Squamish's Ashley de Boer, 23, says that many people laugh when they find out her age
It is incredulous laughter that someone so young could have already done so much and have her career on such a positive path.
While in our early 20s, many of us were still figuring out what we wanted to do with our lives, de Boer is currently featured on the HGTV series Sarah's Mountain Escape, where she is the assistant to Canadian celebrity designer Sarah Richardson.
The show chronicles the transformation of a Whistler bed and breakfast into a luxury vacation rental.
And de Boer has launched her own design business, Ashley de Boer Interiors.
The Squamish Chief caught up with the busy local late last week for a chat about the show, design, Squamish, and what is next for her.
What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
I imagine there was a lag between when the show was filmed and when the first episode aired. Since then, there has been a lot of excitement around it. What has that been like for you?
I was able to see the episode before it aired, which was exciting. But watching it live was special because everybody else was finally able to see the show. And I was able to share that excitement with my family and friends and everybody who worked on the project.
It's just been really rewarding and really exciting. I've had so much support from family and friends, and other people in the industry.
All the support has quite humbled me — it's been really nice.
You shoot the show, and then you can't tell anyone about it until it comes out, right? Was that hard?
It's tricky, for sure. I live at home with my mom, so she knew, and my immediate family knew.
We actually had an open house for the project in September for neighbours, family and friends. That was exciting.
Then everybody else has to wait over the course of the 10 weeks to see the project completed.
Have there been a lot of opportunities coming your way since the show started airing?
A: I've definitely had some interest. Going into the process and the journey, I didn't want to set up any expectations of what I wanted to come from the show. Honestly, I'm really grateful for anything that comes of it. Whether it's new clients or new opportunities. I'm grateful for anything that comes my way.
While you are young, it isn't like they let you on the show from the couch. You went to school for design, and you grew up in the industry — your grandparents were general contractors, and your mom is a general contractor.
Did you grow up wanting to be in the same industry, or did you rebel against it for a time?
We've built some of our own homes over the years. And as I entered my early teens, I had a say in picking the materials and finishes. And I was always around that environment, even when I was much younger. I would be in my grandma's care during the day, and my grandfather was a contractor.
We'd be at Rona, or Home Depot buying materials. And so that was something that I was exposed to whether I wanted to be or not. So, I have always had this appreciation and interest in the industry.
But when I graduated high school, I thought I wanted to become a pharmacist. And then I realized I couldn't bear the thought of standing in the back of one drugstore from nine to five.
My mom noted my interest in construction and design. She's like, "Why don't you go take a few courses at BCIT and see how it goes?"
So I took a few courses, and long story short, here I am now.
I'm really, really grateful that I took the plunge and took those courses as my mom suggested. I almost wish I'd done it sooner.
But nonetheless, you know, maybe I wouldn't have had this opportunity at the right time if I didn't do everything when I did, I guess.
That is great that you listened to your mom and didn't rebel just because she was the one saying it, like most of us do in our teens.
It was actually my mom who encouraged me to apply for the show, because I saw the job posting, and I thought to myself, I'm so young, and I just graduated from school. Why would Sarah Richardson pick me when so many other contestants are probably more qualified for this position? But my mom really encouraged me. Thanks to mom, I was able to land the position. You know that saying: You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.
I now try to take every opportunity that comes my way and say yes to things and just keep growing my business and growing as an individual.
You were born and raised in Squamish. Twenty years ago, interior design likely wasn't a big industry here. How have you seen that change?
I think there's been a lot of development and more interest around interior design more recently, in Squamish.
Actually, I was hired by Kathie and Graham Smillie for The Wilfred housing development on Tantalus.
So, I have dipped my toes in the Squamish market, but most of my clients are in North Van and Whistler.
I would love more clients in Squamish and the Sea to Sky.
I do also offer e-design, so hoping to have more national clients, too.
There has been a lot of change in Squamish, and some of the longer-term residents have been anxious about it. What is your take on that?
I think there's always going to be development in places, but I think it just needs to be done in a sustainable way. And a way that is mindful of the people who have been here forever. And I think we really need to consider their opinions and make sure that the majority is kind of happy with how things are going. Kind of come to a neutral place where most people are happy with the development.
What is next for you?
I was hired on with Insight Productions Ltd, for the show in August of last year, and, at the same time, I incorporated my own business and started taking on clients of my own, which was kind of crazy, because I was working full-time with them during the day and
working with my own clients' files in the evenings and on weekends.
And so, the past year, I've basically been doing double duty, working with Sarah and working for myself.
Since the show ended, I have had my own clients. And I've actually hired a woman named Carol who works for me. And I am just looking forward to what's to come and hoping to take on more clients and get busier.
What do you think people don't understand about the work you and other designers do?
I think the biggest thing is when people hear interior design, they think that I'm a decorator and I do staging and like fluff pillows. That is maybe 2% of my job at the very end when everything's done.
There are so many steps to get there, from client meetings to research, to site planning and space planning and all the drawings that go into each project, from furniture plan to the construction plan, demolition plan, if necessary, reflected ceiling plan, power and communication plan. There is so much behind-the-scenes work that goes on that people aren't really aware of.
What are some of your tips for people designing their own homes?
I like to personally stick with neutral tones and neutral colour palettes because they're hard to get tired of. They're always going to feel fresh and timeless, and current.
I tend to avoid any kind of bright, intense colours. Instead, I go for anything that has more of a muted or earthy tone, like deep burgundy or olive greens — more natural tones. If you stick with those, you'll — hopefully — never really regret your choice.
I like natural stone or natural-looking stone, too.
And then another big thing is natural light. I feel like you can never have enough windows or skylights, or natural daylight.
Artificial lighting I like to use for more decorative fixtures, but in terms of general ambient lighting, I think as much natural light as possible is great. And also for your own well-being and health and wellness, natural light is best.
There is the impression that design is only for folks with a lot of money. Is there a way you can design your space without spending a lot?
Definitely. Things like paint can make a huge difference. Paint is not super expensive. Flooring can tend to be more expensive, but these days, you can get more affordable products like vinyl and laminate that are really realistic looking. So, I don't think you have to spend tons and tons of money to create a beautiful space.
You just have to be mindful about the pieces you're choosing, and maybe there's the odd thing that you splurge on because you really love it, or it is going to be the focal point of the space, but I think you can definitely create beautiful spaces without breaking the bank.
Find de Boer's business at ashleydeboerinteriors.com.
About a local is a regular column about an interesting Squamish resident. If you have a suggestion for who we should feature, email email@example.com.