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.
When her son was born eight years ago, Vancouver-based designer Marja Koskela welcomed him with an owl-shaped, music-playing crib hanger. She wanted a way to serenade him with Braham’s lullaby that was a bit less girly than the pink music box she had growing up. Koskela knew it was a hit when her son didn’t want to give up the felt toy, even long after he had outgrown his cradle (he kept it in his bed with his other stuffed animals until he was four). Now, she sells them all over the world, from Ireland to New Zealand — and not just to new parents, but to the young at heart who want a quirky piece of decor to hang under their kitchens cupboards. Owl Musicbaby. $30. Through etsy.com/shop/mimishop.
This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, March 21, 2013.
For devout foodies, scavenging through public parks and roadside ditches to pick wild, esoteric ingredients is an almost sacred ritual. Although the yields are small, the thistles, berries and greens they collect are nutrient-packed, deeply flavourful and, perhaps most importantly, not what the neighbours are eating.
But gourmands aren’t the only ones out foraging. Pioneering designers, including furniture makers and architects, are uprooting their own raw materials to make everything from cabinetry to structural columns. Turns out there are lots of aesthetic possibilities when working with forage. Roadside weeds can be boiled down to dye textiles, for example, while a naturally fallen tree can make a fetching coffee table.
When friends and industrial designers Ian Murchison and Rohan Thakar left their jobs at Research in Motion a few years ago, they wanted to work on projects that had a more organic quality. So the Carleton grads started the Federal, an Ottawa-based studio that makes tactile, nature-friendly products such as sheep’s wool earmuffs and plywood desk lamps. Even their knives have a soft side. While most tools of butchery have a menacing look, these blades are more aptly described as warm. With the exception of the honed metal edges, they are made entirely of sealed, food-safe Canadian maple – the waving grain of the wood giving them a gentle, painterly effect. Through thefederal.co.
This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, March 14, 2013.
Seven years ago, Christopher Solar gave up a career as a software developer and began teaching himself the art of furniture making. After he mastered the classics, the Ottawa-based designer got creative. His Strap Bench is strung with a colourful, almost chaotic top made from seat-belt webbing (the brightly hued kind used in custom hot rods, not your typical sedans). It’s Solar’s wink at traditional weaving techniques, done with an updated, post-industrial sense of ingenuity. And although the taut, crisscrossing pattern looks random, it’s anything but – each strap is carefully placed to ensure the right level of give and support as you sit. From $1,600 through christophersolar.com.
This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, March 7, 2013.
Felt is old school. The cloth – usually made of matted, compressed wool or rayon fibres – is the stuff of granddads’ fedoras and grannies’ crafting kits. But its roots go deeper, back thousands of years, when Asiatic tribes developed the textile for clothing, blankets and to insulate their yurts.
Today, many of us use felt unknowingly – as the lining in a car bra, the scuff protector on chair legs. It’s a practical material, but its aesthetic qualities – fuzzy, earthy, a bit Muppet-like – can seem a little fusty.
Recently though, interior designers, architects and furniture makers have been using the age-old material in bold new ways, turning it into something rich, dramatic and luxurious.
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.