As a child whose parents relocated every few years for work, Andrei remembers a single childhood place simply because they lived in that one spot for an unprecedented five years and now Canada finally became his permanent home.
“Because we moved so often, I learned to depend as much on what people said with their bodies and facial expressions as the words they spoke – body language – that’s the one true international language,” says Andrei.
Andrei’s ability to lead a conversation, listen well and read people, combined with everything he’s learned about basement design and construction with over 15 years in business, build the trust required to give customers what they really want.
On a regular basis, customers continue to surprise and delight him “Suspend judgment and just listen,” says Andrei.
Discrete, yet open-minded, Andrei is committed to building the basement that’s best for the customer, whether they know it or not.
Today’s consumers ability to instantly and easily access extraordinary amounts of information online makes Andrei’s job even more interesting “I guide them and address the common misconceptions and misinformation that could negatively affect their new basement’s long-term performance and their home’s resale value,” says Andrei.
North America’s evolving design trends are a constant challenge because as good as they look today, they’re guaranteed to look dated just three to 10 years down the road.
“Your new space has to reflect your personal taste but if there are elements that will be costly and time-consuming, I can always suggest the best option,” says Andrei.
A former car salesman, automotive electronics engineer and general contractor, AGM lets Andrei leverage his skillset and experience as well as his passion for people.
AGM is an established company been in business since 1996 “I think I’ve seen and heard everything, then I meet someone new and hear a brand-new story,” says Andrei. “Every day is different – that’s what keeps me coming back.”
Living and working in the GTA for decades, Andrei, his wife and young daughters know they can escape to Algonquin Park where they canoe to remote islands and pitch their tents when it’s time to relax and enjoy life.
So far, Ryan has done a lot in business and in life. He’s tapped into his entrepreneurial spirit as the head of his own construction company and travelled the world teaching the art of sales to the employees of multinational organizations such as Centrica, Direct Energy and British Gas.
“Working with the multinationals was challenging and fascinating, but ultimately I want to be more about the client and less about what the corporation and board needs. AGM allows and encourages me to focus on the client’s satisfaction and happiness.”
When Ryan’s cousin, a project manager at AGM Basements, approached him repeatedly about employment at AGM, Ryan was more than a little skeptical. Ultimately, he gave AGM a chance because it leveraged his construction knowledge and experience as well as his ability to figure out exactly what people want and give it to them. Working at AGM Basements also gave Ryan the opportunity to live by his credo, Do it Right the First Time or Don’t Do It at All, on a daily basis.
“My cousin kept bugging me and telling me how great it was to work at AGM Basements – I believed him only after I started working here and experienced it firsthand,” says Ryan. “AGM Basements’ owner, Ivan, really does care about his customers and employees and that attitude is contagious – that’s why every one of us wants the best for each other and for our clients.”
At AGM, Ryan and his colleagues are dealing with prospects who’ve initiated the contact precisely because they want exactly what AGM Basements has to offer – finished basements. As a result, Ryan’s job is actually pretty simple. Ryan explains what AGM Basements does, why they do it this way and how they do it. He gets the real story on what the family wants and then works with his colleague to price it.
“I love my job because all day, every day, I’m helping people get what they’ve been talking and dreaming about for years,” says Ryan.
Growing up with a West Indian mum and a polyglot dad who spoke seven languages fluently, Ryan’s culturally diverse background helps him respect and understand Toronto’s cultural melting pot.
“I know how to be sensitive but I’m also really good at intentionally sticking my foot in my mouth to break the ice and open up an honest conversation,” says Ryan.
Because building is his top hobby, the bulk of his spare time is dedicated to his passion projects, whether it’s building a three-tier, 1,000 sq. ft. deck at his beloved cottage on a lake north of Kingston, Ontario or finishing his Mum’s basement.
“I go to the cottage and I build things because I need something to do – I can’t sit still – I’m always pacing to the point my energy level is the target of many an office joke,” says Ryan.
Outside work, the aggressive energy Ryan channels into high-impact, contact sports such dirt biking, football, snowboarding, and rugby has already broken 24 of his 206 bones.
