Coveted: Six Point Un’s Punk Rock Birdhouses

Six Point Un's graffiti-covered birdhouses

Six Point Un’s graffiti-covered birdhouses

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.

Coveted: Carey Ann Schaefer’s Cross Legged Basket

A big basket made of crocheted nylons

A big basket made of crocheted nylons

At the Cumulus Project ­— the online concept store of B.C.-based artist Carey Ann Schaefer — only one, one-of-a-kind item is posted at a time, and it doesn’t get replaced until it’s sold. A ridiculous business model for an e-commerce site? Maybe. It is, in effect, the anti-Etsy. But there’s something refreshingly simple about having only a single, serenely crafted option to consider at every visit. Past pieces include a slug-shaped, ceramic salt container and a circular mirror subtly etched to mimic the mottled surface of the moon. The latest — the Cross Legged Basket — is no less whimsical. At a glance, the hamper looks like a stack of water worn river stones. But the pile is actually quite plush — Schaefer crocheted it out of colourful, baton-stuffed nylons that were sewn end-to-end into a giant-sized piece of yarn. 24” h x 36 dia. $220. cumulusproject.com.

This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, April 11, 2013.

Coveted: Ryan Taylor’s Babylon Pendant

Ryan's Taylor's luminous hanging garden

Ryan’s Taylor’s luminous hanging garden

A few years ago, designer Ryan Taylor’s kitchen was startling to look more like a greenhouse than a cook space. He loved having ferns, herbs and succulents around, but had run out of places to put them. So, Toronto-based Taylor decided to create a new type of planter. His hanging Babylon pendant is a resplendent way to add herbage without losing square feet. The white aluminum casing is particularly elegant. The shape is inspired by an upside flower bloom and echoes mod, ‘60s style. Plants aren’t included, but anything that can grow in shallow soil, like small orchids, moss and cacti, would do well. For anti green thumbs, the trough might make a smart place to hide keys, cards and wallets. Babylon pendant. $425. Through oniprojects.com.

This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, April 4, 2013.

Couture Drapes: Handmade Fashion Doesn’t Just Walk the Runway

Camal Pirbhai at his downtown Toronto studio

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.

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Coveted: Brenda Watts’ French Rolling Pin

Brenda Watts' French Rolling Pin

Brenda Watts’ French Rolling Pin

A French-style rolling pin is ideal for pastry. The tapered ends pivot to work the dough into pie-crust-perfect circles, and the slender profile applies only a gentle touch, which helps keep tarts and croissants flaky. Carpenter Brenda Watts has been making them at Cattails, her Hermitage, PEI, studio, for the past decade. She started making them because her sister, who is a baker and worked at a kitchen store, wanted a French pin for herself. Watts, who studied woodworking at Holland College, uses locally harvested flame birch and brings out the wood’s naturally flamboyant grain by sanding it to a sheen then finishing it with sunflower oil and beeswax from a local beekeeper. Aspiring Julia Childs will appreciate its soft, warm grip. Everyone else will just admire how good it looks on the kitchen counter. French rolling pin. 22 “ l. x 2” dia. $50. Through shopbrendawattswoodwork.com.

This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, March 28, 2013.

Home, Surreal Home: 5 Irreverent Decor Finds

Cassettone (W)hole _F the Classics_F.Laviani_high

As a movement, surrealism is most often associated with highbrow arts like painting, literature and film (the macabre image of ants pouring out of a wounded hand, from Luis Buñuel’s seminal movie Un Chien Andalou, is as unsettling today as it would have been when it was first shown in 1929). But it also lends itself well to more commonplace fixations like industrial design and home decor.

After all, in the original, 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism, poet Andre Breton pointed to man’s general disaffection for the “objects he has been led to use, objects that his nonchalance has brought his way.”  And one of the delights of surrealism is the way it electrifies the unremarkable with its strange colours, dream-like sense of possibility and irreverence for rules. The violin, for example, will forever be more beautiful because May Ray likened it to a ladies nude back with his 1924 photograph, Le Violon d’Ingres.

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Coveted: Igloo Design’s Gorgeous Bar Cart

Anna Abbruzzo's Bar Cart

Anna Abbruzzo’s Bar Cart

As co-founder of Montreal’s award-winning Igloo Design, Anna Abbruzzo has worked on restaurant interiors, homes, websites, brand strategies and business cards. Furniture, though, was something she always wanted to try. Creating the perfect piece requires a deep knowledge of ergonomics, finesse with finicky materials and the ability to work with really tiny wheels. That’s why it took a full year (and countless iterations) to develop her first effort – an elegant trolley, the kind that was popular in the 1920s for serving tea or cocktails. The cart is both subtle and luminous, with its sleek Art Deco lines and shimmering brass finish. $4,500. For more information, contact hello@igloodesign.ca.

This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, January 17, 2013.

Coveted: A Sealskin Cell Phone Pouch

Kiluk's Sealskin iPhone Holder

Kiluk’s sealskin iPhone holder

It can take a long time for trendy tech to reach the remote Canadian north. The iPhone, for example, came to Nunavut in 2008, a year after the rest of the country (which, in cellphone years, is an eternity). But when the latest gadget arrives, it gets a uniquely northern welcome from designer Sherlyn Kadjuk. At her Arviat, Nunavut-based studio, Kiluk, she hand-makes laptop bags, iPad cases and smartphone covers out of sealskin. The silvery totes are sleek and sophisticated, but the fur adds the kind of warmth and coziness that could only come from one of the coldest regions on Earth — the shores of Hudson Bay. From $37.50. Through ivalu.ca.

This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, January 3, 2013.

DIY Ikea? Design Mavens Are Personalizing Flat-Pack Furniture in Clever Ways

Designer Scott Barker's Ikea-Hacked Wall Screen

Designer Scott Barker’s Ikea-Hacked Wall Screen

Ikea hacking. It sounds violent, like what you might do with a wood chipper and an impossible-to-assemble Pax wardrobe or an Expedit entertainment unit (after you’ve pulled out all your hair). But while Ikea hacking often involves saws and X-Acto knives – even blowtorches – it’s less about destruction than it is about creativity and personalizing flat-pack furniture in clever, playful or straight-up crazy ways.

It’s a trend that has been growing for years – fuelled by two things: our collective desire to pay as little as possible for our furniture; and our equally strong desire not to have the exact same living or dining room set as the neighbours (which is hard to avoid, considering that Canada’s 11 Ikea stores attract about 25 million customers a year).

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Coveted: Tomas Rojcik’s Pendant Lights

Tomas Rojcik's Pendant 45

Tomas Rojcik’s Pendant 45

After graduating from Sheridan College’s furniture design program this year, Tomas Rojcik has been living and working in Toronto’s slowly gentrifying Junction neighbourhood. But the rugged beauty of northern Ontario, where his family camped when he was growing up, is what captivates his imagination. His first major production piece, Pendant 45, is minimal and modern, yet reflects the outdoor summertime ritual of campfires. The ash wood casings have been sandblasted and painted black to look like charred kindling, while the glowing LED light strips evoke smouldering embers. From $1,850. Through Caviar20.com. Photo by Ivy Lin.

This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, November 29, 2012.