For Giraffe Design Build, there is no point in excellent craftsmanship if we don’t bring inspired design to life, and vice versa. If you have an inspired design but execute it poorly, you haven’t fulfilled the vision. Every project, no matter how small, deserves to embody inspired design and excellent craftsmanship.


This is our standard of excellence that we strive for in every project. It isn’t something we simply came up with during a branding exercise—it’s ingrained in the roots of our history. 


The Birth of a Mission

It started in 1982, when three students came together at a Buddhist temple in Toronto. Martin Sage-Clarke was a Journalism Major at the University of Toronto and studying Buddhisim at the temple. A carpenter named John Thompson had been hired to install some custom garden gates. John had studied in Japan under one of the leading Japanese temple carpenters at the time.

John’s craftsmanship was unlike anything Martin had ever seen or experienced before. He had handmade all of his chisels and Japanese hand planes. They were so sharp and precise that when he planed a piece of wood, the planed wood was so smooth that it glistened. You can’t observe that in traditional planing and sanding, which results in a dusty finish.

Martin was completely enchanted with this kind of craftsmanship. He begged John every day to hire him until John gave in. Two other students—Jack and Supa—joined the crew at the temple and were also inspired by John’s craftsmanship. Together, the three of them formed Giraffe Design Build. (Jack has since moved back to Canada and Supa left the partnership after an unrelated accident).

As Martin worked under John and his crew of talented and efficient craftsmen, he learned to inhabit a place in the zone of excellent yet efficient mastery. Their projects embodied the intersection of inspired design and excellent craftsmanship—ideals that are woven into Giraffe’s mission statement.


Inspired Design at Giraffe

Inspired design creates an environment that emotionally moves people. It changes the experience from a mere house to a home. Inspired design is an authentic expression and extension of the people who live there, creating a continuity between the owners and their environment.

Any building with four walls and a roof can be a house. For many contractors, design is merely a necessary component to get to the build stage. At Giraffe, design is almost an end in itself. We want to look at projects in the rear-view mirror with a deep satisfaction—to create works of beauty that go beyond mere function, to embody art and poetry as well. 

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That’s why our mission starts with design. An inspired design becomes more than the sum of its parts. Any design starts with certain functional requirements—square footage, daily use of the space, circulation paths, stylistic restrictions, and building and zoning restrictions. Inspired design synthesizes all of these elements, meets the project goals, then exceeds those goals with a design creation that surpasses requirements. 

We remodeled a house on the Huron River, and the client wanted to match the existing farmhouse aesthetic. Not only did the remodel match the existing style, the project became an amazingly beautiful, compelling addition to their house. We were able to create a sensitive blend of traditional forms with simple, pared-back interior detailings that gave it a fresh, crisp, modern-rural feel. It was something that looked ready for a magazine photoshoot. 


Craftsmanship That Shows

Likewise, it takes a true craftsman to bring inspired design to life. A craftsman puts materials together with almost no mistakes and no wasted effort. It’s pure poetry to watch someone work who really knows what they’re doing. 

Through years of training, a craftsman learns the methodologies to achieve the final result elegantly, gracefully and efficiently. The ideal is to minimize handling of the materials, so that you’ve nailed the trim as little as possible—yet it fits like a glove. It’s crisp, it’s clean, it isn’t covered in fingerprints and it doesn’t have a thousand nails trying to hold it tight. 

A craftsman truly understands the materials they’re working with. They make the cut, and it fits perfectly. They nail it up with a sense of aesthetics, so the nails form a nice rhythmic pattern down the wood—they aren’t just pounded in willy-nilly. It takes years and decades to understand the materials you’re using, and to learn the techniques well, so that you have the right tools and make the right decisions.

Those tiny details show through at the end of a job.

This was epitomized in one of Martin’s favorite projects. Giraffe transformed a tired 1950s atomic ranch into a refreshing retreat. The homeowners wanted to combine their love for their backyard with the serene warmth of a traditional Japanese aesthetic. The result was a sanctuary that opened the indoors to a profusion of natural outdoor light—a simple, open design accented with cherry wood. 

One of our carpenters crafted a built-in bench and shoji screens by hand, using only Japanese tools. “We were astonished by the beauty of it, and we still are,” the homeowners said. “It’s simple, elegant, and it brings the outdoors in. Everyday, we feel happy to be here.”

The project embodies this connection between inspired design and excellent craftsmanship. It incorporates the skills Martin developed in the field, as well as his deep appreciation for design.


Excellent Craftsmanship That Delights

Our goal for every project is to deliver inspired design with excellent craftsmanship that delights our clients with a final result that they will show off to friends and family for years. This means we pay attention to the smallest details with an artist’s touch. 

Giraffe’s unique calling card is the intersection of inspired design and excellent craftsmanship. For homeowners who want to capitalize on that type of inspired design, having the environment be an authentic expression of their family, that’s Giraffe’s sweet spot.

Learn more: Discover what one homeowner had to say about Giraffe’s craftsmanship and design.