Healthy Interiors: A Conversation with Jessica Helps of Wolfe ID

Wolfe ID founder and leader Jessica Helps has been designing for over 14 years and has a unique take on health that incorporates interior design as a way to improve your daily living/wellness. She is inspired by neurobiological, sociocultural, and humanistic perspectives, and designs spaces based on three principles; art, science, and design. She takes into account nature, sound, light, air, water, and, of course, colour. Integrating science into room design can have an impact on your daily mood, productivity, and overall experiences within the space. We had a conversation with Jessica about designing with health and wellness in mind.

Helen Jacob: How long have you been doing interior design?

Jessica Helps: I think this is my 14th year!

HJ: Where did you go to school?

JH: OCAD U. I took environmental design, so it’s more like architecture, or, to dumb it down, how to come up with great concepts for design. The little technicalities and some of the lighter interior design stuff, they expect you to already know. It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, getting through that program alive, but it was great!

HJ: When did you first start integrating health and wellness into your designs?

JH: I guess I started researching it about a year and a half ago. I had a couple of clients whose decisions I didn’t agree with. I didn’t know how to tell them, other than giving them my opinion. I knew they were going to be making a mistake and the space wasn’t going to feel that great. They were doing an office layout and they wanted a lot of desks in the space but I knew the way the office would function wasn’t superior. I tried to direct them but I had really no way of telling them why I was right other than saying it was just my opinion. It wasn’t really sinking in with the client so I was kind of upset and afterwards, I thought well how can I prove this? There must be some science behind what I’m saying because I somewhat know it to be true. So I started researching it and I realized there was this whole field of environmental psychology (how people feel within a space and why, and the science behind why people interpret space and light and colour and volumes and also proximity and layout of furniture). So when I realized that, I got into biophilic design and then I realized there was a complete line of science behind interiors that we tend to avoid or not really understand. We don’t really direct our designs based on the science around them. So it’s pretty interesting.

HJ: Is it a new concept?

JH: It’s relatively new…well yes and no. Sometimes I think the colour theory — like how colours affect people — that’s not new. But research based design is pretty new. Let me give you an example. If you were designing a corridor for maybe an old folks home for the elderly, as an interior designer how would you design that space? I was thinking I’d pick light calm colours, tone on tone, just something really relaxing and simple and clean. Well, I learned that’s actually a really stressful environment for somebody who’s 75, because a 75-year-old has 1/8th of the contrast vision that a 25-year-old has. So if everything is the same colour, it might be all nice and light but they can’t distinguish the floor from the walls or see handrails or see doors. So it’s actually very stressful for them. They need the contrast to be able to properly navigate themselves through a space, you realize that (the science) should direct the design, not the fact that I want to do tone on tone grey.

HJ: What is biophilic design?

JH: Biophilic design is centered on the relationship humans have with nature. They say there is an innate relationship between nature and humans. We feel good around natural settings. What we’ve done is built these urban cities that are really hard. They’re concrete, glass, and metal. They’re very man-made, very hard. And they’ve actually created a separation from nature which actually leaves people feeling cold or distant or disconnected. So biophilic design focuses on bringing natural elements back into the environment.  Light greenery such as green walls or hanging plants, cactuses, and things of that nature are good. Natural finishes like woods or tiles or things that you can touch that have a natural texture are also good. Also focus on light as well, like getting natural light into a space. Those three things I find in biophilic design, really give back that connection with nature that makes us feel better.

HJ: What do you think about the minimalist interior trend?

JH: I think right now there is a Scandinavian trend so its really popular to be clean. You know there’s that documentary on Netflix called Minimalist. I fully like what they’re doing. It’s a very healthy design, it’s natural materials and simple design. It’s reducing visual complexity and simplifying everything and I think that really does make humans feel better and happier in spaces. So whether or not people are focused on what is the healthiest design, I think the trend is good.

HJ: What do you take into consideration when incorporating wellness and health?

JH: Well it depends on the function of the space. What I always do is go into a space and what I ask the client is how do you want to feel in the space? So if it’s an office or it’s a home, or a specific room, start with the feeling: How do you want to feel in here? Do they want to feel really relaxed or do they want a cozy room or do they want their living room to be a place where they can entertain their family and curl up and read a book? We would start with that feeling and then build out from there. The furniture and colours and textures that would give them that feeling. You might see a pretty picture on Pinterest and you just want that and then when you get it, it doesn’t make you feel quite the way you wanted. So I always start with the feeling first and the function.

