How to Design Spaces // That create good memories

By Devorie Kreiman

Women in Business:
Blima Ehrentreu

Blima Ehrentreu is a treasure hunter, coaxing beauty from raw materials. When faced with limitations, she looks for ways to adapt in order to brighten someone else’s life.

When Blima was a teenager, her parents moved their family across the street and remodeled their house. The night before the demolition, Blima and her friends colored on all the walls. The next day, she watched the workers demolish her house. As the new foundation was poured, the framing became walls, and the blueprints came to life, she began to construct a dream of her own. “I was fascinated by the possibilities of blank space,” she says. “It could become anything. That’s when I knew I wanted to do this.”

As part of her required high school chesed hours, Blima and a friend visited an elderly woman in a nursing home. Even after they completed their hours, the girls continued to visit her for many years in her cluttered and dingy room. When the woman was transferred to a new building with spacious rooms and nice furniture, her mood changed; she became more upbeat and interested in what was going on around her.

That insight continues to shape Blima’s work today. “Design goes beyond how a room looks. It’s about how a person feels in the space.”

Blima has a master’s degree in interior architecture and design. In 2009, she and her partner founded The Designers Group (TDG) in Toronto. In 2016, she moved to New York and established a branch of TDG there, and she added another one in Miami in 2020. Her partner remained with the office in Toronto.

As CEO of TDG, Blima’s passion is the large-scale transformation of commercial spaces. She leads a team of 40 architectural technologists, renderers, drafters and designers who are involved with all ages and stages: daycare, senior living, multifamily buildings, hospitality, healthcare, student housing, drug rehabs, and community projects such as shuls, yeshivos and mikvahs.

“It’s exciting because every project is different,” she say. Her team is currently working on a mikvah that will have 100 dressing rooms, a building that will house the largest boys’ elementary school in North America, and a large event hall for weddings—in a basement. So that the chuppah will technically be under the sky, they’re building a skylight 11 stories over the wedding canopy.

At the start of every project, Blima asks, “What will it feel like to use this space?” Her objective is to engage the five senses: touch, taste, sound, sight and smell. The TDG design team pays careful attention to details such as the sound absorbency of the walls, firmness of the flooring, sheen on the railings, texture of the furniture and brightness level of the lighting. They also pipe music into lobbies, group furniture with privacy barriers, set up coffee stations and deliver evocative scents like essential oils through the ventilation system.

Blima makes a point of placing reception desks and designs lobbies of medical offices and rehab centers with a hotel vibe, complete with smooth check-in and an inviting lounge. “I’m a big believer in the value of being greeted by a human face,” she explains. “When someone walks into a building, he wants to know where he is, where to go and what to do.”

For Blima, there’s always a new corner to turn. “I’m learning all the time that you can see the power in the smallest details: A door that’s an inch off won’t close, and a missing screw can cause a wall to come down. These things really matter.

“I also consider a mistake to be a valuable learning experience. Early on, while designing a private home, we chose a sofa that worked well in the dimensions of the living room. But when the sofa was delivered, it didn’t fit through the door. We took responsibility for the mistake, paid the restocking fee and had the sofa remade. Since then, I always think ahead. We’re currently designing an office building with very tall partitions. We’ll make sure to get them into the building before the walls go up.”

Sometimes, the end result is hard for the client, vendor and consultant on the project to visualize from the renderings. That’s why Blima uses virtual reality headsets so clients can strap them on for a simulated walk-through of what the building will look like when it’s completed and furnished. They can go up and down the stairs, turn on the lights and zoom in on details, all from the comfort of their chair.

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