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.
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.
Camal Pirbhai at his downtown Toronto studio. Photo by J.P. Moczulski
Like all couturiers, Camal Pirbhai mainly works for a small group of elite, demanding clients. He’s often asked to sign agreements stating that his design is exclusive, original and top secret. He isn’t allowed to show pictures, sketches or fabric samples of many of his projects to anyone. Even talking about the designs is off limits to ensure that an heiress or scion doesn’t have the same look as their friends.
But unlike Gaultier and Galliano, Pirbhai doesn’t apply his deft touch to evening wear and ball gowns. He makes drapes – the regal kind that transform a mere living room into an aristocratic salon or parlour. Almost everything – perfectly spaced pleats, pillowy tufts, delicate rosettes – is hand-stitched. Even the hardware is handmade. He designs his own rods, brackets and finials and has them custom-fabricated by carpenters, metal workers and glass blowers.
Even if you’ve never heard of Giulio Cappellini, or the eponymous design studio he’s run for three decades, chances are you’ve seen some of the furniture maker’s quizzically shaped, brightly hued tables, couches and cabinetry.
Part of what has made the 59-year-old so successful is a singular ability for discovering, developing and collaborating with untapped talent: much lauded stars like Marcel Wanders, Jasper Morrison and Tom Dixon all got their first big breaks by working with the Milanese master.
When Cappellini was in Toronto recently to give a lecture at the Design Exchange, we caught up with him to talk about his sense of colour, humour and how he finds his bright young things.
You’ve got a knack for spotting fresh talent. How do you do it?
I travel a lot. I visit universities and schools. I meet a lot of people. Sometimes I just see a rough prototype or a sketch. Or sometimes I meet someone and I just think that this person can work well with Cappellini. The feeling I get for the person is very important, because sometimes it takes years between the first prototype and the final design. And I never just want to make one piece with a designer. So we need to build a strong relationship.
Alan Hanlon and Andy Body rarely entertain at home. They prefer socializing at the Ritz-Carlton or La Société, and reserve invitations to their 1,800-square-foot Rosedale condo for the closest of friends—who are given an unforgettable lesson in gracious living. Now retired, Body spent his career as a choreographer and as a television director with the CBC. Hanlon worked for Rothmans, building its corporate art collection and organizing travelling exhibits for galleries like the AGO. The two of them have mixed and mingled with some of the most influential talents and talked-about people of the 20th century—Andy Warhol, Pierre Trudeau, Liza Minnelli—while travelling the world. Their home is an intensely personal reflection of their 51 years together. They can effortlessly recall the backstory of every painting, rug or chair. They’re both around 80, but the tales they tell make them seem like mischievous teenagers. Standing in front of a small etching, Body lowers his voice to a whisper. “I almost never show this to people. They think it’s just a sketch. They say, ‘Nice drawing.’ ” Turns out it’s a Rembrandt.
In real estate, as in love, there are homes that you have a fleeting crush on, ones that you want to have a family with, and others that are just so out-of-your-league gorgeous they become the stuff of fantasies. Such is the case with 87 Highland Crescent, which I’ve loved from afar for years and which is now on the market. Am I going to be placing an offer? Given an asking price of $6.85 million, I’m afraid my feelings will have to go forever unrequited: with Canada’s maximum 25-year mortgage terms, even if I (miraculously) had a 10 per cent down payment, and borrowed the $6.2 million balance, every month I would have to give the bank about $37,000 (assuming a reasonable interest rate of 5.24 per cent per year). $37,000. A month. That’s more than my yearly take home pay. The only way I could swing that would be to invent a time machine, go back about 10 years, and tell my teenage self all about Facebook so I could scoop Mark Zuckerberg. Anyway, the house actually appeared on the market two years ago at a higher price — $7.995 million — so whichever gazillionaire buys it can sleep easy on his mountain of money knowing he got a relative deal. David Bowie is rumoured to be a fan of the home’s architecture, so maybe he’ll snag it for Iman. Sigh, below is why I love it so much.
Note: This is a (mostly) fictional account of a sheltered, Canadian university student arriving in notoriously violent Johannesburg for the first time. Enjoy.
By the time I arrive at Tambo International Airport, it’s midnight. My flight is almost seven hours late. I was hoping to catch Johannesburg’s legendary crimson sunset from the plane, but the sky is black as I land. More worrisome, the driver who was supposed to pick me up and take me to my hotel downtown is no where to be found. I wait in arrivals until it’s almost empty — save for a few security guards — before I accept that whoever was supposed to meet me has long ago come and gone and isn’t coming back.
It’s June. When I left Toronto it was warm and summery. South Africa feels like winter. I’m wearing a black fleece zip-up, gloves, dark wash jeans, hiking boots and a hat. I’ve come for a two-week student workshop on urban design in post-apartheid Johannesburg. Its tagline is Can the Divided City be Reunited? I watched Sarafina as a child and Tsotsi as a teenager but otherwise didn’t know anything about the city or the country when I signed up four months ago. I was half way through my third year of architecture school and sick of sitting in a classroom. I wanted to feel some dirt beneath my finger nails. I wanted to see the world. Plus, my professor said I could use the conference for extra credit. That’s why I came.
The Place: A 5-bedroom, $675,000 Victorian in Toronto’s west end. It has 2 kitchens, so it’s either a live-in/rent-out property or the home of a food-hoarding over eater. I wonder what kind of house it would be for me: a way to boost my income, or my waist size? Actually, why not both? I could use all the rent money to buy fancy snacks, like prosciutto…and chocolate-covered prosciutto. It’s win-win-win, because then I could use the rent money to get lipo when I’m too heavy to breath. Yay.
It’s always a little dubious when a favourite indie restaurant decides to expand with a second dining room — a bit like when a film studio announces a sequel to a great stand alone movie. Did the world really need a Grease 2? How about The Return of Jafar? So it was with a bit of trepidation that I went to visit Hoof Raw Bar, a fish-focused offshoot of Toronto’s beloved charcuterie shrine, the Black Hoof. (True, there’s already the Hoof Cocktail Bar across the road, but as it doesn’t have a full dinner menu, I’m thinking of that more like a prequel — a genre that has it own weird baggage and expectations.) Anyway, here’s my comparison of the Black Hoof and Hoof Raw Bar.
The first time I went to the Black Hoof two summers ago, it was a Thursday night and the room was so packed that my friend and I had to wait for an hour to get seats at the bar. We didn’t start eating until well after nine, but even then, more and more people were arriving at the door. There was never an empty chair, and the room was roaring with diners raving about the beef tongue sandwich and pork carnitas tacos.