Karolina Loboda powers up The White Room, a much-loved branding and art direction studio that gives visual cred to notable local labels like Erin Tracy fine jewellery and Opelle handbags. Since 2009 she has designed and directed The One of a Kind Show campaigns and adds lustre to the annual market that attracts tens of thousands of visitors. She launched her business in 2008 when her kids, Daria, 2, and Kuba, 7, weren’t part of the picture yet, and her decision to fly solo has evolved with her growing family. Her husband Neil Rodman, who’s also a graphic designer, joined the business just a few years later, and now her work-life mojo is truly all in the family.
“Of course, stress is part of the beast of having your own business. I have my share of anxiety, but at the end of the day the big picture is I am my own boss and I get to control my day-to-day schedule and I can work around my kids’ needs. I know it’s a gift to be present for my children on my own terms. Our office is a studio we found that’s only a few minutes away from home. I am a bit of a homebody so keeping things so close makes things easier for me.
Unless I am on set at a shoot, I do my best to leave the office before 4:30pm and start dinner before my nanny leaves at 5pm. If I have extra free time in the summer or on PA Days, I like to take time off to be with the kids and take them places when my work schedule allows it. If my son is going on a field trip with his school, I make sure either my husband or I are able to go. These things allow me freedom; they’re truly little luxuries that help me make it all work and feel like I can manage it all. I also love co-sleeping with my darling 2-year old and am not embarrassed to admit it. You have to enjoy every second while they are still small and young.
My old work-life was never going to be conducive to this life as a mom. I think I instinctively knew that when I decided to quit. Design is an intense profession that’s really easy to sign your life away too but I choose not to. It was up to me to discover and create my own boundaries.
I spent my early career working gruelling hours during my 20s and I felt depressed and like I was burning out. I couldn’t see how I would ever be able to have a family while working those crazy hours. I was also creatively unsatisfied, so I finally quit three months shy of my 28th birthday.
When it comes to working with my husband, I think everyone who does will admit it’s not easy, but I know we both we wouldn’t trade it for the world. I would never work with someone else, ever. We get to be with each other and the kids and that is priceless. If it’s a beautiful summer week, we can pick-up our computers and work at the cottage. That’s also the advantage of having a boutique studio. Staying small was also important to us because we wanted to stay focused on niche projects that we love, are relevant to us and aligned with our ideals.
We have both worked with much larger studios and knew what we didn’t want for our company. Our clients know we are personally handling their project from start to finish and they value that close process. So far, we’ve never felt a need to be big and sustain a big overhead. We’ve let the quality of our work and clients define our business and that means being a small studio and I think we’re better for it. Now that the kids are getting older, we’re starting to have a different vision of what we want to do for the business. I have so many ideas and ventures that I want to explore and I know in due time I will have more time to make some of these dreams a reality.
I still work on setting limits every day; it’s not perfect but I do my best. It’s just so hard not to bring it home especially because I work with my husband. I really pushed for us to move the office out of our house a few years ago because I felt the kids didn’t need to see us at work all day. I want them to see us doing what we love and being passionate about our craft, but I also didn’t think it was necessary for them to see us in the daily grind.
They do listen to us talk about work all the time. It’s integrated into our lives because we’re both creative and it’s difficult to separate. Our interests are what brought us together; we met during graphic design school at Sheridan College. However, we’re conscious to manage the amount we discuss it and never bring it up when we’re with the kids at dinner. I’m quite strict about not checking our phones in the evening until after the kids go to sleep and we take care of ourselves too. We try to go on a date night twice a month. I can’t believe that next month our company turns 10-years old and what a ride it’s been.”
The dining room table is anything but traditional. She picked it up at Queen West Antiques and couldn’t resist the legs made out of metal plumbing pipes. Artwork, Canadian photographer Gordon Douglas Ball.
A prized photo is this piece from Canadian photographer Colin Faulkner that she won at an art auction (and within her budget). “I love the tranquility of it. It’s the first thing I see when I walk into the house and it helps me feel so peaceful.” Couch, Nienkamper.
Karolina got hitched in her native Poland and ended up buying this traditional marionette on her honeymoon in Prague. “It’s super classic which is why we love it so much. It’s design that’s untouched.”
Her collection of babushkas on display are celebration of her heritage and are gifts from relatives that mark life’s milestones.
Sleeping dog, model’s own. Pillows, British designer Donna Wilson.
We spied with out little eyes those amazing Lego storage bricks. Collect them all (oh, and your kids will love them too). Dining chairs, Herman Miller; and ceiling light from Toronto-based design minds Castor Design.
The kids get their own gallery wall, naturally.
A poster she bought in a design museum in Poland is the perfect fit for Daria’s room. Loosely translated, it says “artists love each other.” Now that’s a good mantra to wake up to.
Her third floor salle de bain is a stunner and she says that she did it on a budget and scored the sculptural bath tub at Home Depot.
” I especially love interesting and architectural accessories that make a statement without being too overpowering.” Earrings and ring, Georg Jensen.
She’s found her fountain of youth in this investment buy: A biker jacket from The Arrivals, that’s anything but ordinary because the design team are former architects turned fashion designers. “Whenever I wear it, I feel young again. It gets me out of mom mode” and into a style groove beyond her everyday uniform of a t-shirt and ripped Levis jeans. Also on her hit list when she needs to upgrade her look in a jiffy: A wide-brim felt wool hat and heels (below).
Karolina’s scent is truly signature: The powdery notes of anything by Narcisco Rodriguez. She’s been wearing it since she was 21 years old. “I believe fragrance and scent truly becomes a part of who you are.” It’s chic and minimal yet striking packaging is right up her alley too.
“I like to invest in accessories, purses, jewelry and shoes because they’re timeless purchases. I’m open to investing in higher end brands and only buy key pieces that I will have for a long time.” Hi-tops, Tory Burch; cowboy booties, Surface to Air; and Chelsea boots, Loeffler Randall.
“A Smile in the Mind is an iconic design book that I was introduced to during college. It’s not a book I will gain inspiration from for a specific project. Instead, I use it to open my mind to more possibilities and when I want to be inspired to be playful and experimental.” Also on her reference list: The Art of Looking Sideways by celebrated art director Alan Fletcher and a retrospective of Basquiat.
Motherhood has introduced a love of prints in her wardrobe. “I’m a typical designer and only worn black most of my adult life. I’m just starting to experiment with my wardrobe and let my mood dictate what I wear. If I’m going to go out and go through the hassle of getting a babysitter, I want to dress up and have fun now.”
A Perfectly Kept House Is A Sign Of A Misspent Life by Mary Randolph Carter is the anti-thesis to the Marie Kondo prescription of domestic perfection. “I love this book because it shows artists around the world as they live with their clutter and messy beds. It reminds me to just live with my things and not stress out about it.” The bracelet is a find from an artisan in Poland.