“Scuba diving is the only thing I find super peaceful – it’s so quiet and so other-worldly that I could almost fall asleep down there – I definitely need to do a lot more scuba diving,” says Ryan.
Katelyn is a people person. Always has been and always will be.
As a construction worker, bartender, child and youth services advocate, hostess (open houses and consumer shows), waitress, homeless and mental health centre volunteer, Katelyn has had to understand and accept people – all kinds of people.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the physiological interaction between the brain and the body – the effect our hormones have on our emotions and reactions,” says Katelyn, who has a degree in psychology and victimology and plenty of practical experience drywalling and mudding. “My degree gives me a science-based understanding of how our brains work, but it doesn’t mean I could read your mind – even if I wanted to.”
Katelyn’s commitment to helping the people who need it most has her accepting regular, yet random shifts as a child and youth counselor around her fulltime gig with AGM Basements.
Constantly meeting new people is one of Katelyn’s life priorities and it’s the common thread whether she’s representing AGM Basements at a home show or an open house, manning the reception desk or discussing next steps with prospects. What else do those roles have in common? In each one, she’s met satisfied AGM Basements’ customers.
“My one day at AGM Basements turned into every day with the company and I know I made the right choice each time I encounter a prospect that’s been referred by a happy client and whenever a former client thanks me for the basement AGM finished for them,” says Katelyn.
Visuals and esthetics are important to Katelyn who also studied graphic design for three years and finds the resulting skills and expertise are a bonus at AGM Basements. Her meticulous measurements and precise, detailed drawings are appreciated as much by the homeowners as AGM Basements’ inhouse designers.
“The accurate representation ensures a real understanding of the available space and helps everyone involved visualize the opportunities,” says Katelyn. “I have a deeply rooted appreciation of whatever is neat and esthetically appealing.”
A long-time traveler, Katelyn has continued the travel tradition she started with her family. At 14, she visited six European countries while on the continent for her uncle’s wedding. Her first trip to Mexico with her mother launched a lifelong love of tropical heat whether it’s beating down on sandy beaches or steaming up a rain forest.
On a still memorable trip to California, she attended Maxim magazine’s Hot 100 party. She still models, but only occasionally, which has allowed her to scale back the rigorous gym sessions and indulge in the occasional chicken wing.
Today, Katelyn is most at peace and content rollerblading along the smooth trails that trace Lake Ontario’s Oshawa shorelines and wind through its marches. The birds chirp, the resident beaver pops up for a visit and Toronto’s dramatic skyline is visible in the distance.
“As the sun sets, I’m exactly where I want to be,” says Katelyn.
What’s in a basement?
Of course, Svetlana sees the rough, raw empty space with wires, ductwork, water pipes, the furnace, and hot water heater, but she also recognizes and revels in the extraordinary opportunities that are just waiting for someone with real vision.
An in-law suite for beloved, aging parents. A refuge for a hormonal teenager. An extra bathroom or even two to manage the rush to school/work. An entertainment hub with theatre-style seats and a fireplace. A lovely laundry room with plenty of room for sorting, folding and storage. A wine cellar, gym and a spa with hot tub and sauna.
“We can make any vision real – there are no limits,” says Svetlana. “Every basement can be so much more than just the below-grade space that’s home to the mechanical systems that heat, cool, power and connect your home to make it functional and really livable.”
Because the original builders tend to dismiss their unfinished basements’ unlimited possibilities, they don’t put a whole lot of thought into precisely where they put the furnace, hot water heater, electrical and telecom wiring, ducts and piping.
First and foremost, Svetlana looks to relocate whatever’s impeding the best use of the space because it runs right through the middle of this prime real estate. As importantly, she ensures service technicians, electricians, plumbers and other trades can reach the various systems through strategically located, functional access doors for maintenance and repair.
“Designers that neglect these practical considerations, which include lighting, airflow and the use of special moisture-resistant materials, are setting their homeowners up for additional hassle and expense down the road,” says Svetlana. “AGM and its designers get it right the first time so that homeowners aren’t forced to rip out and redo walls due to failures and performance issues.”
