I have been blogging for over a decade, mainly covering the beauty and hair industry. This year I decided to shift my focus a bit.
I am going to be featuring women from all walks of life and professions – sharing their stories and celebrating their accomplishments.
First up is my cousin Sabrina Granata – here is her story.
Project Coordinator | Design Consultant
When you and Philippe decided to build your first family home, you discovered a passion for interior design. Was this something that came natural to you?
Phil has worked in construction since he could basically hold a hammer. I had zero skill or knowledge of course, but I did quickly find an interest for design. It definitely came naturally. Having little background at the time, I still received many compliments for my selections and how I would tie things together, think out of the box and take risks.
We realized after building our first home that we made a good team. I came up with all the ideas, and he made them happen. We kept to our lanes since the very beginning where I fully trusted his skills, and he let me make all the design choices.
It’s trusting each other’s strengths that makes the dream work.
You have a few different roles, take us through an average day for you at MBH.
As mentioned I have no carpentry skills and that is not my department haha. Phil takes the lead in the entire construction process. He’s the general contractor, sets up the workdays, supervises sites, works with the subcontractors, revises the budgets and quotes, works on planning projects and of course focuses on opportunities for future projects.
My roles revolve around our clients. I prepare the home design and build with our clients, and so this involves a lot of planning, decision making, design choices, material sourcing, scheduling and setting up meetings with suppliers, and guiding them along the construction phase. I also am in charge of property management, coordinate future projects, follow up on service calls, and handle the marketing, events and social media aspects.
MBH has two models – the Centurion and Monterey. I love that both allow for natural light to fill the home. What are some other special design features each has?
We have two models on our site that we have found to be popular choices in terms of their size, layouts, functionality and budgets. We have built these recently in a development in Russell. We definitely always put emphasis on natural light, big windows, open spaces, big kitchens, and try to help clients keep a constant flow with their flooring, cabinetry and paint choices. These two models capture that.
The two storey model has a gorgeous staircase filled with two floors of windows. So rather than having the stairs take up space, they naturally open up the room. The bungalow model is very popular with its large covered porch and spacious master bedroom and ensuite.
Of course, our brand is custom, so we design and build custom home plans for our clients. However these two models were designed with custom elements in mind but sized to fit on urban community lots.
Buying or building a home – is the single biggest purchase most people will make in their lifetime. Once a project is done – you must feel like family! What have been some memorable moments, so far, when you finally get to hand over the keys to your clients dream home?
Oh yes we are just as excited as them I think! It’s such a lengthy process. Not only is it their biggest investment and purchase, but with a custom home build, we are helping them make it a home. All of the ideas, planning, and selections really come to life near the end when it is all tied in together.
When it’s all over we love making the walkthrough special and offer our clients some bubbly to celebrate. We love when we get to visit later on and see them living their best lives in their home. That is most rewarding.
MBH is a family affair – how do you separate the business relationship from your family life?
We have to make a point to stop talking about work. Dinner trickles into work conversation naturally, our children know every project we are working on ha ha. They have their favorite homes, love doing walkthroughs, and know our clients by name. When it’s a family business, it doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s separated. We do make a point to have good schedules and spend a lot of quality family time together. We try to accommodate our clients’ schedules but we are really good at setting boundaries as well. We make to-do lists of items we need to discuss and schedule those in so that we are not always talking about work.
Do you feel like the success you have had to date, is due in part to combining your different strengths?
The power duo!
We feel like we compliment each other in business, and our company and clients definitely benefit from that.
Our strengths are so different and so it is well balanced. It is also easier to be completely honest to each other, when giving each other work opinions and feedback.
I’m more free spirited and make in-the-moment decisions, whereas Phil is logical and hands on. It’s a great compliment as we can make sure all aspects have been thought of from every angle.
You recently expanded the MBH brand with Maddox & Ave and VU Saunas. Can you tell us a little about each business, the story behind the name and what each offers.
Maddox and Avery are our little boys, who inspire us everyday to achieve our goals and dreams.
We started Maddox & Ave as we wanted to expand into the home decor retail field. If we build the homes, why not offer beautiful items to fill them with! Being in a beautiful space elevates our mood and contributes to a sense of calm and warmth at home. We focus on brands that emphasize textures, layers, natural and sustainable materials, rich finishes. When sourcing a collection, we want the products to be intentional, to serve a purpose. We aim to support Canadian small brands that share the same values as us.
Our homes should be filled with things that we love and that bring us joy. We love style, shopping, design trends, comfortable vibes, creating a home you don’t want to leave! We hope that in the future we can open up a brick and mortar store in our MBH office. For now we offer home decor online only, and are adding small furniture and lighting. Quality items that we hope people will love as much as us!
VU saunas is a complete new launch as well. With the real estate market slowing down, we wanted to expand and have other business ventures. We offer commercial construction services as well which are also a big part of our next two years. However we are in the planning phases for those projects and so we wanted to come up with a product that we could build and ship as we have the time to start something new right now!
