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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A detail of Marie-José Gustave’s cardboard chair (photo by Stephanie Lamy)
When designer Marie-josé Gustave moved to Quebec from France 15 years ago, she, not surprisingly, hauled her stuff with a bevy of cardboard boxes. But, unlike most of us, Gustave didn’t give away, store or toss the containers when she got here. She started turning them into art and decor.
“I had lots of boxes,” jokes Gustave.
The Montrealer studied clothing production, was working in textile design and long loved tactile crafts such as sewing and knitting. Like an interesting fabric or yarn, she admired cardboard’s rich, versatile texture. Depending on how it’s cut, layered and woven together, it looks like wool, woven seagrass or clay.
Garden markers are a must for green thumbs who can’t remember where they’ve seeded the beets versus the radishes. They’re particularly necessary before the buds start to grow in the early spring, when one, dirt-filled pot in the windowsill is indistinguishable from the next. JustPotters makes an especially handsome version — slender, ceramic stems with that perfectly-imperfect, rough-edged quality that only comes when something is hand spun. But the Vancouver-based pottery shop is laudable for more than its unique nameplates. It was started in 2006 to give people who face traditional barriers to work — mental or physical disabilities, for example, or problems with addiction — a way to make money and learn new skills. Most don’t come into the studio with a background in clay, but under the training of expert potter Jasmine Wallace — she has a Master’s degree in ceramics from the University of Minnesota and has exhibited across North America — they learn the nuances of the craft and take great pride in creating such beautiful objects. From $21. justpotters.com.
This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, April 18, 2013.
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.
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.
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.