Crafting a holistic home helped centre designer Nike Onile when she most needed support

Crafting a holistic home helped centre designer Nike Onile when she most needed support

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki

In the summer of 2021, I was diagnosed with cancer. The news came with a heavy fog of confusion and disbelief. I was at the peak of a dedicated yet taxing run in my career with the fruits of my labour low hanging and ready to be enjoyed. Clients who connected with my work were consistently flowing in, along with industry accolades and recognition in design publications that I had admired since the beginning of my career.

The abrasiveness of those three words – “you have cancer” – cut through me like sharp glass. In an almost dreamlike way, the things I had always known to be true weren’t any more. I felt betrayed by my body, healthy lifestyle and the holistic practice I had grown proud of. Here I was, in a time where there was such momentum in my life, being run over by something I felt that I had no control over.

Before my diagnosis, I was at a height in my professional life, yet I felt I was at my weakest and as if my body was fighting against me. The hustle felt violent and things that were once so natural felt incredibly laborious. My capacity to push forward felt empty and a heaviness loomed being surrounded by beautiful things that no longer served me. It was clear that I needed a new sense of home.

I moved out of Toronto’s core and completed a home renovation focused on wellness. I did for myself what I have done for so many others: create space that aligns. I let go of so much (metaphorically and physically) and kept close only the things that added value, elicited positive emotion and carried meaning.

My new home felt bright and personal. It featured elements of nature along with space dedicated to gathering, rest and work. It had enough flexibility to change and adapt as I evolved. I felt lighter and more rooted. With the noise surrounding me eliminated, I could pay attention to my body, and she was telling me that I was not okay. It had been over five years since my body had stopped feeling like my own, but now I could hear her differently, in a way that resulted in a life-changing visit to my doctor.

In the middle of my treatment, I realized that this new home I had been urgently completing was meant for this exact moment. It was the place where I was meant to heal, the space that was going to pour life, joy and comfort back into me as I undertook the next stage of my life.

My home contains elements that centre me. My bedroom walls are lined with muted murals of waterscapes, as if I am sleeping outside under willow trees. They instill a sense of freedom. My bathroom, covered with a marbled tile that looks like concrete, is modelled on spaces dedicated to wellness that I experienced on a visit to Morocco. It helps create tranquillity and fosters the ritual of self-care. Filling my office with a jungle of ficus trees and other plants not only purifies the air but brings nature into my home year-round.

I have spent so much of my career focused on understanding people and why they live the way they live, studying how space and the things we surround ourselves with work hand in hand and how the magic of their connection influences change. I call this the Ode philosophy, a term that is also part of the name of my design firm, Studio Ode. The approach focuses on creating spaces that support who you are now while allowing flexibility for your home to adapt and grow as you evolve.

In my moment of need, my home reflected these principles of holistic living. It was the warm cocoon I needed to break apart, rest, heal, find inspiration and redefine life. It showed me, in a more comprehensive way, how deeply connected we are with every space we’re in. Spaces live and breathe like we do. They can be tools to help support who we are and who we will become. There is real magic in places where design meets wellness, regardless of what you are going through. I just happened to deepen this understanding while fighting cancer.