Wider Horizons

As a child, Camila Lyons (Interior Design Technology 2020) dreamed of a career where she could be “the boss.” Little did she know that graduating from Lethbridge College on the cusp of a global pandemic would catapult her into that role far sooner than she could have ever imagined.

Calling her younger years “nomadic,” Camila split time between her native Colombia and various cities in Canada until she was 15, when her family settled in Calgary. After graduating from William Aberhart High School, Camila began studying linguistics at the University of Calgary. She later transferred to the University of Lethbridge to be closer to her husband, Brendon Lyons, who was pursuing a Bachelor of Science  degree in physics.

“I was drawn to the international aspect of languages and thought maybe I could become a teacher, but I was very lost,” says Camila. “I realized university wasn’t for me, and I had to accept that I’m a creative person who doesn’t always like following the rules.”

Growing up with an architect for a father, Camila says she’s always been attracted to art and beauty, shapes and forms and all things spatial. So, with Brendon’s encouragement, 

she enrolled in the Interior Design Technology program at Lethbridge College in 2018. 

“It was an eye-opener for me,” Camila says. “I finally felt like I belonged somewhere and had found a group of people – my classmates, my instructors – who were like me. I was able to get in touch with my artistic side while also learning design fundamentals. It was a hands-on experience that totally prepared me to work in the industry.”

Prepared, perhaps, to enter the workforce – but not for a global pandemic. Camila says she found it challenging to find employment after graduation. Wanting to remain in Lethbridge to support her husband and his post-secondary journey but realizing there weren’t many interior design opportunities in the city, Camila turned her attention online. 

“A lady from my church recommended a freelancing website called Upwork,” says Camila. “I started bidding on projects all over the world and found myself doing interior decorating or interior styling virtually, using only submitted photographs  of the space.”

 Camila describes her style as a mix of modern and  organic – a nod to both her Canadian and Colombian upbringing. “I lean toward Spanish-inspired elements – intricate mosaic tiles, arches, terracotta colours and even plaster – because they’re warm and make me feel at home,”  she says. “But then I love modernism, straight lines in  furniture, and clean, functional spaces that help a client  move around easily.”

While building her portfolio with interior decorating and styling, Camila began taking on drafting and renovation work, and then progressed to architectural design packages for new-build homes. As the projects piled up, she saw an opportunity to sub-contract her work within the freelance community that she had gotten to know so well.

“Because I speak Spanish, I was able to connect with other women in Colombia and Venezuela – professional designers who can do exactly the same job as any draftsperson can do here,” she says. “Unfortunately, they are routinely outbid because projects in their home countries are scarce and highly competitive.”

It was a lightbulb moment for Camila and Brendon, and in 2021 they founded ALVA Design Studio. Based in Lethbridge, the virtual design studio employs a mix of four architectural designers and technicians in South America and one technologist in Ukraine who take on most of ALVA’s  drafting work. 

“These women are amazing,” Camila says. “They know every aspect of this industry, no matter their location, and I couldn’t do it without them.”

Since launching ALVA Design Studio, Camila and her  team have worked with clients across Canada, the United States, Europe and the United Arab Emirates, providing  them with interior design, architectural design and 3D visualization services. 

Learn more about ALVA Design Studio at alvadesign.online, and about Lethbridge College’s Interior Design Technology program at lethbridgecollege.ca/interiordesign.

Wider Horizons
Story by Tina Karst Photos by Rob Olson
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