and was scouted by a design firm while enrolled.

Now Olson, 46, is married and living in Toronto with her two children, ages 5 and 7. Her design empire is flourishing.

Her new series on HGTV, “Candice Tells All,” zeroes in on the underlying design principles that inspire her transformations, and her book, “Candice Olson Kitchens and Baths” (Wiley), hit stores in April. She has started her own brand of furniture, fabrics, lighting and bedding called the Candice Olson Collection.


Candice Olson (HGTV/HGTV)

She spoke with us by phone from Toronto about her journey from humble beginnings at an Alberta burger joint to design fame. Here are edited excerpts.

What was your first job?

Well, my first job ever was at Bob’s Bigger Better Barbecue Alberta Beef Burgers. I got paid $2.50 an hour to work at a tongue-twisting drive-in burger joint. It was very glamorous.

My first design job was at a commercial design company that specialized in retail and hospitality design. I began working for them while I was in school, and that became my whole world when I graduated.

“Candice Tells All” highlights basic design principles. What is one rule that you consistently adhere to?

It doesn’t matter how much time, energy or money you put into a project. If the lighting is wrong you’ve wasted it all. Layering your lighting — overhead, accent, low-level — is vital in order for the room to reach its full potential.

You never mention how much things cost in your books or on TV. Why is this?

We don’t give numbers because the shows run in over 100 countries and prices fluctuate. I mention when I have to cut back and what I sacrifice, and viewers know when the budget is high because we’ll be doing a big addition or tons of custom cabinetry. Plus, we’ve always considered ourselves an inspirational show. It’s not so much about saying, “Here’s granite,” but more about saying, “Here’s the color, and this is why I’m using it in relation to the backsplash and the cabinets.”

What is the biggest mistake people make when decorating a family room?

People don’t design it for themselves! I always tell people to do a big reality check when approaching this room. Ask yourself, “Who is using this space?” Then, design it for the youngest person. If you have a 2-year-old, pick fabrics and finishes that will suit them so you’re not afraid to use the space. People often think they live a lifestyle that they may not.

If someone had $1,000 to spend on a room in their house, what should they do?

Dimmer switches! I cannot stress their value enough. They can totally change the character of a room.

What is your favorite interior paint color?

Any smoky gray, especially when accompanied by a wood-toned floor. It is the color of an impending thunderstorm, and it’s just so chic.

What store can you never walk out of empty-handed?

West Elm is rocking out these days. For those good-quality-for-the-price accent tables and pillows, they do a fantastic job.

Where do you get inspiration?

I’m big into getting all I can from the spring and fall fashion shows. I do a line of bedding which is very fashion-driven. Trends that hit the runways tend to hit home fashions, especially bedding, very quickly. Colors like banana yellow and gray, or fabrics like lace and ruffles, were huge on the runways and then in home stores within a year.

I really admire Ralph Lauren, both his designs and his business savvy. I always remind people that this isn’t just a hobby, this is a career, and Ralph Lauren has been able to withstand the test of time. He bridges the gap between classic fashion and classic furniture smoothly and with a sense of longevity.

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