HJ: Sound, light, air water, and colour. Could you speak to each of those?

JH: Well for sound, there’s lots of issues with acoustics. It causes hypertension in people and it’s one of those things that creeps up on you. You don’t realize it’s causing you unwanted stress. So if you have thins walls- maybe you live in a warehouse conversion so neighbours or people above you can be really disturbing. Also if you’re designing a restaurant and you have a lot of hard finishes, you get a lot of clash of noise that bounces around and it’s hard to hear the person you’re having dinner with. So you can do ceiling panels, or white noise machines. You can also add fabric underneath tables and chairs- you just want softer finishes to absorb the noise rather than have it bounce. Also be aware of mechanical systems or appliances or photocopiers that are generally really noisy because they can also lead you to feel really stressed out if they’re going off all the time. Put them in a closed space or arrange the furniture to be further away.

HJ: What about light?

JH: You just want to maximize the amount of natural light you’re getting. There’s some crazy statistic that a lot of offices don’t have natural light- like no windows. I guess you’re tucked away in a basement or something. It actually causes productivity to plummet when you don’t have natural light or plants or have an environment that’s inspiring you to even be there. Its important to control light. In the evenings, dim your lights one hour before going to bed. Everybody has circadium rhythm. That’s the body’s way of regulating sleep and alertness. Everyone has one and it’s usually timed with the sunset and sunrise. And so the most natural way to wake up is with the sunrise and go to bed with the sunset. Obviously we don’t do that living in the city because everything is rather artificial and our schedules do not follow that. So dimming your lights in the evening gets your body to release melatonin and melatonin helps you regulate sleep. Try to block out all the light when you’re sleeping. You want a perfectly dark cave to sleep in.

HJ: Air and water?

JH: Those are the two functional items in a space. We have standards and we have building code and that’s great, but it is a minimal. Air quality is actually better outdoors than it is indoors in the city. Our indoor air quality is terrible. So you can up the filter on your H-vac system. If you live in a condo, you have what’s called a fan coil, (a vertical mechanical unit and with a filter on it). If you live at home you have a furnace that will also have an air filter in it where the intake of the air is going through. So you can up the quality of that- (from 10-15 is optimal). MERV is the rating. Or HEPA filter is the best, you’ll find them in Tesla cars and some vacuums have them. Those will really help your air quality. For water quality, if you have the ability to add a filter right into your system, that’s great. Or you can add a reverse osmosis. You can also just get an on counter water filter that makes the water alkaline and also reduces the toxins in it as well.

HJ: How would you work with colour?

JH: Colour is interesting because I don’t think there’s an unhealthy colour. There’s unhealthy uses of colour or just ways to maximize your health using colour. So say I was designing a spa bathroom and I want it to be relaxing, the three things I would not do is paint it red, put super bright lights in it, or play the music super loud. Those are all things that are very invigorating and make you excitable. So you want lower lighting, have softer and more comfortable furniture, more warmer and natural colours so the body is relaxing on a biological level. Green, greys and white are more relaxing and restorative.

HJ: Do you have any tips to integrate this into a cubicle setting?

JH: Umm yeah, maybe get rid of your cubicle? It’s an interesting question. The Google office kind of set the precedent for how to blow the typical corporate office out. They got rid of board rooms and cubicles and did the complete opposite. They did ballpits for adults and beanbag chairs and a lounge. It was almost like a playground for adults. This caught on because it was fun and employees were happier. They’re excited to come to work and productivity goes up. And that’s true- for Google. Google is generally a bunch of creative people doing stuff on computers so that works really well. But what they’re starting to notice now is within every office, there are certain people that work really well in private spaces, semi private spaces, or communal spaces. Some people who are forced to work in a communal space who would rather work in a private space, suffer and their productivity goes down. So you really have to look at your office and decide which departments need what kind of space. If you do have a cubicle, and you do like the private space I would at least pick a fun cubicle. They have some really great systems right now. A lot of them have acoustic paneling within them so you get really good acoustics. Some of them have little benches that pull out so you can still invite people to come hang out at your desk and you still get that human connection for people who don’t like being isolated. Some offices will have little plants or cactuses so you have that biophilic element. Also, employees who get taken care of tend to be the most productive.

HJ: Is there a way to organize your space that’s good for you?

