smpl Design Studio creates ‘gnarly’ modern home designs

If you’re looking for a run of the mill home, smpl Design Studio is not the residential designer for you. Fuelled by a passion for modern architecture in all shapes and sizes, the Hamilton-based studio prides itself on creating “gnarly” designs that “push the envelope,” says Joel Tanner, the company’s passionate CEO and creative director.

For smpl, “no two projects are ever exactly alike,” Tanner adds. But they do share a few characteristics, as summed up by the company’s name – smpl which stands for sustainable, modern, practical and liveable. What that means in practice, he says, is that smpl’s designs “tend to embrace the environment in which they are being built” and incorporate green building technologies, sustainable features and light-filled livable spaces for the owners.

Finally, says Tanner, “The homes we design tend to be bold. They tend to stand out on the streetscape and are often a topic of discussion for the neighborhood. Our clients are looking for something unique and different.”

The process

smpl is a full-service design firm, that not only provides gnarly designs, but also walks clients through the planning and permit approval process. “We have more than 1,500 projects under our belt,” says Tanner. “And we have a vast array of experience designing modern homes on small infill lots, expansive country acreages, cottage country, lakefront, and complex lands regulated by various approval agencies, including the NEC and conservation authorities.”

Unlike many design firms, smpl also boasts a fully integrated interior design team to manage everything from hardwood, plumbing, lighting and millwork design and details to all the finishes and specifications needed to incorporate custom details throughout the home.

“Our projects start with interior floor plans and exterior 3D renderings that help the clients to embrace and understand the overall project vision,” says Tanner. “Then the smpl interiors team takes it the rest of the way when it comes to interior finishes, and elements that work in tandem with the exterior design to create a complete custom home package”

Tanner has connections to over 25 trusted builders in a network he has been building since the company’s inception 12 years ago, although clients always have the option of choosing their own builder for the project.

Every flavour of modern

For Tanner, the process of designing a custom home involves finding that perfect balance between the needs, desires and budget of the owner; the idiosyncrasies of the land; and his own desire to create something distinctive and beautiful.

 “We all love modern design,” he says of the team at smpl. “So the homes we design always have clean lines and new age architecture. But we don’t necessarily limit ourselves to a very specific design style.” Depending on the owners’ taste, the design may gear more toward modern minimalism, mid-century modern, West Coast contemporary, Miami modern or Scandinavian-inspired architecture.

Throughout the process, the team will consider the characteristics of the building envelope, the allowable zoning and any other constraints or opportunities that a project may provide. They often find themselves incorporating unusual features (such as an indoor pool) or sustainable technologies (such as green roofs, solar panels or geothermal heating and cooling systems). Frequently, they must design around protected trees, steep slopes and other space constraints.

Incorporating all of these elements just makes the task more intriguing for Tanner. For example, he created a light-filled home in a downtown space by wrapping his building around a three-sided interior courtyard with large windows all around.  

The design provided a unique floor plan, as well as privacy for the homeowner. Even better, although the Ontario Building Code regulates the amount of glass that can face the side yard “when you introduce a three-sided courtyard, you can really maximize light infiltration while still meeting the building code requirements,” says Tanner.

Ultimately, for smpl, every home is a puzzle to be solved. “That’s what keeps things exciting for us and gets our design juices flowing,” says Tanner.

To learn more about and connect with smpl Design Studio visit

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