Svetlana’s resolutely practical approach works with her design skills to deliver on clients’ expectations. Naturally, she asks questions about the family and lifestyle, but she also leverages her powers of observation because the home’s colours, furniture, art and accessories and overall state will tell her plenty. Does the family desperately need storage for hockey or camping gear? Do they need to accommodate the resident fashionista and her wardrobe?
When faced with a couple whose visions don’t mesh, Svetlana has to make it work for both parties. Simply put, she selects and incorporates elements that best reflect each individual’s ideal in her floorplans and renderings.
Every so often, Svetlana comes up against a truly over-the-top concept that will either overwhelm the space or alienate the instigator’s life partner – maybe both. As she sees it, it’s her job to incorporate select elements to remain true to the design concept and set aside the most extreme.
“The old-world look of a castle dungeon is effective and inoffensive when I use one archway instead of four and rough-hewn stone instead of red-brick,” says Svetlana. “Over the years, I’ve learned that showing them versus telling them is the key to acceptance and buy-in.”
Creating lovable, livable space is exactly what Svetlana has been meant to do since she began making dolls, sewing their clothes and designing and decorating their tiny homes as a very little girl.
“No, not Barbie dolls… remember I grew up in Russia – so no Barbie dolls!” says Svetlana, who now hand sews dolls for family and friends who crave authenticity and the personal touch.
Svetlana regularly escapes the real world and its electronic gadgets for family time around campfires in Ontario’s provincial parks.
“I want to talk to you face-to-face under the stars,” says Svetlana.
Much like she’s figured out how to adapt basements to the people that want them, she and her family now camp the Svetlana way. She and her family can stand up and walk around their oversized tent, where they snuggle into soft sheets on cushy mattresses that have been set up on carefully positioned beds with legs and nightside tables.
“We can always get what works for us – we just have to figure out how to do it,” says Svetlana.
Kate has a passion and love for design. Kate trained as an architect in St. Petersburg Russia, When she arrived in Canada she learned she would need to invest thousands of hours to recertify as an architect. After much soul searching she opted for a career shift. One that would still allow her to follow her passion for design.
“I knew that everything I’d learned and applied as an architect in Russia would prove advantageous as I transitioned to structural design at AGM Basements,” says Kate. “I’m practical and chose to move ahead on a related career path rather than start over.”
That pragmatism and architectural experience stand out because in every unfinished basement, Kate focuses on the home’s structural and mechanical, electrical and communications systems first. She always launches her process in the furnace room with an eye to the structural elements that simply cannot be relocated and the ducts, pipes and cabling that can be moved if they’re hampering her use of the space.
“The homeowners are happily dreaming about the new living area that was inspired by countless hours trolling design, home and décor media, online and in print,” says Kate. “Meanwhile, I’m measuring and calculating what I need to put where to make it happen for them within the foundation’s perimeters.”
Her fierce focus on functionality ensures every finished basement space she develops works for the homeowners.
“Seeing is believing so I show them what’s really viable and help them understand the possibilities and the limitations,” says Kate. “I’m here to support their vision and whenever possible, I eliminate or relocate the barriers and obstacles.”
Tackle everything in life logically and one step at a time and you’ll inevitably find that you get where you want to go. That’s exactly how Kate does everything from learn languages to take her career in another direction.
“Embrace learning and pick up as many new languages as you can – it keeps your brain open and flexible,” says Kate who revels in her young daughter’s love of song and dance. “Learn one new word a day and you will make progress.”
Home. It’s the one place we all need to feel safe, and happy. Melissa learned how important this is after escaping Venezuala at the height of the country’s political and economic volatility. She knows firsthand what a comfort home can beshould be.
“Do you feel good in the space you call home?” says Melissa. “On the most fundamental level, your home has to be your heart haven and your soul sanctuary – we can’t control what happens outside our front doors but we can make our homes exactly what we need them to be.”
As a teenager, Melissa had always been fascinated by furniture, décor and design trends, so the moment she graduated high school in Montreal, she committed to a career in interior design. Design is her top priority and it always will be, but after facing significant health issues, she has a new focus and awareness.
