Designer Q&A with Cheryl Torrenueva

November 4, 2013
by The Finished Space

Celebrity designer Cheryl Torrenueva answers questions about herself, interior design and, of course, her use of interior finishings.

Cheryl Torrenueva

The Finished Space: Why did you choose interior design as a career path?  Was there an ‘AHA’ moment?
Cheryl Torrenueva: 
At the early age of eight years old, I started designing homes with building blocks for newborn chicks that we were taking care of at school. Cute right? As I grew older, I began asking my mom to buy me Dream Home magazines so that I could study all of the blue prints to learn more about space planning. So I’ve always had an interest in architecture and how buildings were put together, and still do! However, when I realized that space was becoming scarce in Toronto, interior design just seemed more appealing because there would be a need to remodel existing interior spaces. I love having the ability to improve the way people interact with space!

The “AHA” moment for me, was during the reveal of one of my first television shows and seeing our youngest client, who was 10 years old, stop breathing for two seconds because we made his dream bedroom a reality even with our limited budget. The creativity really starts to kick in when you don’t have much.

TFS: Is there any particular project that was a launch pad to your success?
CT: At the beginning of my career when I was volunteering at Gluckstein Design, working at Designer’s Walk and doing reception for a Toronto builder, I thought that I was doing everything that I could to follow my dreams of becoming a designer.

One day, I was speaking with the make-up artist at a family wedding and she mentioned an opportunity to audition for an HGTV contest called “Designer Superstar Challenge.” At the time, I thought, “There is no way that I would win this contest, I barely have a professional portfolio and I’ve never been in front of a camera before. Should I bother?” Well if there’s one thing that I have, it’s drive and passion so I auditioned with my best friend and managed to get a spot in the top 10 finalists! And during the whole time, I was keeping my fingers crossed…if I could get two seconds in front of the judges then I’ve already won.

Little did I know, I would meet the fabulous and talented Andrew Pike – who was also a contestant that season – and although we didn’t win, we were offered to do our very own show a year later called Rooms That Rock. After a few years under my belt, working as on-camera host, designer and art director for some of the top HGTV design shows, I landed a role on the show Colin & Justin’s Home Heist, which allowed my work to be shown all over the world. And here I am 10 years later and still loving every minute of it!

Horton's Kids Community Center - Restaurant Impossible - Food Network

Horton’s Kids Community Center
Source: Food Network

TFS: Out of your designs from Restaurant Impossible, Restaurant Makeover and Restaurant Takeover, which is your favorite and which was the most challenging?
CT: Ohhhh….they all have their challenges, trust me! Whether it’s a contractor that loves to argue with me, or a chef that likes to have heated discussions about design, I’ve learned to love the drama and the stress that comes with the territory. The most challenging project for me was definitely the Restaurant Impossible “White House” episode.

I was given the task of designing the Horton’s Kids Community Center in Washington, DC. This was very dear to my heart as we were helping to create a safe place for children and families to receive healthy meals, education and support. When I was given my marching orders, I was also told that Michelle Obama would be coming to the reveal, which literally made me stop breathing and I had to pinch myself several times.  The pressure was on!

What you didn’t know from watching the show was that we film everything in real time. We literally had two days to combine two apartments into one big center, fully equipped with a kitchen, large main dining room, activities area, computer center, meeting rooms and a pantry, from scratch! The only thing I had on my mind was in two days at 8:00 a.m. the secret service was going to do their security check and kick us out of the space to make preparations for the First Lady. Michelle would tour the newly renovated space and give us her approval before giving the Horton’s Kids Center back to the community. Wow! It was an amazing experience that I will remember forever as the reactions from the children were priceless.

Since then, we have done a Restaurant Impossible special every year where we give back to the community, which is really what I love doing. We just finished filming this year’s holiday special at the end of August so look out for our next secret mission, which will air around mid-December.