The sauna idea came to us at a tradeshow actually. We realized how popular they are now becoming in North America. We were inspired to build small homes as well, and opted to start with a cabin style sauna. It is very Scandinavian and we have yet to see this design and build in this area. Our saunas are meant to be a luxury home outdoor sauna. Bring the Nordic Spa home!
The name is based with the emphasis on the view to the outdoors. Our models and designs will include large glass walls so that people feel as though they are completely immersed in nature. The saunas are a great addition to a property that has a view of a lake or forest. We have interest from cottage owners and short term rentals as this is such a great amenity to have and to offer guests.
How does MBH make an effort to support small Canadian shops?
We source small brands and purchase wholesale from them directly. Many of our brands are one person, small businesses run out of their homes. We love supporting a dream. We are currently working with a manufacturer based out of Canada that also started out in their garage before they expanded and grew. That’s what it’s all about! We hope to follow in their footsteps. In terms of our construction company, we are big supporters of local materials and local subcontractors!
How do you keep on top of all the design trends?
A lot of reading, following top designers, brands, and architects. Pinterest is a great resource as you know. Many of our clients come to us and have already started their design research. We have also found many connections on Instagram which is a great platform for networking and learning about new trends. We also attend trade shows and plan to keep participating in the Ottawa Home Show. We plan to attend the Vegas construction show and the market shows in the future. The biggest companies are there with new collections, products, and latest construction products and methods.
Are there any design options for clients who want eco-conscious homes?
There is definitely a shift to net zero homes, and we have been getting a lot of questions and inquiries from clients about building eco-conscious homes. Allowing people to reduce their carbon footprint and save energy is at the top of our list.
An eco-friendly house is a house which respects the environment, is made from non-toxic materials, and is energy-efficient both in its construction and use. New technologies are constantly evolving. In the design phase, the house must be in harmony with its surroundings from the moment the plans are drawn up. During construction, the selected materials should be natural, recyclable and non-pollutant. The heating and electrical systems should be energy efficient, as well as the appliances. The objectives of an eco-friendly house are to produce the least amount of pollutants, reduce any losses of energy, and to save money!
There is a common saying that at every home party, people always end up in the kitchen. Do most clients put a lot of focus on this part of the home?
The kitchen is most definitely the heart of the home. It is the space in which we spend most of our time, and our social events! Our clients always start with the kitchen design. We set it up this way for a few reasons. One of which is a time factor. The production can be lengthy and so we generally like to get the design completed so that when we are ready to measure the site, the production can start right away. Furthermore, it is a big part of a custom home’s budget. There are so many options in kitchens so we help guide clients and our designers by setting a budget first and making choices based on this amount.
What are some fundamental elements of design that clients need to consider, when planning their dream kitchen?
When planning your kitchen, you should consider the function. What do you use most? Do you want to gather around a big island? Do you want your guests to watch you cook? Is ample storage a priority? What type of appliances are you considering and why?
We love to incorporate a large pantry where you can also have all of your hosting items and small appliances hidden away from the main kitchen view. Large drawers in kitchens are very functional rather than using cupboards as storage. We also like to entice our clients to create zones so that the kitchen is also well organized. A coffee zone (big coffee lovers!), a storage area for tabletop items, a large cooking items drawer zone near the stove, an entertaining area where nice stemware and lovely decor can be displayed. Adding a drink drawer or wine fridge is also great and makes your kitchen that much more custom! Currently, we are loving kitchen designs that have a wall with no upper cabinets and a backsplash with a ledge in the same stone as the countertop.
Over the years I have noticed a design trend in master bathrooms – these massive large walk in showers. It is almost like they are mini spas. What other design features do clients request?
They are like mini spas at home! Large showers are great. They definitely bring the cost up though, as there is so much tile work required and the glass is larger, so that is something to keep in mind. We have been putting in two shower heads in showers because there is that much room! I also love to showcase a large stand alone tub with a beautiful faucet. It is so serene. Clients want their ensuite bathrooms to be like their own little oasis from their busy lives. I get it, it’s where I spend my time away from everyone haha.
Do you ever use vision boards to help clients make decisions?
We encourage clients to do their own style research and create Pinterest inspo boards! This way we can guide them in their selections and the architect knows from the get-go what vision they are trying to create.
It can be difficult to make choices but we take it one step at a time and keep it cohesive. We have to keep in mind that this is their home and we are there to build it with quality materials and workmanship.
Your industry is massive – it involves so many different players: dealing with the city, realtors, financial institutions, skilled trade professionals, suppliers – the list goes on. How important are building and maintaining relationships to the success of each of your businesses?
It is massive and involves so many players. We have built long lasting relationships in the development and construction industry which makes everything flow more easily. When your contractor knows who to call, what steps to take, and can schedule work in a timely fashion, you know you have made the right choice to hire him. In the end, we are a service and that is the service we offer. We coordinate the entire process for our clients. Phil has a large network of professionals in the industry and his relationships are a big part of what makes our company successful.
