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Alumni Profiles

Sabrina Smelko

Sabrina Smelko

Faculty of Animation, Arts & Design
Year of Graduation: 2012
Program: Bachelor of Illustration

Building on a budget: How one grad creates grand spaces with few funds

Sabrina Smelko knows it’s a daunting task to create a space that’s comfortable, functional and looks good – without stacking up debt along the way. In 2013, at age 22, the illustration grad bought, and began renovating, her own home. After installing air conditioning and a new roof, there was little left for decorating touches. So the budget-savvy designer started scouring Kijiji and auctions, blogging about it all along the way.

“I didn’t so much enjoy living in my house before,” she confesses. “When I come home now, I'm met with an overall feeling of comfort. The paint is fresh, there are plants abound, and the bright colours make me happy. It’s important to think about how you function rather than aim for pretty and Pinterest-worthy. You have to think about: do you have a dog? Do you like to get up early in the morning? Do you like to work out? I think I love my house so much now, not because it looks better, but because it functions so much better with how I live.”

Smelko will share her passion for budget-friendly design next spring as co-host of HGTV’s Save My Reno. Filming began over the summer, and she says the show reflects her own philosophy that everyone should be able to create spaces they love.

“To be able to renovate is a luxury,” she says. “Not everyone has $100,000 to spend in a room. What we’re trying to do is reach a wider range of people who maybe never thought they could afford a reno. It's hard enough to buy a home these days, and when you do, you’re house poor – but you still want to love the space and be proud to have your friends and family over.”

Smelko’s journey into reality TV is a surprise – even to her. In high school, her favourite subjects were science and math, but she also enjoyed studying the drawings in her textbooks. She always loved to draw, but only then did she realize it was someone's job to create those drawings and she could pursue a career that would bring both her interests together.

“Exploring my creative side and diving into conceptual process at Sheridan opened up my eyes to a whole other world,” she recalls.

After graduation in 2012, Smelko began working as a junior art director at a Toronto ad agency and pursuing her freelance career. She also created her own website, started blogging, and began writing for Design*Sponge, an American design website. She met Canadian design-duo Colin and Justin when she wrote a feature on their Haliburton cottage, and impressed them enough that they came calling when they were looking for a guest judge on their television series, Game of Homes.

Getting to know the cast and crew there paid off early in 2016 when she was approached to try out for a new HGTV Canada show. Smelko says her experiences are a living example of why new grads need to be open to all opportunities. “Each person I've met along my career path has helped open another door. I met a lot of new people on (the Game of Homes) set, and just being open-minded, nice, and fostering those connections is a testament to my career,” she says. “Don’t shy away from trying a new job that’s maybe out of your comfort zone, every opportunity you say yes to will help you get where you want to be.”

Learn more about the Bachelor of Illustration program.