If you want a fulfilling gig, go out and get it. That seems to be the dominant maxim that has driven Canadian designer and entrepreneur Alison Milne’s success.

Milne grew up in Toronto’s western burbs and, like most people not named Zuckerberg, had no idea what to do after high school. At the advice of her father, she enrolled in economics at Wilfrid Laurier University. It was, however, Milne’s fine arts minor that illuminated the way to her decidedly sexier vocation.

"After I graduated, I was working at Bell in corporate sales," she tells TORO. "I’d be on conference calls and found myself drawing furniture instead of taking notes."

The burning bush had spoken. Over the next five years, Milne took interior design classes at George Brown College while working full time during the day. She eventually became a junior interior designer at a prominent Toronto firm. After just under two years with the company, Milne was being encouraged to start her own firm. So in 2008, Alison Milne Design was born.

how_to_buy_art1.jpgThe spaces and objects that Milne and her team create are elegant and minimalist, with streaks of mid-century bravura, punctuated by inspired works of fine art. And despite her evident talent, Milne stresses that successful design comes primarily from without, not within.

"There’s not a lot of my personal style in work for my clients," she says. "It’s all about their lifestyle. I just make things work." Research and report, Milne claims, drive the soul of a given room.

It’s this mix of confidence and modesty that makes Milne so interesting. She’s eager to turn a sale ("I’ll have people over for dinner at my house and sell them my coffee table"), but she’s also her harshest critic.

"Before a project is complete, my property manager goes into a room and points out everything that’s wrong," Milne tells us. "There’s always a deficiencies list and that one meeting is terrible — every time."

Milne’s favourite clients are bachelors and single men. Dudes tend to embrace bolder visions and strange objects, and this masculine sense of novelty allows Milne to be more experimental — something she has trouble fulfilling in more conservative settings.

Kitchen2-950x615.jpg"Men are the most open to new ideas," she says. "They also want to learn, research, and be part of the process."

And then there's the gallery.

Originally conceived as her studio in 2009, Milne had no art to liven the space and asked her friend Harley Valentine to display his work on the walls for the launch party.

"We ended up selling his entire show that night," Milne recalls.

Now the gallery is another manifestation of Milne’s passions. She sees the space as a new way to experience art, one without the austerity and bourgeois chauvinism typical of many galleries. Guests are invited to sit on the furniture and listen to the music playing. "You can come in and spend time with the artwork," Milne says.

The hardest part of Milne’s job is to move on from a completed project. "It’s really sad to walk away from a space because you don’t get to see the clients grow into it."

Perhaps there’s more Alison Milne in an Alison Milne project than the designer would like to let on.

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