Designer Cheryl Torrenueva shares tricks from high-stress TV

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      How good an eye does Toronto interior designer Cheryl Torrenueva have for a deal? She’s been known to pull one over on HGTV’s famously picky and tantrum-prone Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan.

      Torrenueva, who shares her tricks in a talk called Living Luxe for Less at next week’s Vancouver Home + Interior Design Show (October 15 to 18 at B.C. Place Stadium), has spent two seasons as design project manager on Colin & Justin’s Home Heist. And on one occasion, she had to fudge a Wal-Mart purchase to the U.K.–bred décor duo when the guys were still unfamiliar with brand names on this side of the Atlantic. After she found the sort of sleekly contemporary floor lamp they had been asking for, she told them that it was from “the W”. “They loved it. It was obviously a knockoff—a simple tripod lamp with three rods and a simple round linen shade, and I think it was $20,” she tells the Straight, laughing to herself, in a phone interview before heading out here for her presentations October 16 at 3 p.m. and October 17 at 2 p.m.

      As a young designer for everything from Home Heist to Restaurant Makeover, Torrenueva can’t afford to be a snob: she works with tight deadlines, tight budgets, and limited manpower, all in the face of ridiculously high expectations. Her ability to adapt is one of the reasons she’s made such a fast rise in the world of home-décor television. Just over five years ago, she was a Ryerson University grad who was a top-10 finalist on HGTV’s Superstar Challenge. These days, she’s bringing a welcome message to recession-squeezed design junkies who can’t bear to dress down their homes: yes, you can shop at stores like HomeSense, Superstore, and even “the W”—with one strict caveat.

      “You have to look for value in the piece. I say to my stylist [assistant], ”˜If it doesn’t look expensive, just leave it at the store,’ ” Torrenueva stresses. “If it looks cheap, then it’s going to read as cheap.”

      She’ll be revealing more of her secret sources for design finds at the home show. And Torrenueva, whose finished rooms are known for having a polished elegance, will also expand on her three big tips for living large on a small budget:

      1. “Add reflective materials—anything from metals to Lucite to mirror. It will add extra sparkle, for a more glam look.”

      2. “Customize your look. Is it stock cabinetry that you want to chop up? Make it work for your space. You see all these built-ins, and they definitely look expensive. It [custom work] can be anything from trim to shelving.”

      3. “Experience the luxury. It has to do with changing your attitude in terms of how you live—sort of like going away on vacation and looking at the boutique hotel and how the bed is made. Details are huge. It’s as easy as instead of having your shampoo in a Pantene bottle putting it in a soap pump. Those things read well in a space.”

      Torrenueva may have learned a lot of tricks on her HGTV gigs, but she admits that there are less stressful jobs out there. You try executing a complete home renovation, right down to the cutlery, over the course of one week, as she’s done on Home Heist—and do it with Colin and Justin as the well-tailored taskmasters. (The design duo also appears at this year’s home show, on October 16 at 4 and 7 p.m. and October 17 at 3 and 7 p.m.)

      “You never know what’s going to happen, and you constantly have to firefight,” she says. “With Colin and Justin, I would have to try and predict what they would want. I’d say 80 percent of the time, I was right. If I got it wrong, then I would have to apologize—on camera.” Thankfully, that lamp from “the W” wasn’t one of the things she had to say sorry for.