Basket weaving is one of the oldest known handcrafts. It predates pottery and, for at least 10,000 years, has been a vital means of transforming leaves and grass into vessels for storage and transportation.
These days, even at a time when furniture production has never been more high-tech — it’s possible for a designer to model a chair, light fixture or vase on his laptop, then e-mail the specs to manufacturers all over the world for almost instant 3-D printing — the anachronistic warp and weft still has an important influence.
As a testament to his longevity, rock-star status and sheer ingenuity, designer Marcel Wanders has been called both the Madonna and the Lady Gaga of the furniture world.
The comparisons seem fair when considering his furniture. The Amsterdamer eschews the minimal aesthetic of peers like Philippe Starck in favour of adding a subversive – sometimes kitschy – touch to the familiar and iconic. In 2008, when designing the interiors of Miami Beach’s Mondrian Hotel, for instance, he paid homage to his Dutch heritage by festooning the rooms with blue-and-white Delft tiles. But instead of windmills and bunnies, his ceramics featured sharks and beach babes.
Tomas Alonso’s silver tea service (photo by Craig Dillon)
Although Art Deco reached its apex of influence during the Interwar period, its rich colours, bold geometries and lavish materials (such as sterling silver and ebony) have never really disappeared from fashion.
It is, essentially, timeless. But every once and a while, our collective fascination with the movement’s decor and architecture reaches a new fever pitch. Like right now. The resurgence is the direct result of Baz Luhrmann’s blockbuster adaption of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby (the sixth such adaption of the 1925 novel, which comes out this Friday). Suddenly, everyone wants an air of the Jazz Age, in their clothes (think shimmering flapper skirts) and in their decor.
In 2006, when Carolyn Cameron was expecting her first child — a girl named Talulla — she decided her baby would only ever be fed with all-natural, non-toxic bottles, plates and utensils. After struggling to find reasonably priced, BPA-free products on the market, the Vancouverite decided to create her own line — Onyx. Cameron had no experience with industrial design. But, as a graduate of Ryerson University’s acclaimed fashion program with years of experience in the film industry (including outfitting both Brad and Angelina for the big screen), she had a well-hone eye for detail and strong sense of craftsmanship. Her Ice Pop Molds are both pretty to look at and ingeniously practical. They are made from food-safe, 18/8 stainless steel, which has higher nickel content for extra rust-resistance. And the re-usable sticks are bamboo — a sustainably harvested wood with anti-microbial properties and child-proof durability. Ice Pop Molds. $40. thetickletrunk.com.
This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, May 9, 2013.
Patty Johnson is a master furniture designer with a deep sense of social responsibility. At her Toronto studio, she crafts the kind of playful-but-sophisticated pieces — neon, rattan-style arm chairs woven from sustainable fibres — that make design editors and critics go goo-goo eyed. She also spends considerable time in places like Haiti and Botswana, helping to promote and develop local artistry and furniture production. Rather than being a sideline effort, her grass roots involvement is what gives character to her higher-end pieces. The recently released Haida chair was inspired by a year Johnson spent working with the First Nations group in the Pacific Northwest. The curved back takes its form from the Haida’s tradition of steam bending cedar; the structure — held together without any fasteners like nails or bolts — has the elegance of a traditional long house. Haida Chair. Price upon request. Mjölk, 2959 Dundas St. W., Toronto, 416-551-9853.
This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, May 2, 2013.
Farzad and Connie started thinking about building a house five years ago when they were living in Cambridge, England. Farzad was finishing his doctorate in management and Connie was working for a Dutch bank. Their two kids were young, and the couple wanted to settle in Toronto, where Farzad grew up (Connie is from Hong Kong). They imagined a house that was minimalist but kid-friendly, environmentally conscious but not visibly so, and most importantly, adaptable. They hired the architect Paul Raff, and the resulting space, on a leafy street near Yonge and Eglinton, feels like a swanky yoga studio minus the mirrored walls. The kitchen is flanked by two identically sized spaces, which can be used interchangeably, as the living room or dining room—Farzad and Connie sometimes swap the two by season, eating next to the big backyard window in summer and cozying up by the same window to read in winter. The basement is kitted out with a kitchen in case their kids boomerang in their 20s and want their own space. And although the main level of the house is, right now, perfectly suited to family life, it was designed to be converted into a one-level retirement suite in the future, with Farzad’s office becoming a master bedroom and the entryway powder room becoming an ensuite.
Quebec City is iconic for its old world architecture and cobble-stoned, urban streets. But that’s just the historic core. Much of the provincial capital is made up of diffuse, car-centric suburbs. To some, the extreme dichotomy underscores the eyesore that is modern city planning. To design group Six Point Un, the contrast between the metropolitan and the mundane is endlessly inspiring. Formed two-and-a-half years ago by Quebec City natives Claudia Després and Jérémy Couture, the studio has turned skate boards into swing sets and picket fences into coat racks. The latest product, a series of birdhouses designed in collaboration with graphic artists Matel and Avive, is a particularly pointed mash-up of the seemingly different worlds: generic, pitched roof houses (or churches, as it were) covered in the type of wild, energetic graffiti one would only expect to find in the middle of a city’s downtown. $150 each. Through sixpointun.ca.
This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, April 25, 2013.