JH: Yes, reducing visual complexity is huge. If you have open shelves jammed with junk, and you’re looking at it all the time, it’s visually overpowering. Hiding your visual clutter creates a freeness. If it’s already clean, then you can do what you need to do in that space without worrying about cleaning up the mess. You don’t want anything see through, like acrylic boxes.

HJ: What are the main elements to consider when revamping your space in terms of health and wellness?

JH: I think its all about creating a space that feels good. I think you really have to touch on the biophilic design. Like what’s natural about the space? What makes you want to work there? Light quality is huge. If you have no natural light, it’s essentially a storage room. I think people need to stop worrying about specific fixtures or details and think how does this space make me feel? Then you look at ways to maximize the space.

Doors Open Toronto 2016

Osgoode Hall – Photo Credit:

The 17th annual Doors Open Toronto presented by Great Gulf returns this weekend, May 28 and May 29, 2016, offering free and rare access to more than 130 architecturally, historically, culturally and socially significant buildings across the city. More than 30 of this year’s buildings are participating for the first time.

The Doors Open Toronto 2016 theme of “Re-used, Re-visited and Revised” explores the adaptive repurposing of buildings throughout Toronto’s architectural history.

For the first-time ever, Doors Open Toronto is featuring a keynote speaker – acclaimed designer Karim Rashid. With over 3,000 designs in production and more than 300 awards, Rashid is regarded as one of the most prolific designers of his generation.

Other exciting elements offered this year are the themed walking tours sponsored by the Carpenters’ Union and activities at City Hall. The tours and the City Hall activities delve into the stories, histories and rebirth of a variety of Toronto’s neighbourhoods.

The popular OpenInsights speaker series returns as well, covering current topics in design, architecture and the revitalization of Toronto.

Doors Open Toronto is produced by the City of Toronto in collaboration with community partners.

U31: The Design Firm You Didn’t Know You Already Loved

Toronto’s thriving condominium market is evolving at an exponential rate, and as we look to 2016, one name stands out in our mind for delivering brilliantly designs time and time again. U31, formerly UNION31, celebrated and award-winning design firm, expands its studio to encompass commercial, residential, and hospitality design for clients in Toronto and around the world. Whether it is a luxury home project or a large-scale mixed-use development, Creative Principals Kelly Cray and Neil Jonsohn along with Finance Principal Nancy Dyson will continue to set the bar for design excellence in our city.

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“Over the past few years, we’ve cemented some amazing clients,” says Cray. “Our developer clients trust us to deliver inspired design solutions that set them apart in a competitive market.” Among the firm’s impressive portfolio, U31 most recognizable collaborations include Alterra and Zinc’s 36 Hazelton, Monarch and Goldman’s Picasso Condos, Concert Properties 88 Scott, Pemberton Group’s Urban Townhome Collection model home, and Tridel’s 300 Front Street.

The collaboration at 300 Front Street was a turning point for U31 in their relationship with Tridel. Since the flagship project was completed, the design studio has worked with the major real estate developer on fifteen other projects, and the conversation always winds back to how pleased they were with 300 Front Street. From the illuminated onyx stone pillars gracing the lobby to the signature L-shaped design lining the oversized marble on the floor, the warmth and unique qualities of the building are evident upon entry.

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“When we sat down with Tridel five years ago, their mandate was to achieve a space that was New York inspired,” Cray explains the concept development. “They wanted something on a grander scale, something contemporary, and ultimately, something that was timeless. We don’t have a signature look; we tailor to our clients needs and their ultimate vision for the project.”

Aside from the breathtaking design of the building, 300 Front Street has game-changing amenities, including the rooftop infinity pool with cabanas overlooking downtown Toronto, to the fully equipped fitness room with spin room, yoga, and sauna, 300 Front Street encourages the condominium to be an extension of you. The poker room and party rooms, designed with the young professional in mind, give you the ability to host your next function in the comfort of your own home, without having to worry about finding a venue in the heart of the downtown. Whether you are unwinding in the tranquility whirlpool or setting up for an office meeting in the private dining room, you can be assured that 300 Front Street will be able to support all your needs.

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U31 was also responsible for the stunning kitchen and bathroom designs at 300 Front Street. From the European inspired custom kitchens, with high contrast features such as dark walnut wood cabinets, accented with lacquered wine red interiors, to the backsplash done in the same red colour in painted glass, to the integrated compact appliances, the two toned kitchen creates a focal point within the suite that is both alluring and timeless. The contrasting two tone colour are again seen in the bathrooms. Fashioned after a spa showcasing full walls of tile, the dark wood frames are illuminated by the white lacquered finish for a calming approach. With the side mounted medicine cabinet to and the floating vanity, the bathroom boasts an elongated horizontal mirror which adds depth to the space.