Over the years you have participated in various home shows. Watching your Instagram stories – there seems to be a lot of work leading up to the event. Then there is the event itself and all the follow-up. How much planning and time goes into each show.
They are so much work! Every exhibitor you talk to at the shows always say how much time and effort they are, and we are all exhausted by the last day!
It’s a solid week of setting up, attending and taking down. Leading up to the events I would say we get prepared at least two months in advance. We like to make our booths beautiful, we want to stand out and show what we do. It has paid off, the last two shows we have won awards for the best booths! A nice recognition for our efforts.
At the Ottawa Home & Garden Show, how nerve wracking was it watching them install the glass windows on the sauna?
Oh none of us were talking! The installers planned out their moves for a while and we had complete faith. We just were glad it wasn’t us! We just got out of the way and let them do their thing. When you have solid trades and good companies, you trust their work – but it is still stressful to watch three people move a huge piece of glass!
Is planning the layout a fun creative outlet for you?
Yes. As I mentioned, we don’t want to show up with just a few handouts. We build custom dream homes, we have to make the design stand out! It is so fun actually and I love creating an interesting concept for people who will visit. It’s important. You are spending money to go see these shows, you should leave impressed!
What are your goals and dreams for MBH?
We have shifted from renovations to large custom homes in the past decade. We want to continue evolving in luxury homes and be able to create spec homes that stand out. We should not all live in the same looking house right?
Let’s be creative in our homes and let our personalities show.
That being said, while our goals are to build luxury homes, we also would like to own a development with large lots where people would live in a community but still have large spaces and unique homes. We also love investing in properties and hope to continue growing our rental portfolio.
The dream would be to have a new office space with a Maddox & Ave boutique inside. We would be able to meet clients and sell beautiful home decor products in the same space. Our sauna startup is also an exciting adventure and we love that we can create these oasis spaces for people. It is a much quicker turnaround than building homes so it is very interesting to dive into right now!
Does your personal style kind of reflect your design aesthetic?
It does actually. It’s funny, I have always been a style forward person but also not into patterns or too much colour. My clothes are mostly neutral but focus on the fits. I love different and new options, following trends but also taking risks. I think my design style is similar in that I like to be ahead of the curve while also keeping it neutral, warm and inviting.
I’m not scared to wear things that no one else does, and I’m definitely always ready to install a new design feature in a home that isn’t popular – yet!
I think it’s a mindset, like, just be yourself and not care so much about what others think you should wear, or how they think your home should be designed. Everyone always has an opinion, good or bad! You should feel good and confident in what you wear. Same goes for your design choices in your home.
Over the past few years you’ve traveled a lot – more recently to Italy, Spain and Mexico. Do you get any design inspiration from your travels?
Oh those destinations are such style inspos! Barcelona was amazing with the architecture, fashion, and the furniture is so, so beautiful! Everything looks good and fresh, you know? A lot more patterns and colours than here for sure. Mexico however has such a boho feel, with linens, raw material and natural textures. It inspired my Maddox & Ave items definitely. I would love to travel to Bali next as this is the style of design and furniture that I’m into..
What are some of your favorite spots in Ottawa for a night out?
Oh we love so many Ottawa restaurants. Right now we are a bit obsessed with Angelinas in Manotick. Especially their large patio in the summer. We love taking the kids to the Chateau Laurier for sunset dinners at La Terrasse. We also hang out at Lansdowne quite a bit and enjoy going to sporting events. It’s such a great spot for Ottawa and I hope there is more development such as this. For date nights we like to dine at Riviera, North & Navy, Arlo, Supply & Demand. Preston street is also filled with nice restaurants and lovely walks and brings me close to my family roots!
Life can get a little crazy – what is your favorite way to destress?
Well now that we have entered the sauna world, it is such an amazing way to disconnect. 20 minutes a day is so beneficial for your health and wellness. We also have a hot tub, so that is basically a spa at home!
How do you and Philippe balance it all – work, family and friends?
I actually love this question because one of my favorite words is balance. It guides me.
You can be a business owner and prioritize family, friends, and travel. You can be a mom and still go have girls weekend getaways with your girlfriends. You can work together in business and also enjoy spending time together traveling, going out and doing activities. As a family, our kids are involved in hockey and sports. We love to go to our family cottage, have friends over at our home, make bonfires, go on biking and hiking adventures, travel, go on date nights and family nights.
That is what life is all about and if you balance it all, you can feel fulfilled and take care of all the parts of yourself.
Over the years everyone will encounter experiences that impact their life professionally and personally. Although it might change – what is your current life motto?
Live in the moment.
You can’t always be chasing something, you miss what you have in front of you.
It really is eye opening when you have children as you see time in a different way. They grow up and you start noticing how years are passing. It’s so important to cherish moments, people, and experiences.
While we have big goals and work hard, I love to slow down and appreciate what we have.