What’s That Smell? Seduction

Scent pro Tracy Pepe

Scent pro Tracy Pepe

The lobby of Toronto’s Trump Hotel has all of the elements of a ritzy, five-star lodging. The check-in desk is wrapped in Macassar ebony. The floor is inlaid with onyx and the drapes are velvet.

The most luxurious design detail, however, isn’t visible or even that discernible. Subtle wafts of champagne and caviar drift through the foyer, giving the place an air of exclusivity, and providing an olfactory signal to the c-suite clientele that they’ve arrived – literally and figuratively.

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What’s That Smell? A Healthy Home

Photo courtesy of Shai Gil/superkul

Photo courtesy of Shai Gil/superkul

One of the telltale features of a freshly finished, just-built home isn’t the gleaming appliances or unscuffed, piano-gloss floors. It’s the heady, intoxicating, dizzyingly clean smell.

It’s an odour that architect Meg Graham is intimately familiar with, as the principal of Toronto’s Superkul, an award-winning studio that has built many top-quality houses. But in a home she recently completed in Mulmur, Ont. – a beautiful, waterside bungalow with sunbathed interiors and a rich, woodsy palette – “there was no new-home smell,” she says. Not because anything was amiss, but because everything had gone according to plan.

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Coveted: Riley McFerrin’s Tidal Flux Ottoman

The Tidal Flux Ottoman

The Tidal Flux Ottoman

Designer Riley McFerrin was raised in a place that celebrates its artificiality: Los Angeles. But because he married a Canadian (and hated L.A.’s smog), he now lives somewhere almost entirely natural: British Columbia’s serene Sunshine Coast. The unspoiled environs inspire his work. At his year-old studio Hinterland, he hand makes light fixtures from foraged beach branches, and crafts side tables that echo the crystalline shapes of the Rockies. His Tidal Flux Ottoman (co-created with his wife, illustrator Sara Gillingham, as well as fibre artist Coral Harding) takes after the humble, netted crab trap. The rope work – a mix of macramé, crochet and sailors’ knots – looks delicate but is highly durable. The cotton, wool and nylon cords are wrapped around a brass-covered, stainless-steel frame and are tied to withstand wind, rain and the roughest of seas. Tidal Flux Ottoman $3,000. hinterlanddesign.com.

This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, June 12, 2014.

Um, I Tried: My Attempt at 3D Printing

My 3D printed key chain

My 3D printed key chain

It’s fortunate I make my living as a writer: I’m uniquely ill-equipped to do anything else. But I recently got to play industrial designer. I took a workshop called 3D Printing for Total Beginners, hosted by Toronto’s Hot Pop Factory. In about two hours, I learned how to use 3-D modelling software, conceptualize an object and produce it on a desktop MakerBot printer.

I was eager to do the class for the same reason as many of my classmates, who came from a broad range of backgrounds, including banking, nursing, engineering and education. I wanted to play with the nascent technology, to see what I could build with a mouse and my imagination. 3-D printers and open-source design software promise to be the future. One day soon, they could transform the way we create, acquire and consume just about everything. Instead of going to the store or ordering online, we’ll print our own customized cutlery, toothbrushes, furniture – whatever – ourselves.

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Umbra: Not Just for Garbage Cans Anymore

The Hanger chair by Umbra Shift and Philippe Malouin

The Hanger chair by Umbra Shift and Philippe Malouin

Until recently, Umbra, the Toronto-based, cheap-and-cheerful housewares producer (a bit like Ikea, only more plastics than particleboards), held a very specific place in mind. It was the brand that made my first, grown-up, moving-out-of-mom’s-house garbage can – the Garbo, designed by Karim Rashid, which I got on my way to university. In my late teens, I thought its plump, futuristic curves were cool (especially as mine was a silvery-blue colour). And it was cheap – likely less than a movie ticket, which is probably why almost everyone else I knew had one, too. So for me, Umbra will always conjure memories of my freshman room – decorated, as it was, on a dime. Something to remember fondly, if not to repeat.

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DIY Shoes (Seriously)

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Sarah Eldershaw’s DIY shoes

Thanks to the growing Maker Movement, more people are enthusiastic about reclaiming once foreign-made, mass-produced consumables. Whether it’s something old school such as macramé plant hangers, or cutting edge and technical such as computer hardware, DIYers are becoming more prevalent. Not to mention profitable. According to a recent Economist article, Brooklyn-based Etsy, for example, generated sales of more than $1-billion (U.S.) in 2013, the vast majority of which was driven by small, part-time, at-home producers (of which there are over one million worldwide).

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Paper Vases: Aesthetically Edgy, Morally Sound

Pepe Heykoop's paper vase project. Photo by Annemarijne Bax

Pepe Heykoop’s paper vase project. Photo by Annemarijne Bax

It’s a familiar, often unfortunate equation: a designer (industrial, fashion etc.) from a wealthy country has a trend-setting idea, manufacturers it for pennies in an impoverished country and then sells it for a premium without sharing the riches with the labourers who made it.

Dutch designer Pepe Heykoop is trying to create a new paradigm. His paper-vase project is both aesthetically edgy and morally sound. It was recently shown at the largest furniture fair in the world, Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan, Italy, where the influential design blog Dezeen called it a “a runaway success.” The business model for the vases is helping raise a community in Mumbai out of severe poverty.

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