I Made Something: Memento Box

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My box

Slow is not my normal speed. So, when I signed up for a two-day woodworking class to learn how to make a memento box, naturally I showed up late, running in with my headphones blaring a podcast, one hand holding a spilling coffee cup, the other hand checking my e-mail.

When I had signed up for the class at Heidi Earnshaw’s Junction Workshop in Toronto, we were told by e-mail to arrive at the studio early to get settled in. It was a Saturday, but I was rushing in from a work appointment that morning and was already stressing that I might be late for another appointment afterward. I was off to a great start.

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Meet Someone Awesome: Sheila Hicks

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Artist Sheila Hicks

Sheila Hicks is a curious combination of artist and anthropologist. She doggedly records her impressions of the places and people she sees and meets, doing so using an unconventional medium: textiles. The 82-year-old, Paris-based American carries a notepad wherever she goes, but prefers to capture her observations using a small, makeshift loom. “It’s a rack with nails on it,” she explains. “I don’t need luggage when I travel. I can get away with my wristwatch, a carry-on of clothes, a pencil, and my little loom.”

Hicks’s woven sketches, which she calls minimes (French for minimal, not a contraction of Mini Me), are currently on display as part of Material Voices, a retrospective of her work at Toronto’s Textile Museum – her first ever show in Canada. Each small tapestry tells a story. Hastings Grand features dried corn husks caught in an earth-toned weave of wool, silk linen and cotton. It’s a send-up to Hastings, Neb., where she was born, that captures the beauty of the quiet, easy-to-overlook place.

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Meet Someone Awesome: Thom Filicia

Queer Eye Thom Filicia

Queer Eye Thom Filicia

If all the stereotypes associated with interior designers, the overbearing snob is an enduring one. Thom Filicia, though, is far from being a stereotype. In an industry based on appearances, artifice and, sometimes, illusion, his utter lack of pretense, evidenced by his open, affable nature both on TV and over the phone from New York last week, has helped him build a far-reaching, ever-growing brand that spans the broadest spectrum of clients and commissions.

On the one hand, he has designed spaces for A-list celebrities including Jennifer Lopez, the late Peter Jennings and Tina Fey (“she’s exactly how you imagine her to be,” he says of the comic actor, “down-to-earth, generous and funny”). His high-end corporate clients include the W chain of boutique hotels. And his New York showroom, Sedgwick & Brattle, does a thriving trade in furniture, fabric and hardware produced by him or by designers he admires. Continue reading

Sleep Here: Drake Devonshire

Photo by George Whiteside

Photo by George Whiteside

Outside the Drake Devonshire in Prince Edward County, one of Ontario’s most picturesque agricultural regions, an upright player piano sits halfway between the parking lot and the front entrance, its strings sutured to amplifiers and extended to reach the inn’s parapet. As guests arrive, the exposed strings vibrate in the wind and Chopin fills the air. The gentle greeting, conceived by sound artist Gordon Monahan, sets the tone for this new type of getaway: the country inn as an art-filled, hipster-friendly retreat.

The lodgings are built around the historical Wellington Iron foundry, which dates back to 1860, now with a new campus of barn-like additions surrounding it on all sides. Together, the cluster of buildings amounts to a 1,200-square-metre interior with 11 guest rooms, two suites and a dining room and bar that seat 75. Various other anterooms offer Ping-Pong, canasta or karaoke until dawn, and a covered patio functions as an event space and an extension of the dining room.

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Meet Someone Awesome: 3D Printing Wizard Benjamin Dillenburger

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This was 3D printed

Benjamin Dillenburger created a room as intricate as one built over hundreds of years, in a matter of days. His tool? A 3-D printer. Below, I talked to the architect about pushing the boundaries of digital design and his dream of one day printing an entire house.

The operatic curves of baroque architecture are enthralling to visitors of Europe’s 17th-century cathedrals, palaces and grottoes. But in a modern world obsessed with efficiency and expediency, enthralling isn’t good enough to justify the mountain-high price tag and years of manual labour required to erect such structures.

Which is why Benjamin Dillenburger’s designs are so amazing.

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Meet Someone Awesome: Chair Designer Andrew Jones

Chair designer Andrew Jones

Chair designer Andrew Jones

Battery Park, New York City’s 25-acre, tree-filled oasis at the southern tip of Manhattan, is about to become even more welcoming. The Battery Conservancy, the non-profit organization that supports the park, recently wrapped up a two-year competition for new signature seating, something more inspired than the basic benches already there. The winning entry, a perforated steel chair called Fleurt, is a whimsical, floral-shaped design that could have been plucked from a Marimekko print. In 2015, 300 of them will dot Battery Park’s newly renovated central lawn. New Yorkers can thank Toronto’s Andrew Jones when they settle into one.

Fleurt is only Jones’s second major public design, but the first was equally prominent: He is also responsible for the Jackie-Kennedy-pink umbrellas in Toronto’s acclaimed Sugar Beach, a Claude Cormier work that the city’s Ford brothers tried to make disingenuous hay out of recently by citing its supposedly exorbitant cost (four years after it was installed). On Oct. 15, Jones won the juried New York competition (including a $10,000 cash prize) by beating out almost 700 entrants from 15 countries. For the final round, his idea had to pass a sit-off, which saw the general public casting votes for their favourite among the five top proposals after trying them out. Nearly 4,000 people cast a ballot, which Jones won handily.

Coveted: The Fogo Island Long Bench

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Ineke Hans’ Long Bench

For culture-loving idealists who believe that art and design have the power to transform society, not just decorate living-room walls, Newfoundland’s Fogo Island Inn is a symbol of hope. Retired tech executive Zita Cobb – a dot.com millionaire who was raised on the island but left at 16 when her father’s fishing job vanished – started the hotel as a means of reviving Fogo’s depressed economy. This was accomplished in part by encouraging tourists to visit the rocky outcrop, which is Newfoundland’s largest offshore island, and also by hiring locals to build and maintain the 29-room structure, and encouraging international filmmakers, artists and writers to visit and spark cross-cultural collaborations. Although the inn, designed by Newfoundland-born, Norwegian-based architect Todd Saunders, only opened in June 2013, it has already created an impressive output, including a line of furniture designed by both Canadian and European designers (Quebec’s Elaine Fortin and England’s Donna Wilson) and made by local craftspeople. The Long Bench, by the Netherlands’ Ineke Hans, is particularly spectacular. Its simple spindle back speaks to the traditional aesthetic of the place – spare, unfussy and tough, in the best ways possible. Price upon request. Through klausn.com.

This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, October 16, 2014.