Like all good relationships, Diego Burdi and Paul Filek’s is one based on chemistry. They launched their Toronto-based design company, Burdifilek, out of a common desire to elevate brands through unconventional aesthetics. Twenty-five years later, their outlook hasn’t changed, and it’s this same approach that ignites their relationship with clients.
“We like to work with true visionaries: people who are thinkers who want to do something different,” Filek says, seated in their downtown headquarters. “They have to share that same enthusiasm for design. If not, it’s a deal-breaker.”
To some people, a statement like that might sound severe. But Filek explains that good design should always be a dialogue, whether it’s between the designers and a brand’s creative director at the start of a project, or the finished space and end users at completion. “We’re constantly trying to engage people in a new way,” he adds. Over the years, Burdifilek’s portfolio has spanned retail, hospitality, and real estate development. They have worked with fashion pioneers like Joe Mimran on Club Monaco and Joe Fresh, designed pizzerias and luxury hotel lobbies, and had their hands in creating some of North America’s most stylish residential spaces, including the Thompson Residences in Toronto and Ltd. Edition No. 2505 in Dallas.
Their vision, no matter the project, is always about purposeful design and letting the product, brand, and user dictate the type of story that becomes the experience. “When we design a hospitality or residential project, the space is the product. You’re there to be enticed and completely emerged in the environment,” says Filek. “If you compare that to retail spaces, it’s all about the product. That really needs to be the hero in the space, so what we’re designing is a beautiful backdrop.”
While many of their retail clients skew high-end, such as Holt Renfrew, Neiman Marcus, Mackage, and Seoul’s Galleria Luxury Hall West, Burdi and Filek are just as intrigued by masstige. In 2012, they helped turn an historic Fifth Avenue bank into Joe Fresh’s New York flagship: a two-floor, 14,000-square-foot modernist masterpiece that is sculptural, airy, and dynamic.
More recently, they completed one of Canadian book retailer Indigo’s newest locations, at Toronto’s CF Sherway Gardens. The shop feels more like an art gallery than the average bookstore, complete with digital art on display and a blue grand piano at the centre of it all. “Retail is all about creating a sense of escapism,” Burdi explains. “We try to bring the customer into a space in a very conscious manner, and then there has to be a lot of subconscious elements that help the user navigate the store.” Filek adds that while their retail projects are often described as minimalist, they’re actually the opposite from a design perspective. It’s all about playing with lighting and texture, while creating intentional breaks in product for customers to pause and breathe.
“There may be one focal wall that a user naturally engages with, but you have to create a sense of intrigue so that the user’s eyes go beyond that,” Filek explains. Burdi defines it as a quiet confidence: “It’s seamless, effortless, and flows naturally.”
Looking ahead, the duo has no plans on slowing down. In fact, they’re often on the road—or airborne to Europe or Asia—in seek of inspiration. Burdi mentions eyeing Korea as a developing design capital, while Filek draws many of his ideas from international restaurants and hotels. They both thrive off other forms of creativity: photography, sculpture, painting, and even music might lead to one of their next great ideas.
“With every client that walks into our office, whether they’re local or international, the conversation always starts with a global reference—what restaurants we’ve been to, a place they stayed at recently,” says Filek. Burdi adds: “After all, we’re all citizens of the world.” That global sensibility is what enables Burdifilek to not only compete, but truly shine, on the international stage. Their pursuit of great design and desire to challenge convention means that nearly no project is off limits—so long as they feel that spark.
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