Looking forward to the new year, U31 has many projects in the works, including Scala with Tridel and James with Lamb Developments, as well as residential homes in Toronto and new large scale projects across the country. With their beautifully crafted presentation centres, U31 insures that the client will know what the project will be each step of the way. To keep up with what Cray, Jonsohn, and Dyson are working on next, visit

All photographs courtesy of Jac Jacobsen.

Yvonne Whelan Design




With an innate love for design, Yvonne Whelan follows her instinct to deliver all of her projects. She knows that our home speaks about ourselves much like the way we dress. Therefore, even that sometimes it isn’t an easy task, the ultimate intention of this talented interior designer is to create a place that projects and embraces the individuality if who lives in there.

How did your passion for design started? Is this something you’ve always wanted to end up doing?

Y.W: My passion for design has been there for as long as I can remember. Even as a young child, I had an unusual fascination with furniture, style and colours. I would want to be part of any décor decision being made at home… so much so that my parents would sometimes ask for my advice on things like exterior colours. I would also move my furniture around. I wasn’t exactly a neat child, but I was full of ideas.

You were in the fashion industry for a while and then you changed to interior design. What do you find more interesting about interior design vs. fashion?  

Y.W: I actually love both and I feel like both fields go hand in hand. You express yourself by the way that you dress and you also express yourself by how you live. I would say these two worlds are more alike than people think. It’s all about having a good base: you can accessorize your outfit and also your home. When designing a room, I tend to think: ‘will this room have longevity?’ That is important because unlike clothes, we can’t change our furniture and interior decorations daily. You have to plan for a space to work for years. I still love throwing in a bit of trend, but in small doses. That way when the fad fades, you can easily switch it out.

Do you remember your first project as an interior designer?

Y.W: I absolutely do! It was for a lovely couple who lived in Leaside. They wanted some help revamping their entire house. I volunteered my time and transformed the home. From there the phone started ringing. In this business, it is all about the referral so your work better shine. I was paid for every gig following, so it paid off.


What is the most exciting project you’ve ever worked?

Y.W: That is a hard question to answer, as honestly they are all exciting to me. The most unique project I worked on was the Q Studio in CBC. A new host, Shad, was coming in, and they wanted a new look that matched his personality. It was a little nerve-wracking, as we were up against some very large companies to win the bid, but we did. It was a new and unique experience for us.

What is the philosophy behind your brand?

 Y.W: The philosophy behind my brand is to let us Inspire Your Home. A job of a good designer is to listen to customers and give them a space that is reflective of them and more. You are hiring YWDesign to make your house a home. It is crucial to me that we do what we say and we make your space spectacular.

When a client contacts you, how does the whole process work?

 Y.W: When contacted by a client, we usually set up an initial consultation. That is meeting with the client and seeing the space or spaces that they are interested in changing. We talk about the job, take measurements etc., and usually provide them with a report on what we’ve discussed in the meeting. From there, the client decides if it’s a good fit. Then, we sign a contract to move forward and the work starts. Pretty easy breezy!


The most rewarding part of your job?

 Y.W: That would be making people feel happy, as cliché is that might sound. I truly want all my clients to love their spaces we have created for them. It is so rewarding to feel like you’ve done a great job and that people agree with your ideas.

And what would you say the most challenging aspect of it is?

Y.W: There are a few things that are challenging, like in every job out there. One of the biggest challenges is to have to rely on third parties. Things take longer than they always tell you, whether things are on backorder, flaws in products, trades not showing up, etc. It is also challenging when clients don’t let you do what they’ve hired you to do. The best spaces I have ever created are for the people who truly trusted me to deliver a room perfect for them. But I get it is sometimes hard for people to give over the creative reins but when they do, magic happens.

Someone you’d like to work for?

Y.W: I would love to do one of those makeovers you see on TV for a family who needs help but can’t afford it and it would really change their life. I just feel it would be so rewarding.

If you had to pick just one colour to decorate an entire house, what would be the colour?

Y.W: OMG, that is tough! I’d have to say blue. There are so many variations of it, that I think I would be able to pull it off.

If the White House weren’t white, it would be…

Y.W: Purple…No, I’m just kidding. It would be grey.

What’s next for you?

Y.W: Who knows? I like to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. I love a good challenge so, really, I’m up for anything.