With nature as her muse, Vancouver interior designer Michelle Morelan creates spaces that reflect her love of the outdoors and her strong skills as an artist. Since she graduated from Kwantlen University with an applied design degree in 2006 – just before her 40th birthday, Michelle has been making her mark on the design world.  I recently talked to her about her life, her business and of course her blog, A Schematic Life.


When I came upon Michelle Morelan’s blog,  A Schematic Life, I was awed by her talent. The renderings she creates are worthy of framing. Since she opened her own interior design practice three years ago, Michelle has set herself apart from the crowd with her versatility and jaw dropping artistic ability.

She is refreshingly honest about the challenges of running a residential design practice. To give herself an edge in the business, Michelle has been working with a business coach in New York, who advised her to “choose a specialty – distinguish yourself, but don’t give away all your secrets.” She says one of the biggest benefits of having a blog has been the friendships she’s formed with other designers, both locally and around the world. The designer is now adept at using Twitter and Facebook but says, “my blog is really the anchor. It’s more dynamic than a website.”

Michelle had her kids in her early 20’s and wanted to spend time with them, so she delayed going back to school. Finding her calling in mid-life has been interesting as she entered school with a strong desire to soak up as much knowledge as possible. As a result, she graduated at the top of her class with a handful of awards. She spent the first year and a half working for other design firms before setting out on her own — something she always wanted to do.

Today with her business in full swing,  she and her husband – a commercial pilot, will soon  be empty nesters. They’ll be free to downsize, which may involve a move to the country where Michelle can indulge her love of clean contemporary loft style living — perhaps in a modern barn of her own design. Or, they may fly off to Paris, Amsterdam, or New York for a few months, live like the locals and contemplate their freedom.  These are all ideas Michelle is mulling over and will be sharing with her blog readers over the coming months.

Dance of the sun and moon – acrylic on canvas

Growing up in Ucluelet BC, a coastal fishing village of 1,200 people, Michelle was exposed to the quintessential west coast experience as she witnessed the beauty of the natural world around her. Today she says she still craves the balance of nature in her life. “I love the idea of having a big warm quilt wrapped around me while overlooking crashing waves.”  If you take a look at her artwork, you’ll see much of it is inspired by her home town.

 This acrylic painting on canvas features the skies over Ucluelet

A study in yellow oxide – acrylic on canvas

Mixed media on watercolour

This french chaise makes a charming notecard

I felt like boarding a plane for Amsterdam when I saw this notecard – one of a series she sells on her etsy site

It wasn’t until her second year at school that Michelle started to draw. Her renderings are a combination of sketch-up and hand drawings. She insists, “anyone can learn to draw. There’s a formula to it. Maybe everyone doesn’t have artistic flair, but anyone can learn it.” I’m not convinced, but she explains,”It’s all from one point – one concept. It’s about design principles.”

In fact, she’s received so many calls and emails from designers wanting to learn about her technique, Michelle is offering a series of rendering seminars next month. Check out her blog for details. When you’re learning how to draw, she insists you have to be loose about it – “do it on the fly”. She laughs when she refers to her sketches as “cocktail napkin drawing.” It seems that despite the advice her business coach gave her, she doesn’t mind giving away a few of her secrets.

One thing Michelle is certain about is that “anything done by hand is coming back bigtime.” People are looking to create character in their homes and lives and they’re getting tired of the same mass-produced goods. When there’s no budget for original art or sculpture, Michelle turns to nature to come up with interesting alternatives like collections of stones, moss, shells or branches.

In Ucluelet, Michelle says designing is “all about the view.” Whereas in Vancouver, “clients are a bit more citified — it’s more about upholstery and drapery.”  She loves the feel of a seamless contemporary west coast home that has an inside/outside vibe. Natural colours are calming and easy to live with. She insists, “nature is the best designer.”

As word of Michelle’s expertise has spread, about 70 percent of her practice is now taken up with commissions from other interior designers who are looking to illustrate their designs. When I ask who inspires her artistically,  she cites the work of acclaimed artist Jeremiah Goodman, who is known for his fluid life-like watercolours of interiors. You can read about Jeremiah’s work in the current issue of Architectural Digest.

Jeremiah Goodman photos by Dean Rhys Morgan

Drawing has become an essential tool for Michelle. She says clients find the conceptual nature of hand drawings very appealing — even a rough illustration helps instil confidence and lets clients see your visionWho can argue when you see a room like this?

To learn more about Michelle’s work, check out her website here or blog here. Photos/images courtesy of Michelle Morelan Design.