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obituary

Theatre designer Drew Facey.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

As a child, Drew Facey demonstrated a flair for design that was far ahead of his years. This gift would eventually lead to a dazzling career in theatre, where he transformed many an empty stage into a unique set for actors. By the time he was approaching his 40s, Mr. Facey had become known for enriching historical settings with contemporary touches such as a modern leopard-skin couch set within the room of a 1930s play. His bold vision became much in demand. Mr. Facey worked on almost 170 productions across Canada, ranging in style from operas to musicals to the works of Shakespeare. He won 18 Vancouver-based Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards, including one in 2014 for Significant Artistic Achievement for his entire body of work.

“Adventurous” is a word frequently used by colleagues, family and friends to describe Mr. Facey. He travelled the world eschewing predictable tourist spots in search of the extraordinary, which often included the gritty. He once referred to his eyes as “greedy,” meaning he craved the unusual and striking. He sought out original lines, colours and shapes, saw beauty amid squalor and vice versa.

To his discerning eye, a peeling vase found curbside could be the perfect complement to a $20,000 table. Mr. Facey might well have spent his entire career in theatre, but the COVID-19 pandemic propelled his life in a new direction. In 2020, as one theatre contract after another was cancelled, and tired of dry spells between work, the intrepid Mr. Facey and his long-time partner, Kelly Murphy, decamped from Vancouver to Merida, Mexico.

Revelling in the beauty of the city’s colonial buildings, thriving cultural life and local markets, the two men embraced a new beginning despite having only a smattering of Spanish. In preparation, before leaving Canada, Mr. Facey mastered a complicated 3-D software design course and obtained work with Decorilla, an online interior-design service based in New York.

In an interview published on the site he said his “must-haves” for private clients were books, art and plants and that one wasn’t enough. “Wherever I go these three [items] are sure to follow. These elements not only bring life and personality to any space but also provide opportunities to showcase a homeowner’s individual taste and style. I’m fascinated by our relationships with our homes and how much our spaces affect the quality of our lives,” he said.

Mr. Facey travelled the world eschewing predictable tourist spots in search of the extraordinary, which often included the gritty.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

After extensive renovation to a historic house in the central area of Merida, Mr. Facey and Mr. Murphy’s lives seemed idyllic. Assisted by Mr. Murphy, whom he married in 2020 and who functioned as an administrative assistant, Mr. Facey’s Drew Facey Designs was becoming known for excellence. Then Mr. Facey began experiencing difficulties with his digestive system. It was a particularly cruel complaint since he adored spicy foods, excelled at cooking, and was much admired by friends and family for his ability to recreate sumptuous dishes from the many countries to which he travelled with Mr. Murphy. Complications from his illness brought on a cardiac arrest in Merida, where Mr. Facey, aged 41, died on May 11.

The idea of Merida as home for the couple was planted as a seed after viewing an episode of a television series that featured a couple of Canadian expatriates who had moved to Mexico. Mr. Facey and Mr. Kelley, who investigated real estate wherever they went, had toyed with the idea of moving to Thailand, Vietnam and India but felt they were too far from Canada should a family emergency arise. Merida seemed a good compromise.

“Drew always said that because of the [asteroid] that hit the Yucatan however long ago that it had stardust all over it and that made it feel mystical and special,” Mr. Murphy said. “As soon as we arrived I knew we were in the right place.”

Andrew (Drew) Neal Facey was born on Dec. 28, 1980, in Kelowna, B.C, the first of three children belonging to Neal and Noela (née Krueger) Facey, both teachers. As a Grade 1 student, he precociously drew his house as part of a class project. His teacher remarked to Drew’s parents that if the assignment had not been completed in class she would have suspected he had received help at home.

Aside from drawing, one of his favourite childhood activities was using his sister, Meredith, as an assistant to create stylish rooms out of bookshelves for her Barbie dolls. At the age of 10, he asked his parents for a subscription to Architectural Digest. They obliged. Christmas and Halloween decorations in the Facey household required precise, perfect arrangements, overseen by Drew.

Mr. Facey shows his 3-D interior design work in Vancouver, Aug. 7, 2020.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

His parents knew and warmly accepted that their elder son was gay before he officially came out to them in Grade 12. After graduation from Kelowna Secondary School in 2000, the young man set out for Montreal to study English at Concordia University; however, he didn’t find his métier until he returned to Vancouver and studied at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design. This was followed by further studies at Langara College’s Studio 58 Theatre School, from which he graduated in 2006.

In order to support himself through school, Mr. Facey worked at a Vancouver coffee shop called Melriches. Love at first sight filled the air on the day a dark-blond, blue-eyed former employee of the shop walked in. Before long, Mr. Facey, then 21, and Mr. Murphy, 25, were sharing glasses of wine after work. Two months later, they moved in together.

As a neophyte in the world of theatre, Mr. Facey did laundry, attended to wigs and helped actors change costumes, but it was clear to all who knew him that he wouldn’t stay in a lowly position for long. He had a big presence, a raucous laugh, a generous nature and a tendency to say “Oof.” Ashlie Corcoran, a close friend and artistic director of the Arts Club Theatre, said that, depending on inflection, “Oof” could mean many things.

Christopher Gaze, artistic director of Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach, a prestigious Shakespearean festival, remembered Mr. Facey as “a mass of talent and very ambitious.” During an interview with Globe and Mail western arts correspondent Marsha Lederman, Mr. Gaze said of Mr. Facey, “When you talk to him you feel that almost anything is possible … and won’t it be fun to do it?”

Mr. Facey leaves his husband, Mr. Murphy; grandmother, Eva Facey; parents, Neal and Noela Facey; and siblings, Meredith and Kevin Facey.