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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Coveted: Molo’s Matcha Bowl

Molo's matcha bowl

Molo’s matcha bowl

In all of our lives, there are short, daily rituals that become so routine that they are almost done unconsciously: a habitual, early morning jolt of coffee, for example, which is chugged for its caffeine rather than savoured for its flavours. To designers Stephanie Forsythe and Todd MacAllen—who run an award-winning studio in Vancouver called Molo—these humble habits are made memorable when undertaken with a sublimely beautiful object. Their Float Matcha bowl was inspired by a trip to Kyoto, after Forsythe and MacAllen sipped the namesake beverage—a high quality, antioxidant rich form of green tea—in a traditional teahouse along the Shirakawa Canal. The vessel can, of course, be used for the Japanese energy booster, but is proportioned equally well for lattes, soups, cereals or sorbets—everyday foods which look otherworldly in the seemingly weightless, ethereal glass cylinder. Float Matcha Bowl. 470ml. Approx. $100. Through molostore.com.

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

Coveted: Zoë Mowat’s Arbor Jewellery Stand

A jewellery stand inspired by birds

A jewellery stand inspired by birds

When an Australian bowerbird wants to attract a mate, it surrounds itself with eye-catching, often glinting things like shells, feathers and scarps of metals. Humans, of course, have a similar mating ritual: adorning bling. Which is why Montreal-based designer Zoë Mowat, after reading about the birds in National Geographic, was inspired to create her Arbor jewellery stand. Fittingly, the piece is replete with clever yet subtle aviary references. The shallow dishes for rings and earrings could just as easily be perches or feeders for plumed creatures. And when the sleek, hand-lathed walnut bar is hung with bangles, bracelets and amulets, it starts to look like a branch covered in simmering, sparkly leaves. Arbor Jewelley Stand. Price upon request. Through zoemowat.com.

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

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: Carolyn Cameron’s Food-Safe Ice Pop Molds

Carolyn Cameron's Ice Pop Molds

Carolyn Cameron’s Ice Pop Molds

In 2006, when Carolyn Cameron was expecting her first child — a girl named Talulla — she decided her baby would only ever be fed with all-natural, non-toxic bottles, plates and utensils. After struggling to find reasonably priced, BPA-free products on the market, the Vancouverite decided to create her own line — Onyx. Cameron had no experience with industrial design. But, as a graduate of Ryerson University’s acclaimed fashion program with years of experience in the film industry (including outfitting both Brad and Angelina for the big screen), she had a well-hone eye for detail and strong sense of craftsmanship. Her Ice Pop Molds are both pretty to look at and ingeniously practical. They are made from food-safe, 18/8 stainless steel, which has higher nickel content for extra rust-resistance. And the re-usable sticks are bamboo — a sustainably harvested wood with anti-microbial properties and child-proof durability. Ice Pop Molds. $40. thetickletrunk.com.

This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, May 9, 2013.

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.