Toronto-based interior designer Iman Stewart doesn’t do generic. Whether staging rooms for her real estate clients or customizing spaces for a family’s specific needs, Stewart strongly believes a home should always radiate a distinct personality. This has become the driving force behind her expansive interior design career and company, filled with projects inflecting an eclectic, global style. Her approach feels particularly suited to the diverse community she’s familiar with when working on Toronto home design.
This is especially true for the city’s large Caribbean enclave, where the Jamaican designer finds endless inspiration.
Stewart often taps into this rich cultural tapestry when reimagining spaces. “Canada is very multicultural, so I want to actually represent what Canada looks like versus what people think (it looks like),” says Stewart. “Design more of what you feel because then it’s authentic to you. And whoever is attracted to that is going to appreciate it.”
Her projects range from cozy bedrooms to eccentric home offices and even a restaurant or two, but one core theme remains: creating a space that is reflective of the person who will be using it while catering to their practical needs. “When you’re designing, it has to have self expression,” notes Stewart. “So we have to be very aware and cognizant of those key spaces or pieces in the home that can properly display that.”
Iman Stewart breaks down the creative process behind three dramatic transformations that celebrate her cultural roots and reflect her individual flare.
Stewart was deeply touched when a longtime friend asked her to give his bedroom a major makeover. Their friendship grounded what became a hectic interior design process, navigating supply chain shortages and overall uncertainty in the midst of the pandemic. “For the client to watch my career for so long and say ‘Yes, I want to work with you,’ was an honor. And it was very special to me because I was able to overcome those challenges.”
Hailing from Jamaica, the client was looking for a space to completely embody “home” in every sense of the word. So Stewart composed a glamorous spin on a tropical haven filled with rich organic hues and botanical motifs. First, she created a deep jewel-tone color palette that would conjure the tropics in a way that still felt contemporary and masculine.
The designer chose “Isle of Pines” by Sherwin-Williams ― a deep forest green ― for the accent wall to suggest a lush canopy of palm trees. Meanwhile, blackout curtains in a deep blue shade added ocean tones. A velvet blue headboard that the client already owned supported the color story, but Stewart decorated it with little gold jewels for an extra bit of flare. “It’s about balance,” she says, explaining how she mixes old and new items. “You have to know how to make all of those items work.”
Stewart also incorporated familiar natural motifs with accent pieces on the bedside tables, which include miniature giraffe sculptures and zebra-print picture frames Stewart sourced from beloved Canadian big-box store, HomeSense ― proof positive that fully fleshing out a design need not be prohibitively expensive. And on the walls, framed carnival masks allude to the client’s Jamaican roots.
Work in Style
Like so many entrepreneurs during the height of the pandemic, Camille Dundas needed to inject some energy (and a little spice) into her home office in Toronto. As more people work from home than ever before, Stewart strongly believes these workspaces should blend practicality and personality. “You’re in the space by yourself, but you also invite people in on camera,” she explains. And because clients see it daily, it should reflect the true you.
As a native of St. Lucia, Dundas wanted a space that celebrated her Caribbean, Afrocentric roots. This aesthetic also honored her professional focus as a racial equality consultant and powerhouse co-founder and editor-in-chief of ByBlacks.com, a celebrated online magazine serving the Black community in Canada.
When conceiving the vibrant color palette for the space, Stewart drew inspiration from an art piece by Nigerian Toronto resident Benny Bing’s “Adelani” collection, titled “AYABA.” The artwork’s range of bright blues, yellows, greens and pinks spoke to Dundas’ personal style, particularly her colorful wardrobe. To bring these vivid hues into the space, Stewart used “Intense Teal” by Sherwin-Williams to accent the back wall where Bing’s artwork now enjoys pride of place. A bright pink “ANTIKA” area rug by Kalora Interiors injects an additional jolt of color.
The designer also introduced some thoughtful decor that continued the Afrocentric theme, from a decorative elephant sculpture to a magnifying glass with a horn-like handle. Some lush greenery — a thriving fiddle leaf fig and bird of paradise flowers — helps to complete the space.
Stewart was asked to stage this apartment in Toronto’s East End for viewing by a realtor who is a dear friend and fellow Jamaican. Tired of the typical all-gray staging projects, they both agreed to take a chance and tapped into their shared Caribbean roots to design the space. The final result prods visitors to imagine the apartment as home to a glamorous island diva who has enjoyed her share of adventures. Thus, the project embodied a distinct personality rather than trying to appeal to everyone (and becoming blandly inoffensive as a result).
The risk paid off. “This property was only on the market for just about a week,” laughs Stewart now. “The buyer was from Ethiopia and she was really inspired by the space.” She adds, “When you design intuitively and create intuitively, that connects with other people.”
When conceptualizing the apartment’s show-stopping living room, Stewart first leaned into the cherry wood flooring that ran through the apartment, punctuating the strong hue with pops of vibrant colors like the emerald green velvet armchair. Metallic touches, like the brass-accented Jade Wine Cabinet by Sunpan, introduced notes of glamour. The golden coffee table finished to mimic the look of coral subtly nods to the design’s modern island inspiration. Artwork sourced from online decor store Renwil line the walls in the main living room, giving the overall space a sense of being curated over time.