Cheryl Torrenueva - FinTek

Photography: Stephen Hargreaves

TFS: What would your dream project be? Reach for the stars!
CT: My dream project would be to design my very own boutique hotel on an island somewhere exotic. Doesn’t that sound great? I love the hospitality industry and it would be so great to design the guest rooms to the restaurants to the spa. I want to be able to improve the hotel experience and focus on the well-being of each individual. Since I travel so much, it’s all about the details and the space can instantly transport you to another world, allowing you to relax and step out of the daily grind.

TFS: Any tips for aspiring interior designers?
CT: Dream big, educate yourself and be good to your suppliers!

Life has its challenges and as long as you always have your dreams set out – even if they sound totally ridiculous – and stay focused, you will get there! It’s the idea that you can adapt to any situation and learn from your experiences to get you to the next level. There will always be someone that tells you that it’s not good enough, so ask the question, “Why?” And learn from it and keep moving forward!

Keep educating yourself and learn about the latest products and methods.  It’s important to know about the materials and finishes that you are specifying, so that you can communicate with the trades and be confident with your decisions. Because more than likely, if something in the design is changed that means more money is spent!

Be good to your suppliers. They are the ones that are the designer angels out there! They save the day when you have crazy deadlines and they also make you look like the superstar with your clients when things come together seamlessly.

Simply Thai - Restaurant Takeover - After 2

Photography: Stephen Hargreaves

TFS: How does using trim differ in your designs for restaurants versus homes?
CT: I find that using trim in my residential projects tends to lean on the more traditional side since my clients are focused on the resale value and creating a classic feel. With restaurants, you can really start to be playful and experiment with different proportions since the spaces are larger, ceilings are higher and you have fewer restrictions. I like to use trim to draw the eye to dramatic focal points and to add texture to each space.

TFS: What is a common mistake you’ve seen clients make using trim?
CT: Wrong proportions. Don’t just use what you see at the local build-it center because it’s there! I’ve seen a lot of clients that copy what the builder has put in, smaller scale mouldings that don’t do the house justice. And then to take it to the next level, the installer put up the moulding upside down! Ughhhh…

Simply Thai - Restaurant Takeover - Before

Simply Thai – Restaurant Takeover – Before

TFS: Tell us about one of your design projects using trim where it really transformed a room.
CT: Last year, I was given the task of renovating the Simply Thai restaurant for Food Network Canada’s Restaurant Takeover. The existing space was dated, boring and had very little Thai influences except for the name. I was given a budget of $30,000 and less than a week to transform this restaurant into something “simply amazing” and it was no easy task.

With the help of Moulding & Millwork, I was able to use FinTek mouldings to frame images of carved wood details and create my own modern version of a Thai temple. Once the moulding was installed, the walls started to come alive! The FinTek product was essential to my project since it was already pre-finished and all we had to do was have it installed a day before the reveal. You can imagine how stressed out I would have been if we had to paint all the trim on a busy Toronto sidewalk in the cold.

Please be warned, this is a PG13 episode and due to the frustrating circumstances during the renovation, I may have been “bleeped” out once, okay twice…okay, a lot! If you’ve worked on a renovation, you know that there is a point where you have to let off some steam. That’s reality television for you!

Simply Thai - Restaurant Takeover - After 3

Simply Thai – Restaurant Takeover – After
Photography: Stephen Hargreaves

TFS: How do you ‘Finish Before You Start’?
CT: Traveling is the number one way for me to get inspired. I love discovering really interesting wall details in a restaurant or the moulding used in a cathedral or a tile pattern at in a spa bathroom. It doesn’t matter what it is, I always look at the materials – color, texture, proportions – how they have been used and how they make me feel. I keep track of the emotions involved and keep a mental file of how I react to each material, so that when a client comes along and describes what they are looking for then I can provide them with something that they have a connection to, as opposed to the latest trends. For every reveal and project, I want the client to see a dramatic change in the visual and their emotional response to the space.

Simply Thai - Restaurant Takeover - After 1

Simply Thai – Restaurant Takeover – After
Photography: Stephen Hargreaves

Editor’s Note: Moulding & Millwork is now rebranded as Metrie. FinTek has been rebranded Complete by Metrie.