“I became an energy healer and life coach after learning that we can affect and shift our mental, emotional and physical energy,” says Melissa. “As a healer, I know what my AGM customers need and as a designer, I can make that happen for them.”
Some people embrace and accept the beliefs behind energy healing and Feng Shui, while others will be skeptical and even uncomfortable with the concepts and practices.
“My clients know that what I do for them works – they don’t need to know that in addition to my traditional design training, I also leverage less conventional approaches,” says Melissa.
Not surprisingly, Melissa literally brings brightness to basements by strategically locating the lighting and carefully selecting the colours. Or course, black and other dark hues are a no-no, and she tends to avoid red regardless of customer preferences.
“Red is a really aggressive colour that tends to bring out anger and conflict,” says Melissa.
Melissa points out grey has earned its current status as the go-to colour, because it’s calming and relaxing. To customize it for each homeowner, she simply plays up the cooler or warmer tones, whichever they prefer. She acknowledges the now ubiquitous greys have created a sameness across a wide variety of homes, but knows this challenge is easily addressed.
“Embrace unique, original artwork and accessories to make it your own and reflect your tastes and interests,” says Melissa. “Grey doesn’t have to be monotonous.
Melissa truly loves making homeowners’ basement dreams real and appreciates the many cultures and and perspectives they present. She always takes the opportunity to get really creative in a seemingly standard space by giving it a focal point and purpose.
“I find a nook or a cranny and turn it into a display area for a sculpture, a family memento or a beautiful bookshelf,” says Melissa. “It’s relatively simple to do but these design elements can really make a basement stand out and look special.”
On a regular basis, Melissa turns to the world around her for inspiration, respectively dedicating her travel to design and the spiritual. When seeking design stimuli, she typically heads to Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Tokyo, Japan for the highly aspirational, sophisticated and even unusual. To recharge and soothe her soul, Bali has become her preferred destination although hiking to connect with nature is also a regular choice.
“Travel, whether it’s close to home or on the other side of the world, gives me what I need to be the best I can be for my homeowners and myself,” says Melissa.
Aesthetics have always been a part of everyday life for Rana. Growing up she was surrounded by esthetic design and conversation with her artistic mother and architect brother.
“I was the youngest of three children and grew up listening to them talk about their respective work and their careers,” says Rana. “Whether I was looking at my mother’s paintings or my brother’s drawings/renderings, I learned to understand and appreciate composition and the effective use of space, light and colour.”
As a designer, Rana sees each unfinished basement as a blank canvas on which she’ll realize the highly personal, customized space her clients have always wanted.
“I create beautiful, aesthetically-pleasing, functional living areas that meet each family’s unique needs,” says Rana. “I certainly see it as an art form because of the creativity and sense of space, composition and light it requires, but am I an artist? Yes, absolutely, unless you believe real artists create only paintings and sculptures.”
Because each design begins with the family, a long-term career as a designer allows Rana to make the most of her spatial and esthetic abilities as well as her people-focused persona.
“Really listening to the family means I have to pay at least as much attention to seeing how they live as what they say – that’s the key to translating their vision into a three-dimensional area that really represents their family,” says Rana. “I love what I do because working with the families is so very personal.”
Of course, most finished basements share common elements, such as entertainment, laundry, guest and bath rooms. To ensure each completed basement represents that family, Rana creates focal points that reflect their unique interests and hobbies.
“That focal point typically makes a bold statement that starts conversations and tells you a lot about the people who live in that home,” says Rana.
To date, her AGM Basements families’ model car, vintage clothing and book collections as well as original art are strategically positioned with pride in the basements she’s designed.
“I conceptualize and design the display space and feature wall, then AGM Basements builds it,” says Rana.
In life and in design, Rana appreciates the simple pleasure she finds in dinner and a movie with a few close friends and the serenity and peace offered by a visually quiet space with clean, uncluttered lines.
“On-site with my clients and in the office with my colleagues, I experience the best of Canada – the many perspectives offered and shared by a multicultural, multilingual demographic that always has something new to show us,” says Rana.