Coveted: Geof Ramsay’s Steps Seat

Geof Ramsay's Steps sat

Geof Ramsay’s Steps sat

Geof Ramsay is a modern Maritimes designer. He was raised in Moncton and lives in Halifax, but learned his craft in Detroit, Ottawa and Amsterdam before setting up his eponymous studio in 2009. His witty Steps seat reflects both his East Coast roots and international influences. The piece is a play on people’s tendency to sit where they’re supposed to step – something that happens on front stoops and in foyers around the world. The actual construction of his mini stair – which is proportioned to act as a bench, footstool and side table in one – was inspired by what you’d find under the carpet or tiling of a typical Canadian home. The treads and risers are made of construction-grade plywood and supported by a simple stringer. The only thing missing is a banister rail to toss a winter coat and hat over. From $1,350. Through geoframsay.com

This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, November 7, 2013.

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Slow Furniture: Heidi Earnshaw Takes Her Time for Timeless Quality

Heidi Earnshaw in her downtown Toronto studio

Heidi Earnshaw in her downtown Toronto studio (Michelle Siu)

As a reaction to mass manufacturing, the burgeoning slow furniture movement is a painstakingly careful, anachronistically plodding way to produce chairs, desks and credenzas. Everything is made using time-honoured carpentry techniques, out of elemental materials, without computer-guided machines and routers.

Acclaimed, Toronto-based Heidi Earnshaw is an advocate of the trend. Her designs have the subtlety of a Robert Frost poem and have been recognized by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Toronto Arts Awards.

Next month, she’ll be participating in IIDEX, Canada’s national design and architecture expo in Toronto.

Here, Earnshaw talks about her roots as a chainsaw artist, the miracles of vinegar and the importance of taking things slow.

A lot of people are unfamiliar with the term slow furniture. What does it mean to you?

Slow furniture is basically an offshoot of the slow food movement, which started in Italy in the 1980s as a reaction to the first McDonald’s opening in Rome. For me, it’s about creating furniture in a thoughtful and environmentally sustainable way while supporting local economies and using local resources.

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7 Ways to Rock Your Home With Marble

The Bust Chair

The Bust Chair

Marble is to geology what Cher is to the entertainment industry: hard and soft at the same time with an endless capacity for reinvention and an unquestionable ability to dazzle.

The only difference is that marble has been beloved for a few (thousand) years longer — even if both the stone and the singer look strangely ageless. Continue reading

Nice Weave: How Ancient Basket Making is Inspiring Contemporary Furniture

Pendants made from woven pop bottles

Pendants made from woven pop bottles

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.

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Marcel Wanders on Being Compared to Madonna and Not Being ‘Boring’

Designer Marcel Wanders. Photo by Moe Doiron

Designer Marcel Wanders. Photo by Moe Doiron

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.

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The Comeback: Art Deco

Tomas Alonso's silver tea service (photo by Craig Dillon)

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.

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Coveted: Patty Johnson’s Haida Chair

Patty Johnson's Haida Chair

Patty Johnson’s Haida Chair

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.