Have you ever driven by a really cool looking house and thought, who came up with that?

Steve Hamelin, that’s who. 

Well, maybe not. But if that particular home was somewhere in the GTA or South Georgian Bay, it is possible. 

Steve is an architectural designer and the founder of Steve Hamelin Design Studio, a architectural design firm that specializes in custom home design, home renovations, home retrofits and house face-lifts. 

Steve has been a designer in Oakville for over 17 years, with 10+ of those as Steve Hamelin Design Studio, and he recently expanded to serve Collingwood and South Georgian Bay after he moved to the area with his family four years ago. Steve has a portfolio of 800 designs and, quite literally, comes up with floor plans in his dreams. 

Shortly after, he started working at Mattamy Homes, which is where his design career really kicked off. It’s also where he realized a corporate workplace might not be the type of environment for him after all.

However, before attending Mohawk College for architectural technology, architecture and design were barely on his mind. 

Steve grew up wanting to be a pilot, as many kids do, but quickly learned that wasn’t an option. He describes himself as an artsy kid, taking a lot of drama, music and art classes in high school, but he was also known as a big jock. Steve played high level hockey and volleyball, and was passionate about golf.

He was gunning to receive a golf scholarship after he graduated, figuring if he didn’t get one, he’d at least do something in the realm of sports. That is, until his guidance-counselor-slash-hockey-coach sat him down and pretty much said, “Hey Steve, that’s a bad idea.” 

Given his background in art, his coach suggested architecture.

“I said ‘Okay, sure,’ and it just worked out,” said Steve. “I had a knack for it and totally enjoyed it.”

His program had a co-op option, so Steve got industry experience almost immediately, working as a lumber estimator and even landing a job at a firm during his last placement. However, that particular firm was on its way out and resulted in a pretty bad workplace environment, and if there was anything the experience taught him, it was what he didn’t want in a job. 

Shortly after, he started working at Mattamy Homes, which is where his design career really kicked off. It’s also where he realized a corporate workplace might not be the type of environment for him after all. 

“I am not a very good employee. I’m terrible actually. Maybe the worst,” he joked.

Steve had an expectation of what he wanted to get paid and made that known. He was told he would receive a review after six months, and if he worked hard enough, he would get a raise. So he did. Steve worked really hard for six months, with a lot of long days and late nights, and when it was finally time for the review, he was told he still wasn’t working “hard enough.” So, Steve decided to show the company exactly what not working hard enough looked like. 

It took him two years to get fired. 

“My manager didn’t really know what was going on, so I kind of just floated around the company for two years,” he admitted. But eventually it caught up with him and he was finally laid off, albeit with a really good severance package. 

His girlfriend at the time — now wife — was in marketing and helped Steve build a website and design some signs, and one of her neighbours hired him to help with an addition on their house.

“I did two houses and as they were finishing up I was like okay, now I’m going to have to go find a job,” Steve said.

And then his phone rang and he got three more houses the next week.

“It was really flukey, but it was super, super lucky,” Steve said. “Right place at the right time.” 

So Steve Hamelin Design Studio was born. 

In the first year of business Steve said he did very few houses, but then in the second year, he doubled his income. 

“My prices were so cheap, I got every job. I didn’t know what I was doing.” But he said, “as I got smarter, it got better.”

Steve hired his first employee while he was still working out of his home office, which admittedly sounded pretty awkward for the employee, and then moved the company into ACE Coworking, a coworking space in Oakville, and kept hiring.

“I realized pretty quickly that the money comes in faster when you pay people,” Steve said. “If there are people to support you, life is a lot better I find.”

And Steve made sure to ensure his employees’ lives were better, too, because he knew what a toxic workplace environment was like and vowed to never create one. 

All the while, Steve had a soft spot for South Georgian Bay and was casually looking for a cottage in the area a few years ago. It was around the time the housing market was spiking in the GTA, and in the span of a few weeks he ended up selling his house and finding a home in Collingwood. He kept his office space in Oakville but got a membership at the Foundry as well, and started looking to expand his business this way. 

With over 800 houses under his belt, Steve is always looking for ways to keep it interesting. He loves getting a “cool client” who really lets him run with a design

Cottage design was always on his “to-do more of” list, and then when COVID hit, his northern client base exploded.

Steve’s favourite part about architectural design is the creativity of it, but it’s also one of the most challenging aspects as well. It’s a high stress job, and it can be difficult for an artsy person. Similar to writer’s block, Steve references moments of what he calls “designer’s block.”

“One day you are designing a house and you’re like nope, this is just not working out,” he laughed. 

But Steve realized when that happens, it’s best to just walk away and turn off for the day. 

“The silly thing is what ends up happening… I dream about my work,” he said. “I’ll dream about designs and then I’ll wake up the next morning and just pound it out.” 

But with over 800 houses under his belt, Steve is always looking for ways to keep it interesting. He loves getting a “cool client” who really lets him run with a design, but eventually, he wants to take a step back from drawing and move into a more managerial role instead. 

“I don’t think I’m a lifer,” Steve said. “I don’t think I’m supposed to do the same thing my whole life.”

He is currently transitioning his business to include building houses as well, which will allow him to have a hand on all steps of the process. Steve said it’s great when he drives by a house that he designed, but it’s a weird feeling when it wasn’t brought to life the way he imagined. 

“It’s a lot nicer to be able to design it and then build it properly,” he said. 

Although he currently lives in a family neighbourhood, Steve dreams of one day moving his family into a house he designed and built himself. 

In the meantime, he still competes in golf tournaments once a week throughout the summer. Who knows, maybe he’s still gunning for that golf scholarship after all.