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When interior designer and builder Rose Barroso started out, women were treated differently than men in the industry—but she didn’t let that stop her. She took chances and her talent and reputation helped change the way women designers are seen and treated in the Toronto area today. After just a few minutes talking with this entrepreneur, we could easily see how and why. Award-winning designer Rose Barroso is the owner and project manager of Barroso Homes, a custom home building company in Toronto, Canada that is passionate about building beautiful and functional custom homes. She believes in providing her clients with the very best, and sees her life experiences as a woman as a key to her successful designs. We sat down with this professional powerhouse to ask her about where she finds her inspiration, her struggles and successes in the industry, and how she makes contemporary design just look so good.
What inspired you to get started in the industry?
I had graduated with a university degree in five languages and decided to apply for a government translator position. Long story short, I ended up being a flight attendant. My husband was a general contractor, and so in the evenings when I was home I’d have him talk me through his projects as a way for us to connect. As I learned about the business, my questions about his plans would become more and more elaborate, and one day we were driving past a house on our street for sale when my husband said to me, “Let’s reno it. Let’s do it together. Why not?” and so that became my first renovation. It was more of a project to do together with my husband at first, but I actually really enjoyed the work. So we decided to do another one, and then another one. Eventually, a real estate agent followed up with me on one of the houses I renovated and asked when I was going to design another home because he loved selling my designs...and then I just decided to go for it. And I’ve really loved it.
How would you describe your design/architectural style?
I would describe my style as open, modern, family oriented, livable, and California inspired. I know, having California-inspired designs in Toronto seems odd at first, but it really is about blending the styles to create something new. I have to consider the place and just go with the California structure of a very open floor plan with lots of windows and a modern feel but then keep it something that people can live in here in Canada.
I would also say that my style is unique from a woman’s perspective. When I create a space I think about how it will be lived in and how it will function. When someone walks into a kitchen, I want things to make sense. I want the flow of the bedrooms to make sense. I’m a woman. I have a family. I am a mother to two of the most wonderful children, and I pull from that when developing my designs. With every home, I think to myself, “If I was living here, how would I want this home to flow? How would I want to interact with my family in the space?” and then I get to work. It’s all about creating a home interior that flows and make sense for family living.
What do you look for when deciding on what brands/products to use and represent you in your designs?
Well for me it is all about the style of something, the innovation part of every item, and the potential to help a family and the planet. It always has to be quality above quantity, durability above style, and then style above filling up the space. I love to use smart home technology in my designs because it allows me to be a designer who builds above the rest, and that is something I always strive to give my clients. Ten years ago I wanted to set myself apart by really understanding home automation, and now it is an essential part of every home I touch. I want them to be dazzled by all the extra thought and functionality I put into my homes. Control4 enables me to customize smart home technology for each client—designing in what the clients are comfortable with and ready for at the time but knowing we can add more later thanks to their easy-to-scale, comprehensive automation system.
Owning your own business takes courage—how do you keep yourself in a brave mindset?
Being in business is difficult for everyone, but I feel it was even more difficult for me because I went into a male-dominated business that presented its own challenges. The first home I built was the most difficult—I went to the cabinetry fabricator showroom with my ideas and this male designer kept calling me 'dear' and eventually told me that maybe I should come back with my husband. I packed up my stuff and got into the car and was so mad at myself for not standing up to him. I called my husband Jorge and started venting. He said to me, 'Rose, who writes the check? Just go somewhere they’ll respect you and take your money there.' It made me realize that, he was right, I was the boss and that I needed to act like it. So I called the owner of the company and told him what had happened and that if he wanted my business I was going to be respected or I’d go somewhere else. The owner apologized and the designer apologized, and, you know, now we have a great working relationship. I just had to believe that I deserved respect and then never settle for less. When I find myself in a shocking situation like that now, which still happens occasionally, I just think to myself: 'I’ve become successful, I am successful, and whether this person sees me that way or not is their problem.' That is my advice to all women in this industry: Know and remember that you are never beneath anyone. Treat yourself with value and don’t allow others to treat you any differently.
What keeps you motivated and/or grounded?
Two things keep me motivated: #1 Making sure that I am a strong and modern role model for my daughter. I believe in being independent and in standing on my own two feet, and I want to lead by example for my family. And, #2 Showing my son that a woman is capable of anything and to always respect women and their dreams and efforts. And, for what keeps me grounded, these are the main two things: #1 My purchasers and/or clients telling me that they don’t see my proposals the same way I do, and #2 My husband and kids, who treat me just like a mom and wife.
Do you have any projects coming up you are especially excited about?
Oh my goodness, yes. I am working for the first time on a three-story building in High Park (BabyPoint area) where I am going to be opening my own personalized Concierge Centre for Barroso Homes. This will be an extension of the high-end quality we already are recognized for and now provide the hand-holding luxury aspect of our services. Any of my clients or purchasers will be able to use our services for a variety of things, from travel services, to car maintenance, to home repairs and service calls, to being a liaison between suppliers/artists/sales reps, basically whatever you can think of we can cater to. My intent is to make everything in the space automated with Control4. My goal is to constantly be an innovator in our industry, and I cannot wait to implement my new ideas for both design and technology in this concierge space.
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