Danielle Hannah and Ernst Hupel of Ottawa’s 2H Interior Design keep things real
By Janet Wilson
Influential interior designers Danielle Hannah and Ernst Hupel have been creating mind-blowing spaces from Rockcliffe to Miami for close to 30 years, but you’re forgiven if you don’t recognize their names. Well-known in inner design circles, the founders of 2H Interior Design don’t have much of a social media presence, preferring to fly under the radar to respect the privacy of their wealthy clientele.
Discreet and down to the earth, the fun-loving pair have worked around the globe, including a long-standing interior design partnership at the iconic Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland. They’ve won numerous awards for their innovative work and find inspiration in their deep-seated belief that good design is the launching pad to a better life. Whether they’re working on a project in Toronto, Grenada or New York City, the spaces are rooted to their local environments.
After years of maintaining an understated website, they recently launched a stunning new site, 2hinteriordesign.com, featuring a handful of their show stopping projects, including the Rosedale Ravine Home in Toronto with its eclectic artwork, opulent furnishings and hand-carved speakeasy tucked behind a hidden door in the library. Rockcliffe on the Lake, a contemporary stone-and-glass marvel built for a high-tech guru, boasts a pleasing mix of textures, fabrics, drapery and custom furnishings, while the welcoming Muskoka Island Retreat appeals with its timeless charm, curated layers and priceless lake views.
“Being low-key on our website in the past was a purposeful decision, but after almost 30 years in the business, we’re so proud of what we’ve accomplished and want to show it off,” says Ernst. “This isn’t about going fishing for new clients. We want to showcase a bit of what we do. It’s a validation of our work. If we do our jobs properly, we’ve found that you’re always guaranteed another project. It’s important for us to leave room for our loyal customers.”
Danielle says many of their clients have been with them since they started their company—they’ve worked on multiple homes for some clients, which led to projects with their children and even on airplanes and vehicles. “There’s a certain amount of time that we need to make sure we’re always available for long-standing clients who have invested their trust in us. While there’s room for new work, we appreciate and respect what our clients have done for us,” she says.
Ernst, a father of two daughters, says the success of his enduring partnership with Danielle lies in the mutual respect they have for one another and their team.
“Working with your best friend is great. We sometimes feel like we’re married. We’ve had children at the same time and they’re like brothers and sisters to one another. We also share a cottage and a home on Fogo Island.”
The veteran designer says the two have mentored each other along the way. “What Danielle didn’t know, I did, and what she knew, I didn’t. Early on, we went to every meeting together, but now we divide and conquer. When she’s off in Montreal, Miami and Thousand Islands working on homes and I’m in Muskoka, we sometimes don’t get to see each other a lot.”
Danielle, a mother of two daughters and a son, says staying grounded and not taking anything for granted has been key. “We’re still the mom-and-pop shop that we started almost 30 years ago and have always managed to keep it real. We have never stopped doing everything: From shovelling the snow off our office steps to sorting through deliveries.”
For the past 15 years, they’ve maintained a two-storey office in Little Italy, just steps away from the City Centre complex. The close-knit team, which consists of seven staff, play and work hard with annual team retreats to Chicago, New York City, Amsterdam and their beloved Fogo Island. They also exercise together at a local gym and share meals every Monday to connect and catch up.
Both Ernst and Danielle originally hail from Toronto and met one another through a mutual friend. With numerous projects on the go in and around that area, they’ve set up a two-bedroom studio in Rosedale.
“The Toronto connection was our door-opening and brought us many opportunities. We’ve been so fortunate. We’ve taken us out of the big city, but the big city is still part of our process. It’s part of our brand and allowed us to look at things in a much more multifaceted, global way. There’s nothing wrong with staying local, but we come at it from both spectrums,” says Ernst.
They appear giddy when recalling their first presentation pitch in Ottawa to convert a prominent landmark—Wallis House, an old armoury building riddled with asbestos—into a series of loft condos.
“We worked, like absolute dogs, on that pitch and landed the job, but had to scramble to figure out what we should call ourselves. We went with 2H because of our surnames and it was easier to print and as a nod to the 2H pencil. Within about two weeks, we had 32 lofts to design. It was so much fun, but long days and not a lot of sleep. That’s how we started 27 years ago,” says Danielle, adding they’ve drunk a lot of coffee over the years.
With a foldout desk from Home Depot, the company’s first office space was on the top floor of a fire station in Gatineau. In those early years, they worked one long night each week and one day on weekends. They enlisted family to help and for five years, Danielle’s husband, Ross, did all their accounting. Today, they continue to work with many of their original clients and count tradespeople and architects, like Barry Hobin. and home builders, such as Uniform Developments, as mentors and friends.
“The collaborations and relationships we’ve formed here and in Toronto are so important to us. They’re family. They really help us represent our clients,” says Danielle.
2H Design offers a turnkey service and does it all from ground-up projects to major remodels. Ernst and Danielle enjoy curating furniture and art, and hunting for pieces that they know their clients will treasure. They also offer restoration, industrial design and landscape services.
Their eyes light up when they discuss their deep connection to Newfoundland’s striking Fogo Island Inn, located off the province’s northeast coast. The 29-room inn opened in 2013 and is clad in black spruce painted soft grey. It was founded by former Ottawa high-tech entrepreneur Zita Cobb, who was born on the island and invested millions into the project. She hired the two designers to join her team; they’ve never left.
The pair continue to source materials, offer their services and teach workshops. They’ve become so smitten by the remote island and its warm community that they’ve purchased a home on The Rock, which they share with family and friends.
“I was going there for a week every month, so that when the project opened, Danielle and I wanted a reason to go back and for our children to have that connection. I remain the design strategist for Fogo Island Inn and the non-profit Shorefast Charity, which contribute to Fogo Island’s community economy,” says Ernst, who’s currently involved in a restoration project to turn an old town hall into a four-studio dwelling for seasonal workers.
The inn’s Flat Earth Suite was named one of the Top 100 suites in the world by Elite Traveler. It’s easy to see why. The dreamy sanctuary evokes a sense of warmth with its brightly coloured furnishings, natural textures, woven rugs, floor-to-ceiling windows, which bring the outside in, soaker tub, wood stove and commanding ocean views.
“We’re fortunate to get to do these amazing projects, but also to become part of people’s lives,” says Ernst. “Whether we’re at Fogo Island or working with clients, our job is to enhance their life to the best of what we know. No matter what kind of design project a homeowner undertakes, it can be stressful for people. We don’t take this lightly—that they’re building their dream home and trusting us. We typically work with big personalities, and part of our job is to learn how to manage expectations, so it runs smoothly.”
Danielle says they have no plans to slow down anytime soon. “We love what we do and have an incredible team, some of whom have been with us for 25 years. We’re not going anywhere.”